BROOKSVILLE — Len Sossamon will be keeping his dual jobs of county administrator and economic development director for at least a while longer.
County commissioners this week rejected the idea of spending $23,000 to conduct a nationwide search to find a new economic development director, which would allow Sossamon to focus on his administrator chores, and also opted to not spend $25,500 on a similar search for a new deputy administrator.
While the need for more focus on economic development was a primary plank in the campaign platforms of County Commission candidates last year, the board couldn't muster enough support to bring in a full-time director at the present time.
Concerns that the 2017-18 budget is still top-heavy with expenses, and disagreement about which of the potential new jobs might be needed and how Sossamon is performing in the dual roles, the commission opted for a cheaper alternative for now.
Commissioners voted to advertise the job of deputy administrator — a job that would replace several assistant administrator positions now held by department heads — but to do so only internally, taking applications from employees in departments controlled by the commission and as well as from those employed by the county's constitutional officers.
The job posting is expected to go up immediately.
The cost of filling that job, clerical support and space and equipment is estimated at $200,000. A small amount of that might be recovered if those in the current assistant administrator jobs take pay cuts, but that has not yet been determined, according to Cristi Charlow, the county's personnel and risk manager.
Commission Chairman Wayne Dukes said he was concerned about spending money for nationwide searches, especially since the commission is in the middle of setting its budget for the 2017-18 fiscal year.
"I don't want to be writing any checks I cannot cash,'' Dukes said.
Commissioner Nick Nicholson wanted to see how much Sossamon's load would be reduced with a deputy administrator added. He suggested the commission wait for several months after that person is on board to assess how things are going.
"I think we have some talent internally'' for the deputy administrator job, said Commissioner Steve Champion. He was also concerned about the cost of the search, which was to have been done by the same search firm that found Sossamon five years ago.
But Commissioner John Allocco strongly supported finding a new economic development director. He said Sossamon's annual evaluations have been largely positive over the last couple of years, indicating that he wasn't having trouble managing the administrator part of the job.
"If these are accurate, then why does he need help?'' Allocco said.
The previous commission began the process of seeking a full-time economic development director before the new commission was seated in January, so "hiring an economic development director should not seem unreasonable'' at this point, he said.
Asking Sossamon to do two full-time jobs was doing him a disservice, said Commissioner John Mitten. He said he saw the decision to hire a new deputy administrator or a new economic development director as an "either-or" proposition, but also noted that the county needs to focus on economic development full time as the county grows.
Dukes reminded the board that a search a few years ago for a new economic development director didn't turn up a suitable candidate, so the board turned to Sossamon, who had economic development experience in his past jobs. Dukes praised his work and asked him if he is currently working with new business prospects.
Sossamon detailed a variety of upcoming meetings with potential new businesses, noting there are between 16 and 18 he is currently courting. Dukes and Sossamon have also encouraged the board to find a way to beef up the county's war chest of potential financial enticements for new businesses, a kitty that sits just below $1 million currently. Other places have much bigger incentives to offer, they argue, including Pasco County, with a $50 million fund available.
Champion said there is a financial benefit to both the economic development and deputy administrator positions. He took note of several controversial issues that are costing the county money and said he wants to see a deputy who is "like a bulldog, somebody in charge.''
He said he was concerned that there are special interests trying to influence the hiring of an economic development director and that names of potential candidates are already being circulated.
"I don't like that,'' Champion said.
Commissioners voted to move forward with the internal search for the deputy administrator, with Allocco casting the sole no vote.
Contact Barbara Behrendt at [email protected] or (352) 848-1434.