BROOKSVILLE — An Ivy League MBA, a former assistant superintendent, executives from other workforce boards and the current interim chief are among 21 people seeking to lead the agency that oversees employment programs in Pasco and Hernando counties.
"All in all I think we have quite a few good candidates to look at," said Ed Blommel, a retired Tampa Electric Co. executive and chairman of the Pasco Hernando Jobs and Education Partnership.
However, of the 21, only four have workforce agency experience that board members say they are seeking.
"We wanted eight years of workforce experience, preferably in Florida," Blommel said. "If we can't find a person among those four, then I'm all for keeping the search process open."
The agency has operated without a permanent leader since June, when the board fired then-CEO Lee Ellzey after a whistle-blower's complaint prompted an investigation that turned up possible fiscal mismanagement and favors for a private company owned by then-board chairman Steve Jensen, who later resigned. The case remains under review by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. No charges have been filed.
Ken Russ, the agency's vice president for business support, has served as interim chief since that time. Russ also has applied for the CEO's job.
Blommel said the goal is to have someone in place by early 2010. He said the agency has received a great deal of support from state officials, who have provided some retired workforce executives to offer guidance.
"In times like these with double-digit unemployment, we need the workforce board more than ever," Blommel said.
The agency handles federal and state employment programs and contracts with a company to maintain one-stop centers charged with matching up job seekers with employers. Since the recession and the passage of federal stimulus package, the agency has seen its budget balloon from $6 million to $13 million.
Among the applicants are Ray Gadd, former Pasco County assistant superintendent who most recently oversaw land acquisition and building of new schools. Gadd also has applied to be CEO of the Pasco County Economic Development Council, a public-private partnership that helps recruit new business and industry. That job also remains open.
Gadd's references resemble a who's who of Pasco. Among them were Kurt Browning, Florida secretary of state and former Pasco supervisor of elections; County Commissioners Ted Schrader, Ann Hildebrand and Michael Cox; real estate firm owner Dewey Mitchell of the pioneer Mitchell family; and School Board member Allen Altman, among others.
"Highly dedicated and focused public administrator with expert proficiency in managing, directing, and leading a complex organization" is how his resume describes him.
Another applicant with high-level connections is Will Abberger, a retired management consultant from New Port Richey whose resume lists an MBA from Dartmouth College.
"I believe my reason for wanting the position might well be different than other candidates," Abberger wrote.
His references include Pasco County Commission Chairman Jack Mariano and state Rep. John Legg, the administrator of Dayspring Academy, where Abberger serves on the board.
"I'm not trying to advance from a workforce development VP position," he said. "I'm not looking for a way to move to Florida. Nor am I looking for a raise. … I want to work in my community to make it a better place."
Russ, a graduate of Saint Leo University, lists workforce experience dating back to 1984, when he worked as an employment counselor. He rose through the ranks and became director of business services in 1999 and was made a vice president in 2006.
Russ isn't the only current workforce board staffer interested in the job. David Hamilton has worked as an operations and management consultant for the workforce board since 1999 and helped the agency obtain and operate a one-stop mobile unit.
Lisa Buie can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 909-4604.