BROOKSVILLE — After enduring and analyzing a series of employee missteps in recent weeks, County Administrator David Hamilton said he has concluded that there are "large disconnects internally" with the county's operation.
He sees "a disconnect with the public as well," which has helped foster discontent with government.
To fix the problems inside the organization, Hamilton last week began discussions with his department heads and representatives of constitutional officers to build a new leadership team that will guide future county operations.
Their next task will be to talk about a new organizational structure.
To try to build bridges to connect better with residents, Hamilton will be taking the county's spending plan to the community in a series of workshops starting Tuesday.
Hamilton's initial ideas for reorganizing county government focus on drawing similar functions now handled by the individual county departments into a central core of administrative services. That would reduce redundancy and increase efficiency.
For example, various departments handle some aspect of human resources, information technology, geographic information systems and finance, all administrative-type activities that could be better handled by a single entity, he explained.
"This is not about the administrator trying to grab power," Hamilton said. Instead, it is about finding a way to provide county services in the most efficient manner possible.
"We can pull it all together," he said.
With the departure of several department heads and additional retirements expected soon, Hamilton said he plans to use the attrition to help accomplish some of the efficiencies.
For example, with the forced resignation of human resources director Barbara Dupre late last month, Hamilton has formed a committee to talk about how to rebuild that department and determine what the new leadership should look like.
In another area, code enforcement director Frank McDowell retired last week. His position was not written into the new budget, and both Hamilton and his predecessor, Gary Kuhl, figured that was an area where reorganization can take place.
Hamilton said he hopes to apply a model he used previously in Goodhue County, Minn. Similar departments were grouped together, answering to a leadership team of department heads and constitutional officers.
While initial interest in the idea has been positive, "I realize that internally it's going to be very delicate and extremely risky. … This debate is just getting started," he said.
A more efficient delivery of government services has already been mandated by residents through the passage of Amendment 1, which effectively reduces the county's property tax revenue, Hamilton said. That is why he decided to ask the public, through the upcoming community workshops, what services they value most and how the county is doing providing those services.
His plan for the meetings is to simplify the county's spending plan so that people will understand where money comes from and how the county spends that revenue to provide services. He has been working with county staff to create a presentation that will allow people to see revenue for the last five years.
Department heads were told to highlight the services they provide and whether any new services have come on line in recent years. Hamilton said he has found some reluctance to presenting the spending plan in that manner. For department heads whose income has increased but who have not added services, he has suggested they attend the public workshops.
After presenting the budget information to residents, Hamilton said, county staffers will ask them to fill out a survey. They will be asked to rate the importance of various services and how well the county provides the services.
Then, with the County Commission's ultimate approval, Hamilton said he hopes to mold the county's new, more efficient organizational structure to provide the level of services that residents say they expect.
He hopes that will convince those who traditionally don't like government that local leaders are trying to do the right thing.
"I have a deeply held hope," Hamilton said. "Hernando County will be the government they want to have."
Barbara Behrendt can be reached
or (352) 848-1434.