BROOKSVILLE — Even as county commissioners celebrated retiring deputy administrator Larry Jennings' 36 years of service Tuesday, they threw County Administrator David Hamilton a curveball, derailing his plans for filling a new administrative position.
The commission voted 3-2 to reject Hamilton's proposed job description for a new director of administration and budget, a position already tentatively approved by commissioners during the budget process last month, and told Hamilton not to proceed with filling the position.
The proposed job combined some of Jennings' administrative tasks and the financial duties that have been the responsibility of George Zoettlein, director of the office of management and budget.
Zoettlein, who signed up for the county's early leave offer but then agreed to stay on until the end of the year, was told this summer by Hamilton that his position would be eliminated.
Where that job stands now remains uncertain. But commissioners did agree to revisit the future of the management and budget position at their next meeting later this month. Several commissioners expressed support for Zoettlein and indicated that, during tight budget times, the county should consider not replacing Jennings.
Hamilton pitched to commissioners the job description for the new position — similar to positions in other counties — and suggested that a committee of three select a candidate. The committee would be composed of commission Chairman David Russell, utilities director Joe Stapf and one other member.
Commissioner Jeff Stabins said he opposed the new position and that, as proposed by Hamilton, it would have created a job for "a master of everything'' that even Jennings might not have been able to handle. Keeping Zoettlein and eliminating Jennings' job would save the county $170,000, Stabins argued.
Stabins also said that, with an expected $9.5 million shortfall in the 2010-11 general fund budget, Zoettlein could provide some continuity in the budget office and help find some of those dollars to be cut.
Commissioner John Druzbick questioned why Hamilton was not part of the selection committee for the new position. Commissioners, he noted, could hire the county's attorneys and the administrator, but he wasn't sure what their role should be as far as director of the office of management and budget.
Commissioner Jim Adkins voiced concern that next year's financial situation will be worse than the year that just ended Sept. 30 and said "I'd rather save the money'' than spend it on a new position.
"We need to cut spending as much as we can,'' he said.
Commissioner Rose Rocco agreed that Hamilton should be part of the selection process. In addition, she said he has been in his job long enough now that he should be able to deal with whatever administrative issues might arise.
Druzbick pointed out that, while keeping Zoettlein would be helpful in solving future budget problems, not creating the new position would leave Hamilton with a lot to do, with Jennings retiring.
"We have left a void,'' he said.
Adkins pointed out that times are so tight in the private sector that he knows a restaurant owner who has had to become a cook to keep his business operating.
"I think at times that government has got to do the same thing,'' he said. "I don't believe we should spend this money, especially given what we're facing next year.''
Stabins pointed out that, for most of the five years he has worked as a commissioner, there was no deputy administrator.
Hamilton pointed out that commissioners had technically already approved the new position, with the combined jobs saving the county at least $125,000. He also noted that the central job of the new person would be the budget but said he would be willing to take on new duties.
Russell backed Hamilton.
"We need this kind of change,'' he said. "This county has been moving in a direction it has never had to move before.''
Russell suggested that, if the board mandated Hamilton's involvement in picking the new person, that could alleviate some of the concerns voiced by commissioners. But Stabins jumped in with a motion to reject the job description and Hamilton's suggested process for filling the position.
Stabins was supported by Rocco and Adkins, with Russell and Druzbick voting no.
Debate on the topic ended at that point. But a few minutes later, Stabins got the board's consensus to resurrect the discussion of Zoettlein's position at the next commission meeting.
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1434.