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Hernando commission moves forward with search for new economic development director

Michael McHugh is leaving his job as director of the Hernando County office of business development job on Friday.

Times (2008)

Michael McHugh is leaving his job as director of the Hernando County office of business development job on Friday.

BROOKSVILLE — Hernando County commissioners will leave it to County Administrator Len Sossamon to find Hernando's next economic development director.

While Commissioner Wayne Dukes made a strong pitch during Tuesday's commission meeting to hire a search firm to find the right candidate, only commission Chairman Dave Russell agreed.

All of the commissioners said they were anxious to find the right person to replace Michael McHugh, who resigned recently and will leave the job on Friday.

Dukes said he wanted someone energetic with a Rolodex full of contacts and a proven track record of enticing businesses to relocate.

"This is vital to the growth of Hernando County,'' he said.

Dukes said he also wanted to find a way to put the person on a contract with incentives if he or she performs well.

Commissioner Jim Adkins said he thought the county staff was capable of finding McHugh's replacement. He suggested a screening committee, which would include several people from the local business community.

"We don't need to spend the money'' to hire a search firm, Adkins said.

Commissioner Nick Nicholson agreed.

He said he has confidence that Sossamon can find the right person.

"We need to keep control of this situation,'' Nicholson said. "We need to make sure that county staff is hiring county staff.''

Nicholson said he also wanted to make it clear that the person hired would answer directly to Sossamon, and not to anyone at the airport or the Aviation Authority.

Commissioner Diane Rowden expressed concern that if the person was hired by the commission on a contract, it might become too political. She suggested that the county consider hiring a company that specializes in economic development.

At the close of the discussion, Dukes said he would like to see McHugh's replacement working at the government center in Brooksville, beside Sossamon, who has considerable economic development experience himself.

Nicholson said he felt the same way.

Russell suggested that the topic of where the person would work be discussed at a later time.

No commissioner brought up an idea pitched recently by local bank executive Morris Porton, who suggested to Sossamon that the county explore returning to a public/private economic development model.

Prior to McHugh's hiring, Hernando had a public/private Economic Development Commission, but it was disbanded after it became mired in controversy.

Prior to Tuesday's meeting, several commissioners had criticized the idea of another public/private arrangement.

McHugh earned kudos from commissioners when he came to the microphone on an item of business Tuesday.

"You will be missed,'' Russell told him.

"It has been an honor and a privilege,'' McHugh responded.

He vowed to stay in the area, continue to cheer on the county's gains and thanked commissioners for their support.

Barbara Behrendt can be reached at behrendt@tampabay.com or (352) 848-1434.

In other business

The Hernando County Commission on Tuesday:

• Came up with a temporary plan to save the Little Rock Cannery. The county's current lease with Auro Community Cannery ends at the end of the month, and the operator asked to be given the property. But the county cannot do that without going out for bids, so the operator decided to close the cannery. Cannery fans packed the commission chambers, and commissioners agreed to keep the facility open until January so the canning community can develop a business plan to take it over.

• Approved a small increase in rates for Republic Services for garbage collection. Those living in District A would see an increase of 3 cents to $7.77 per month. Rates in District B would increase 2 cents to $8.41. In District C, rates would increase 2 cents to $6.16. And in District D, rates would increase 2 cents to $7.17.

• Heard County Administrator Len Sossamon say he would soon bring back to the commission a proposal to change the billing method for garbage service. Instead of having Republic Services deliver monthly bills, the county would temporarily send out bills with other utility bills. Ultimately, if the commission approves, the cost of garbage collection could land on property tax bills.

• Listened as several community members questioned whether four of the five commissioners violated the state Sunshine Law recently by having individual meetings with Gary Schraut, chairman of the county's Aviation Authority, and local banker Jim Kimbrough. County Attorney Garth Coller said there was no violation since the issues discussed were about past actions and no two members of a Sunshine-covered group were present.

Hernando commission moves forward with search for new economic development director 09/10/13 [Last modified: Tuesday, September 10, 2013 5:30pm]

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