Saturday, April 21, 2018
News Roundup

Hernando commissioners say what they want in a new administrator

BROOKSVILLE — With lessons learned from their firing of David Hamilton several months ago, the County Commission this week will build the framework for hiring a new county administrator.

Commissioners will share their own visions of what qualities they want to see in the next administrator in one-on-one meetings Wednesday morning with Colin Baenziger, who heads the search company they selected.

Later in the day, Baenziger will meet with county leadership team members to gather their input. He has also said that he is willing to meet in the future with any of the county's elected constitutional officers who also want to provide their viewpoint.

Commissioners, who know that the government downsizing that Hamilton began will have to continue since revenue continues to decline, have a wide range of expectations for their next administrator. Their stand on how much the new administrator should be paid and how much say the public should have in the process also runs the gamut.

Commissioner Dave Russell, who supported Hamilton, said he would look for some of Hamilton's best qualities in the next administrator as well.

"The tenacity obviously is important. An iron will, that's what it's going to take,'' Russell said. "It's no cakewalk here and everyone is going to be very well aware of that.''

"I'd like to have someone with a business background but also a people person,'' said Commissioner Jim Adkins. "It would also be nice to have one who knows the local geography and community. That way there wouldn't be such a learning curve.''

Commissioner Jeff Stabins said that he didn't think a person applying in Hernando to slide into a Florida retirement was what the county needs at this time, even though some applicants might fit that profile.

"I want an energetic go-getter familiar with the laws of Florida, who has a can-do attitude and is a people person to boot,'' Stabins said. He also said the right candidate would have at least five years of successful management experience.

"I want someone who would choose to come here because they want to be here, work hard, roll up their sleeves because they want to help with the many difficult anomalies in Hernando County,'' he said. "This is a tough place to work.''

Commission Chairman Wayne Dukes said he was keeping an open mind about who should be the next county administrator. He noted he had no problem with Hamilton.

"We can't have someone there who wants to be liked,'' because many of the administrator's decisions are difficult, he said.

"We need someone who will pull the leadership together and move on because we're still financially in trouble,'' Dukes said. "I'm looking for a strong personality, somebody with experience. ... And it would be good if they had worked somewhere with budgetary challenges.''

Of the wide range of reasons that someone would apply to Hernando County for the administrator's job, Dukes said he hoped to snag a candidate who wanted a challenge.

"If we find someone who enjoys a challenge, we'll give them one,'' he said.

Commissioner John Druzbick said he wants to see a candidate adept with budget issues and with a background that includes work in the public sector and work in the private sector.

"One of the strongest things I'm looking for is a leader and a consensus builder who will work with his team of professionals and stand behind his team of professionals,'' Druzbick said.

Although he understands that administrators have to keep three commissioners satisfied all the time to retain their job, Druzbick said he didn't want that to be the new administrator's focus. And he wants the new administrator to bring forward ideas, make his case to the commission for what he recommends and then work with the commission to find another solution if his recommendation doesn't fly.

The new administrator should also be extremely involved in the community, he said.

Druzbick also wants to see the community involved with helping to select the next administrator. He said he would like to see a committee of citizens giving input and asking questions just as the commissioners are. Baenziger, of the search firm, plans to ask commissioners Wednesday what form of public input they want in the process.

Adkins also said he had favored having a citizens screening committee. He suggested that each commissioner select a member and that the two local newspaper editors should serve as well. But he felt that the majority of the commission shot that idea down when they agreed to pay Colin Baenziger & Associates $21,500 to do the search instead.

Stabins also said he wasn't opposed to a community committee, but didn't see the logic of it if the firm the county hired was going to narrow the field of candidates for the commission.

Dukes said he didn't see the need for community input beyond the public's existing ability to share their thoughts with their commissioners.

Russell liked one of the other ideas Baenziger had suggested: a public reception where citizens could meet the short list of candidates and ask their questions in a social setting.

While David Hamilton's $135,000 salary got some criticism during his tenure, commissioners said they will have to see what happens with the qualifications and salary requirements of the candidates for his replacement. Adkins said he would like to see a salary at the lower end of the acceptable spectrum, more like $100,000, but Dukes said commissioners had to be realistic.

"If we're not competitive, no one ever applies,'' he said.

"I would love to find someone to work for less than $100,000 but I'd be surprised if we found someone to do that,'' Stabins said. He added that the county is a big operation with its $420 million annual budget and they need a professional who can handle that.

Commissioners universally praised the interim county administrator Ron Pianta for his professionalism and willingness to do what was needed to pull the county leadership together after Hamilton's ouster.

Pianta has said that he does not want the permanent job. The county's chief procurement officer Russell Wetherington has expressed interest in applying for the position.

Baenziger's projects April 9 as the approximate hire date for the new administrator.

Barbara Behrendt can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 848-1434.

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