TAMPA — Hillsborough County commissioners are turning to a local woman with private-sector experience to be their next internal auditor, a position that has been vacant for two years.
Commissioners voted unanimously to extend an offer to Michelle Leonhardt, who has spent the past seven years at WellCare Health Plans, most recently as its director of internal audit. Her start date is not set, as commissioners must still negotiate salary and benefits.
Leonhardt holds certifications as an internal auditor, information systems auditor and as a public accountant, something commissioners said they found attractive and distinct from two other finalists.
She previously worked in the audit and risk advisory service section of KPMG in Tampa and was an accountant with the Hacker Johnson & Smith firm. She has an accounting degree from the University of South Florida.
In selecting Leonhardt, commissioners passed over Kenneth Goff of Dallas, the top choice of a committee that will consult with the auditor to develop a work plan. They also turned down the application of Richard Tarr, the third finalist, who has served as a consultant to the county as it has sought to remake the office.
Both men won initial support from some commissioners, but not the super majority of five needed to approve a new auditor.
Commissioner Victor Crist said Leonhardt stood out on paper and in person for her credentials and confidence.
"You want certain qualities in an auditor," he said. "You want that person to be unintimidated. You want that person to be unafraid. You want that person to be sure and confident."
Leonhardt would be the third auditor commissioners have hired since voters approved creation of the position 10 years ago as a tool for ferreting out waste and inefficiency in county government. But commissioners have fired her two predecessors following short tenures after questions arose about the quality of their work and board members sought to direct them on personal assignments.
The position has been open since May 2010, when commissioners fired former internal performance auditor Jim Barnes. On Tarr's recommendation, commissioners, with the support of voters, changed the job's title and duties. The committee that assisted with the search not only will help develop a work plan but will also serve as a sort of peer review group for the audits.