TAMPA — Hillsborough County commissioners voted Wednesday to hire an outside firm to begin the search for a county attorney.
The 5-1 vote authorizes the county to solicit offers from a recruiting firm, cap the payment for that firm at $25,000 and conduct a statewide search. A recommendation on what firm to hire must go back to commissioners before the actual search begins.
Commissioner Kevin Beckner voted against the motion, saying that the position ought to be advertised nationally. He also suggested that the county's Civil Service Board could conduct the search and that, if an outside firm was picked, the fee shouldn't be capped to ensure that the county gets the most qualified firm.
Commissioner Al Higginbotham was absent due to a death in his family.
Board Chairman Ken Hagan, who brought the matter forward, noted the issue has been lingering for some time. Former County Attorney Renee Lee was dismissed last year amid allegations that she blessed a stealth raise for herself and engaged in email snooping. Acting County Attorney Don Odom is due to retire by July 1.
Hagan argued that Florida law has many state-specific quirks, and it's important for the county to hire someone familiar with them. He said a statewide search wouldn't preclude someone who is licensed in Florida but has moved out of state from applying.
He also said that hiring an outside firm provides the best assurance that the search is conducted at arms-length, preventing the process from favoring any prospective candidate.
"I think by hiring an outside firm," Hagan said, "it depoliticizes the search and keeps us above the fray."
Beckner pressed several times to advertise the position in national legal publications, but was generally rebuffed by his colleagues.
In other action:
•Commissioners narrowly rejected Les Miller's request to create a regional vendor preference program. It would have allowed bidders from Hillsborough and four surrounding counties an opportunity to match the winning bid if their original offer had come close to winning the work. The proposal died on a 3-3 vote, with Beckner, Mark Sharpe and Sandra Murman opposed.
•The board voted 6-0 to ask legislators to spare Hillsborough Correctional Institute, the Riverview women's prison, from closure, as is currently planned.