SPC hiring raises cloud

ST. PETERSBURG — One applicant studied international relations at Yale University and helped negotiate U.S. troop withdrawals from Iraq.

Another speaks four languages and just finished a State Department tour in Turkey.

A third speaks Russian and was a 2005 Fulbright fellow.

All three applied to be director of international studies at St. Petersburg College. None got the job or even an interview.

The woman who did, 33-year-old Violetta Sweet, finds herself at the center of a controversy over whether she was given preferential treatment by the college's top executives, including president Carl Kuttler.

Both Kuttler, recently questioned about the hire, and Sweet say the allegations are untrue.

But a St. Petersburg Times review of the 61 people who applied for the job suggests that on paper Sweet was less qualified than most. It's not clear if she met even the technical requirements for the position, which call for four years of related administrative experience.

Karen White, provost of the college's Gibbs Campus and the person who recommended hiring Sweet, said she has no regrets on her choice. White gave Sweet a $1,000 bonus this July.

"I am very comfortable with the hiring process at St. Pete College," said White, who previously served as Kuttler's special assistant. "There wasn't anything in the way we hired Violetta that caused me discomfort."

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Sweet immigrated from Kazakhstan 10 years ago and met Kuttler, 68, when mutual friends who knew of his avid interest in Russia asked him to help her.

Kuttler gave Sweet away when she married, and before Sweet recently filed for divorce, Kuttler advised her to seek counseling.

She was hired as acting director of international studies in December, without a public application process. She was the lone candidate, White said.

Sweet then accepted the full-time position this summer after more than 60 people applied.

According to her file, Sweet graduated in 1995 with a bachelor's degree from the Semipalatinsk Technical Institute of Meat and Milk Industry in Kazakhstan.

In 2001-2003, Sweet worked at St. Petersburg College, first in the scholarship and financial assistance office, then as a payroll clerk. When she left the college in December 2003, she was making $22,256 a year.

She spent the past three years working for her estranged husband's jewelry design business in North Redington Beach.

Sweet speaks Russian, which, White says, is an asset because of the college's partnerships in that country. She helped the college by filling in temporarily as international studies director starting last year, White and Kuttler said, and during that time she proved her worth.

"The production of the international office in the last six to eight months has been most robust," said Kuttler, who instructed college officials to exclude him from the hiring process. "The fact that you have the highest degrees does not always determine that you're going to get hired."

When reached Thursday, Sweet did not recall how she learned the position became open last year. Though the job was never officially advertised, "the word was out," she said.

"I wake up and I run every single morning to work," said Sweet. "I just enjoy it so much. It's a dream, an absolute dream to do what I'm doing."

Other applicants

It was a dream many others sought.

Of the 61 people who applied for the position, 52 either had an advanced degree or teaching experience. Sweet and eight others had neither.

Rocky Tyler, an Army colonel, at least expected to hear from college recruiters. Educated first at West Point and later at Yale, Tyler spent 2008 in Iraq negotiating with Iraqis. He has international and teaching experience and speaks Mandarin Chinese and Spanish.

"I've been through things like this enough to know how the screening works. I thought I would make the first cut to get a personal interview, or at least a phone screening," Tyler said.

Other applicants were equally impressive, but never heard from the college.

Monica Wiesmann-Hirchet was a curriculum coordinator at Brevard Community College, focusing on international programs. She has 16 years of education experience in the United States and abroad.

"I was surprised I didn't hear anything," said Wiesmann-Hirchet, who has since taken a position at the Defense Language Institute in Monterrey, Calif.

White said several people were interviewed for the job, which pays Sweet $64,075 a year, but did not remember who or how many.

SPC hiring raises cloud 09/11/08 [Last modified: Thursday, September 18, 2008 9:09pm]

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