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Hillsborough County attorney reorganizes office



UPDATED: With link to full memo from Fletcher.

Hillsborough County Attorney Chip Fletcher has been on the job for about six months. So it's about time for a reorganization.

Fletcher notified county commissioners Wednesday that he has finalized his reorganization plan, which will reduce the number of managers in the office. It responds in part to criticisms from commissioners and consultants who have evaluated the office in the past.

Specifically, Fletcher is reducing the number of managing attorneys from eight to four. And those four will now be called division chiefs.

Rob Brazel will continue in similar duties to ones he has now as chief of the litigation division.

Susan Fernandez will remain chief of the real estate and development division, absorbing oversight of land-use matters.

Christine Beck will retain similar responsibilities as chief of business transactions.

And Jennie Tarr will continue to oversee human resources issues as chief of employment and regulatory services.

Additionally, Fletcher is creating two new positions, one that has existed before. Former Managing Attorney Mary Helen Farris, who oversees public records requests, charter issues and election law matters, will become general counsel once again, a title she had under Emmy Acton two county attorneys ago. Hank Ennis, one of Fletcher's competitors for the county attorney job, will continue to oversee legal issues relating to utilities as chief administrative counsel. But he will take on responsibility for office personnel management and developing in-house training and mentoring programs.

The purpose, Fletcher said, "is to move away from a horizontal management structure to focusing on efficiency and the practice areas."

The reorganization leaves two people out: Sheree Fish, managing attorney for health care and human services, and Adam Gormly, the county's top land-use attorney. Fletcher said he has not finalized decisions on what role if any they will continue to have with the office.

"We're still working through how they're going to fit in the organization," Fletcher said.

Additionally, Fletcher's memo indicates he will eliminate seven support staff positions and will reconfigure the jobs in part to create an office manager position that was phased out under the most recent county attorney, Renee Lee. Those holding positions now will be able to apply for five new "support team leader" positions and a newly created customer service manager who will in part take over primary responsibility for overseeing response to public records requests from news media and the public. That position is aimed at freeing up attorneys such as Farris who have had those duties. One position will be eliminated.

A top point of Fletcher's memo was to say he wants to reestablish a strong working relationship between his office and that of County Administrator Mike Merrill. Infighting between the two offices has been rambant under both former county attorneys and administrators. He said he also wants the lawyers focused on providing strong legal advice without becoming vested in political outcomes.

"In the past, there have clearly been challenges in the relationship between the County Attorney's Office, County Administration and the Board of County Commissioners," the memo states. "Good lawyering requires a high level of trust between the lawyer and the client. A lack of trust will likely lead to constrained communication and disclosure by the client, and incomplete information can often result in less than optimal legal representation and advice. For this reason, a significant focus of the Office is renewing and fostering trust and building a strong working relationship between the Office, County Administration and each of the Commissioners."

To see Fletcher's entire memo, click this link.



[Last modified: Thursday, April 11, 2013 1:10pm]


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