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Hernando County's administrator David Hamilton gets passing grades on report card

BROOKSVILLE — Nearing his second anniversary with the county, a milestone his two predecessors never reached, County Administrator David Hamilton has met or exceeded expectations of his bosses, the County Commission.

But according to evaluations released this week and discussed between Hamilton and board Chairman John Druzbick on Wednesday, his grade slid a bit from last year's mark. It fell from an average 3.96 rating out of a possible 5 to 3.68.

Four of the five commissioners rated Hamilton as meeting or exceeding expectations or excellent.

He got four marks of marginal/needs improvement by Commissioner Jeff Stabins, who gave Hamilton an overall 3.07, his lowest grade.

Hamilton needs improvement in planning, forging compromises, communications with the governing body and accepting direction, according to Stabins, the only commissioner still in office who voted to hire Hamilton in 2008.

Communication with the commissioners was the hottest issue for Stabins, who has criticized Hamilton for telling the St. Petersburg Times that he had been researching a possible increase in the gas tax before sharing that thought with commissioners.

While Stabins gives Hamilton credit for executing public policy after the board has voted, "his critical misjudgment has been acting unilaterally on a series of administrative decisions without first hashing them over with the individual board members,'' Stabins wrote.

"The public rightfully question and critique our effectiveness as a team when the administrator spouts off on ideas or issues before the board has actually voted on them or even before he has discussed them individually with the men and woman who employ him.''

Druzbick and Commissioner Jim Adkins both marked that Hamilton exceeded their expectations in that same category.

"I have found Mr. Hamilton has always provided necessary information in a timely manner and strives to always keep me up to date,'' Adkins wrote.

Stabins' criticism of Hamilton's planning also focused on his relationship with the board members.

"David Hamilton is capable of anticipating and analyzing problems but needs to work more closely with individual board members to map out effective solutions,'' Stabins wrote. "He should use the vast and disparate backgrounds and life experience his elected board members possess so that the ultimate public policy decision has the broadest possible support from the citizens of Hernando County.''

Stabins also told Hamilton that he doesn't spend enough time listening to the views of county employees, a prerequisite for being a good negotiator.

The one area where Stabins offered Hamilton an excellent score is in his resiliency.

"David Hamilton is clinically cool and almost robotic in his handling of what would be tremendously stressful decisions and moments for most people. He fires people the way the military's Predator Drone fires missiles,'' Stabins wrote.

He credited Hamilton for his tough personnel decisions and his ability to hire good people to replace those he has let go. "He has guts, brains and an even temperament,'' he wrote. "David probably has a resting heartbeat similar to that of an Olympic snowboarder.''

Stabins also stated that if Hamilton could work better with board members on an individual basis, "I believe that he has the potential to become the finest administrator with whom I've ever worked.''

The highest score given Hamilton was by Commissioner Dave Russell, who had him at 4.33 and marked him as excellent and proficient in seven categories. Russell was one of the commissioners who voted against hiring Hamilton two years ago.

But in his current rating, Russell marked Hamilton as excellent and proficient in the credit he gives his board, his humor, his communications with the public, his creativity and his adaptability.

Commissioner Rose Rocco, who also voted against hiring Hamilton, gave him the second highest rating at 3.93.

Druzbick listed as Hamilton's strengths: "Thinking outside the box. Looking for new approaches. Looking to the future of the county.''

As for areas where Hamilton needed improvement, Druzbick noted, "Open communication is the key. We have a wealth of knowledge in our employees. Not only our leadership team but all employees.''

Adkins also noted that Hamilton needs to "stress to department managers the goals of the board, the expectations of the board so that when they make presentations to the board they include all the information including any negotiations made with previous boards instead of providing only partial information.''

On the up side, Adkins wrote, "I believe Mr. Hamilton has done an excellent job in downsizing government and is constantly striving to meet the goals of the board.''

Hamilton said his self-evaluation turned up in line with that of his bosses. He graded himself a 3.73 and set as his top goals for the coming year the completion of the Hernando Beach Channel dredging pro­ject and reorganization of the Department of Public Works.

As for Stabins' criticism, Hamilton said he had a frank discussion with the commissioner. As for Stabins' comments of him getting ahead of his board with information, he said he has taken corrective actions and will use all of the comments by commissioners as "a good opportunity to reflect and work on whatever is needed for improvement.''

"I'm pleased and honored to have retained the confidence of the county board and earned passing grades and to have completed two years as county administrator of Hernando County,'' he said.

While his grade did drop a bit, Hamilton said "in many cases the second year is always tougher than the first year because you're involved in so many complex issues.''

And while making it through a second year pleases Hamilton, he said there is much more to do.

"We've accomplished a lot but we still have a ways to go,'' he said.

Hamilton's evaluation will be on the board's agenda at its next regular meeting March 23.

Commissioners have also recently evaluated County Attorney Garth Coller, their only other direct employee. He earned an average rating of 3.55, also rated between meeting and exceeding expectations.

Druzbick noted that Coller keeps the commission out of legal trouble but "he needs to be able to interpret the law with a wider brush.''

Stabins said he is "doing a fine job'' and called him "trustworthy, loyal, helpful and friendly'' and praised Coller's staff. When asked whether Coller exhibits an appropriate sense of humor, Stabins said he is excellent and that "I know of only one man funnier in the whole courthouse.''

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

Hernando County's administrator David Hamilton gets passing grades on report card 03/10/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 10, 2010 8:29pm]

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