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Hernando commissioners look beyond Hamilton to a permanent interim administrator

BROOKSVILLE — A day after the Hernando County Commission fired Administrator David Hamilton, commissioners were already thinking hard about what comes next.

"It's a new day,'' Commissioner John Druzbick said Wednesday.

Druzbick voted with the three-member majority to send Hamilton packing. After that move, the only decision the commission made was to tap land services director Ron Pianta as the interim administrator for the next week, until a decision can be made on a more permanent interim.

When asked Tuesday by commissioners if he was interested in the interim position, Pianta took a moment before leaning toward the microphone.

"The short answer to the question is yes,'' he said. "Anytime an administrator leaves, it's very traumatic. It's difficult.''

Pianta acknowledged that the county now needs to move on, and he vowed to do whatever the board wanted to provide structure and a smooth transition. He pointed out that key county staffers had already stepped up to offer solutions, and he expected that would continue.

"This is not an easy decision,'' he said. "It's a big responsibility.''

Pianta became planning director for Hernando County in 2006. He had worked previously as assistant city manager and planner in Safety Harbor. Prior to that, he had worked in the planning departments of Tarpon Springs and Manatee County.

On Wednesday, Druzbick said he supported Pianta as the interim administrator for however long it takes to find a permanent replacement for Hamilton.

"Personally, I think Mr. Pianta can do a great job,'' he said. "He has the temperament. He has the knowledge. He works extremely well with the other employees.''

Commissioner Wayne Dukes, who did not vote to fire Hamilton, said he would be interested in seeing the county's new procurement manager, Russell Wetherington, in the interim job.

"He has a solid management background,'' Dukes said. He is also a retired Air Force officer and has experience coming into new organizations and taking charge. Hired in May, Wetherington has been in the county only a few months, but Dukes said, "That appeals to me.''

Bringing in someone new could create a better group dynamic than using a member of the leadership team, Dukes said.

For his permanent pick for administrator, Dukes said he wanted someone "dynamic'' who has strong budget skills and is not afraid to make decisions.

While Hamilton's $135,000 salary and five-month severance package have drawn criticism in the community, Dukes said that cutting those features too much could be "like shooting yourself in the foot.''

"An administrator is an investment,'' he added.

Dukes said he looked forward to participating in a discussion about various options on Tuesday.

Commissioner Dave Russell, the other commissioner who favored keeping Hamilton, suggested that the county should take its time finding a replacement and get the right fit.

He also favors finding someone local, possibly someone already in county government.

"We're very cognizant of our fiscal constraints going into the new year,'' he said, noting that outside applicants are going to expect a higher salary and benefit package.

"If I were looking for the position, I would want those things in place if I were going to make a move, especially with our history. I don't think we're going to go out on the cheap and find the person we would want,'' Russell said.

Russell was among the commissioners who said he would accept offers by the business community and other residents to help with the screening process.

Commission Chairman Jim Adkins said he wanted a new administrator who is a business person because "government is a business like any other organization … and that's what we should have so we don't have to educate a person as to what businesses need to survive.''

Commissioner Jeff Stabins, the last remaining commissioner who voted to hire Hamilton in 2008 and who has been his most vocal critic, already had a clear description of the next administrator in his head Wednesday.

"I believe that we need someone who is inspirational, someone who can inspire all of those underneath him or her to work harder and more efficiently, and that's the bottom line,'' Stabins said. "We need managerial experience and leadership qualities that can turn around a dysfunctional organization that has a lot of good employees in it.''

Already, the first application for the job has arrived in an email to commissioners. Don Page, the former CEO of the failed Cortez Community Bank, submitted his cover letter, resume and references within hours of the vote to boot Hamilton.

Commissioners who voted to fire Hamilton said they had lost their trust in him, that his leadership style had torn the county staff apart and that they believed Hamilton manipulated or misled them.

His recent application for the job of Sarasota County administrator only added to the furor. On Tuesday, the Sarasota County Commission narrowed its list of candidates from eight to four, and Hamilton did not make the cut.

Also on Wednesday, the State Attorney's Office released its finding from a charge that Hamilton had destroyed public records by shredding them in 2008.

Local NAACP chapter president Paul Douglas filed a complaint against Hamilton two weeks ago, saying Hamilton had taken notes of interviews during an investigation of employees from then-utilities director Joe Stapf and fed them into a shredder.

Assistant State Attorney Mark Simpson conducted interviews and researched the law, then determined that "the mere personal notes of Mr. Stapf do not meet the criteria of a public record,'' so no violation took place.

"Due to this determination, I will close this matter with no further action to be taken,'' Simpson wrote.

Hamilton has declined to be interviewed since his termination.

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

Hernando commissioners look beyond Hamilton to a permanent interim administrator 11/09/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, November 9, 2011 7:51pm]
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