BROOKSVILLE — County Administrator David Hamilton said Wednesday that he likely would not ask county commissioners to replace his departing second in command.
Instead, Hamilton said he is considering other ways to accomplish the duties performed by deputy county administrator Larry Jennings, who is taking an early retirement buyout.
Hamilton noted that other government offices have lost key personnel because of the current financial crisis. He pointed to Sheriff Richard Nugent's decision to restructure his leadership group and not replace his chief deputy, who recently announced his departure.
"I think that Sheriff Nugent has set the standard here,'' he said. "There needs to be an innovative way to meet the needs of our organization while still recognizing the budget constraints.''
The county has been struggling to find $10 million worth of cuts from the general fund to make up for less revenue from property taxes, sales taxes and other sources.
Offering an early leave incentive has been one of the methods of cutting costs, and the St. Petersburg Times first reported on Wednesday that Jennings will take the option.
Jennings, 58, called commissioners individually last week to announce his plans. He said he decided to take the early leave incentive because the time just felt right and because he wanted to have more time to spend with his family.
Hamilton praised Jennings' service to Hernando County, noting "he has been a large part of any and all success that I or the administration may have enjoyed.''
Jennings has been with the county since 1973, working in a variety of positions until being named deputy county administrator in 2006.
He credited Jennings' depth of knowledge about the county and noted "his hallmark is his sincere interest in people, the evident principles he brought to his work and every dealing he has had. …He will be missed for many years to come.''
Hamilton said he will bring the County Commission his recommendations before the budget is finalized in September and he has sought individual commissioner's ideas on how to proceed.
"We're going to be looking for a recommendation from the county administrator on how we may consolidate that position with another we already have,'' said Commission Chairman Dave Russell.
"Larry is just a tremendous asset to this county and I believe he will continue to be so,'' he said. "I'm very happy for Larry. He's worked very, very hard and has been through some very tumultuous times with the county'' — primarily in the past couple of years of budget reductions and public outcry about county spending.
Some citizens have called for the elimination of Jennings' post, criticizing the need for a deputy administrator and his salary.
Jennings' base salary is $125,611.20 and totals $159,128.14 including benefits. His buyout amount added to his accumulated leave time will mean he leaves the county with a payment of $58,578.30.
Russell said he didn't know if pressure from citizens had anything to do with his decision to take the buyout. "Only Larry knows that,'' he said.
"I do know that if we hadn't have had Larry these last couple of years during all this administrator transitions, this county would have been in deep trouble,'' Russell said. "I think the transition will work out well now.
"All in all, I think it should go well.''
Like Russell, Commissioner Jeff Stabins said he hopes that Hamilton's recommendation on how to deal with Jennings' duties results in some streamlining to save the county some dollars.
"To begin with, you can't replace Larry Jennings if you wanted to. He's irreplaceable. He's a huge asset to the organization,'' he said.
Stabins said Jennings' announcement really struck him.
"I was saddened. I asked him if he'd volunteer for a couple of years,'' he said. "You can't replace the institutional knowledge, the steady, calm approach to problem solving Larry has.
"It's an enormous loss. It really is. But I wish him well.''
Stabins predicted that Jennings' departure would have a profound effect within the government center.
"Some of the veteran staff have got to be shaken by it,'' he said.
Friday is the last day for employees to sign up for the early leave. By Wednesday, 25 had already signed up to be considered for the program, which includes one week of pay for each year of experience up to 18 years and 18 months of COBRA coverage.
Those who sign up have time to change their minds before signing the final documents. Final work days are Oct. 16 for most workers or Oct. 17 or 18 for those who work weekends.
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at email@example.com or (352) 848-1434.