Tuesday, January 16, 2018
News Roundup

LaSala will spend remaining time on county payroll working at SPC

ST. PETERSBURG — The Pinellas County Commission's vote to fire County Administrator Bob LaSala two weeks ago wasn't quite the end of his tenure, because his contract requires the board to give him 90 days' notice.

Now, LaSala knows where he'll spend the rest of his time as a county employee.

Commission Chairwoman Karen Seel sent LaSala a letter Thursday assigning him to work as a "loaned executive" for St. Petersburg College. He will work with SPC president William Law, focusing on economic and community development issues for the college's Institute for Strategic Policy Solutions. He will be based in the college's administrative offices in Clearwater.

The assignment runs through LaSala's last day on July 14. He will continue to receive his $225,000 salary.

Seel said she came up with the idea to make productive use of LaSala's planning background.

"Obviously, Bob needs to work," Seel said. "He can't sit at his house for three months, and this seemed to be an amicable solution that benefits the public as a whole because he'll be working on public policy issues."

LaSala said the assignment will serve as a good segue into his "encore" career of consulting and training.

"It's a great group of civic leaders there and a great opportunity," he said. "I hope I can help contribute to their work."

While commissioners generally praised LaSala's handling of the financial difficulties the county has faced in the past few years, they also criticized his personal style, blaming his sometimes abrasive personality for employee turnover and high-profile disputes with cities and community partners. They also complained about a lack of timely, accurate information. He was fired by a unanimous vote on April 15, with Commissioner Norm Roche absent.

Another embattled county executive has also been assigned to St. Petersburg College.

Gwendolyn Warren, director of Health and Community Services, will help the college with its wellness program until her retirement date of June 30. Interim County Administrator Mark Woodard notified Warren by letter Thursday. Woodard then appointed Lynda Leedy, Warren's deputy, as interim director.

"SPC has a robust wellness program and Ms. Warren's previous portfolio included health care," Woodard said. He said Warren has asked for, and been granted, a leave of absence through May 30.

Last month, Warren told the Tampa Bay Times that she was asked to resign but opted instead to retire. That came about a month after a group of her employees sent an anonymous email to the commission, attacking her management style and calling their work environment "toxic and unproductive." Last year, after staff reductions in the county's veterans service office led to a backlog of claims, military veterans crowded before the County Commission to complain.

Warren could not be reached for comment, but told the Times last month that she is proud of what she accomplished. In her three years, she oversaw a detailed study of poverty in Pinellas, secured $5 million in federal funding for a medical clinic for the homeless in mid county, and pushed the county to offer job training for the homeless.

Tony Marrero can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8779. Follow him on Twitter @tmarrerotimes.

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