CLEARWATER — The field of applicants for Pinellas County government's chief executive is likely to reaffirm the gut feeling of some commissioners that the right man for the job is already doing it.
Other than interim administrator Mark Woodard, none of the 45 hopefuls who submitted complete applications by the Saturday deadline has experience running a government the size of Pinellas County's. And none has Florida government experience as deep as Woodard, who joined the county in 1988. No other internal county candidates applied.
Only one applicant — Madeira Beach City Manager Shane Crawford— is currently working as a Florida government administrator.
Among the candidates with government experience are a deputy city manager in El Paso, Texas; a county administrator in Douglas County, Ga.; a city manager in Round Rock, Texas; an economic development manager for the city of Palo Alto, Calif.; and a county commissioner in Larimer County, Colo.
Beverly Waldron, a county human resources manager helping oversee the search, declined to comment on the quality of the field but said the number of applications is disappointing.
"We would have expected to receive more than twice this number based on our previous high-level recruitments and the attractiveness of Pinellas County as a place to work and live," she said.
The quality of the field could prompt the board to re-advertise the position or to just end the process and pick Woodard.
At a July 16 budget workshop, 10 days before the application deadline, Commissioner Susan Latvala asked her fellow commissioners if it would be "disingenuous" to go through with the search given how pleased the board is with Woodard's performance since he took over in April.
"Mark has shown me that he's the right person for this time," Latvala said at the meeting.
Other board members made similar comments but agreed to re-evaluate the search when the application period closed.
The Pinellas post is one of the most desirable in the country, but the board's public comments about Woodard likely scared away some top-tier candidates who didn't want to risk their current jobs by applying, said Ken Small, a local government expert and 30-year staffer with the Florida League of Cities. Applications are public record in Florida, so the names of those interested are often reported in the media.
"If it seems wired for a particular in-house candidate, why are you going to potentially cause yourself problems with your bosses and get the question, 'Why do you want to leave us?' " Small said. "You've got a good job, you're a top-notch city manager or county administrator, and you know the chances are very strong they're going to take the in-house guy. I know I wouldn't do it."
The next step is for the human resources staff to select at least 15 applicants to send a list of questions about their accomplishments. A search committee of would review the answers and select six to eight semifinalists for the first round of interviews.
"I think the seven of us need to sit around the table and talk about what we're really looking for right now," Latvala said Monday. "Now that we've seen what Mark can do, the kind of healing that has taken place, is it worth stopping the process?"
Contact Tony Marrero at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8779. Follow @tmarrerotimes.