ST. PETERSBURG — Former Mayor Rick Baker may have a sliver of a chance at being the next St. Petersburg College president after all.
A week after the school's presidential search committee eliminated him as a semifinalist, Baker's political allies have stepped up to persuade college trustees to give him one last shot.
Clearwater Mayor Frank Hibbard said he plans to reach out to trustees and write a letter questioning the search committee's selection process.
"They shouldn't have the ability to eliminate viable candidates," Hibbard said. "I am certainly going to encourage the people I know on the board. This is too big of a decision to be made in a vacuum. They need to be willing to step up and consider folks beyond what just the advisory board has recommended."
Former St. Petersburg Mayor Bob Ulrich, who served on the 13-member search committee, called the process "tainted and undermined" in a widely circulated e-mail he sent this week to drum up support for Baker.
"I am imploring you today to become active in your indignation and make your voice heard so that this abuse will not go unchallenged," he wrote.
The college's trustees will convene Friday morning to discuss the four names recommended by its selection committee. Baker's proponents want the five-member board to review his qualifications and ignore the committee's recommendations.
The trustees, who have final say in the selection of the college's next president, are not beholden to the committee's recommendations.
Baker, who campaigned vigorously for the job, said Wednesday he was still interested in the title.
"I applied for the position because I believe in the college and I still do," he said, adding, "I would still stay in the process."
However, asked whether he would take the job if he was named against the selection committee's recommendations, he declined to comment further. He also would not say whether he had any qualms with the committee's selection process.
The process saw Baker removed from the running after initially being ranked behind only Peninsula College (Wash.) president Thomas Keegan and Tallahassee Community College president Bill Law. A group of other candidates were tied for fourth place.
Committee members had said they intended on recommending three to five finalists for trustees to consider.
Committee member and Pinellas County Commissioner Susan Latvala said the board wanted to recommend candidates who received the majority's support. With only six votes, Baker fell just short, she said.
"It certainly was not 'tainted' or 'undermined,' " she said. "This was a public process done in the sunshine. We voted on every step that we took."
After a series of votes, the two additional finalists were Paula Gastenveld, assistant to the chancellor of the Kentucky Community and Technical College System, and B. Kaye Walter, an executive of Valencia Community. They each received seven votes to Baker's six.
It's unclear what the board of trustees will decide Friday. Trustee and committee member Ken Burke, who voted against Baker last week, said the board should accept the search committee's recommendations. Trustee Deveron Gibbons has recused himself from the process, citing his friendship with Baker. However, he advocated for moving forward without Baker last week.
Board chairman Terrence Brett declined to comment. He and trustees Evelyn Bilirakis and W. Richard Johnston have seemed open to Baker's candidacy.
Cristina Silva can be reached at (727) 893-8846 or firstname.lastname@example.org.