BROOKSVILLE — For more than a year, Hernando taxpayers have clamored for a leaner county government. And since his arrival in March, County Administrator David Hamilton has promised he would deliver a smaller, more efficient machine.
On Thursday, Hamilton revealed his grand design that shrinks operations, creates a leadership team that includes constitutional officers such as the sheriff, and streamlines repetitive functions that now take place across multiple offices.
Besides greater efficiency, the moves should save taxpayers at least $500,000 a year, he said, with most of the savings coming at the expense of higher-paid directors and supervisors whose jobs would be eliminated.
That would happen through an early leave incentive plan, the creation of which will be a top priority of the new human resources director, expected to take office in a few weeks.
The new organizational structure would whittle the current 26 departments and agencies to 10 divisions. Two of those divisions would be county-related functions now run by two of the constitutional officers, the sheriff and the clerk of courts. The constitutional officers, however, would maintain their autonomy as granted by state law.
While names are not yet tied to specific duties, Hamilton said he has approached current directors to ask if they would take on the new roles. He said he is also going to talk to others about the positions.
So far he has asked Larry Jennings to take on administrative services, Charles Mixson, transportation services, Ron Pianta, land services, Mike Nickerson, fire services, Joe Stapf, environmental services, Michael McHugh, development services and Jean Rags, community services.
Hamilton met with his department heads on Thursday to talk about the plan. He noted that "the stress and anxiety has already begun'' over the potential changes.
"I'm just presenting it to get the debate started,'' he said, "and it already has.''
In a memo to commissioners, Hamilton describes the cumbersome structure that now exists. He recalls a meeting in June of the county's government leaders to discuss the budget where "the introductions took nearly an hour.''
His proposal moves from the top-down hierarchy of departments and directors into a "leadership team'' of the 10 division directors, who would meet regularly to talk about issues. Managers and supervisors under them would carry out the day-to-day operations.
"Although management is important, it is only one component of leadership,'' Hamilton wrote. "In essence, management is your bottom line dealing with budgets, staffing and the like while leadership is your top line dealing with strategic planning based on emerging issues identified through broadly shared information.''
Hamilton wants government to anticipate problems and act to head them off rather than simply reacting to crises. Regular discussions among leaders is better than "having a group of department heads randomly meet when we have a problem.''
Hamilton used an example of a recent County Commission discussion on a proposed new development. Sheriff Richard Nugent pointed out that the new development would mean increase demands for police service. The decision also affected the district's transportation policies, operation of the jail and utilities.
"At present, our structure does not prompt us to discuss these broad policy concepts as an organization prior to presenting them to the county board,'' Hamilton wrote. Instead, county officials write reports based on their department issues.
Hamilton suggests the team meet every other week for about two hours, with him leading the informal session where division directors would discuss issues and reach consensus. Those decisions and any dissenting opinions would be passed to commissioners for consideration and a vote, if required.
Such a system, he said, would greatly increase communications, enhance accountability, allow more sharing of services and provide consistent and approved services to citizens.
"It's impressive,'' Commissioner Dave Russell said of Hamilton's plan. "It is a much more pragmatic approach to service delivery.''
Russell said it eliminates duplication of services and notes that it echoes Sheriff Richard Nugent's own quality control system known as STARCOM.
"David's program just makes a tremendous amount of sense,'' Russell said.
Commissioner Rose Rocco called the draft a good starting point but said there are more conversations that must take place. The board will take a look at the plan in detail at Tuesday's meeting.
"We're still going to have to review it,'' she said. "It's something that's totally different than anything we've ever done.''
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 848-1434.