Len Sossamon is top choice for Hernando County administrator

BROOKSVILLE — After mulling over resumes, news clippings and notes, and considering last week's interviews, the Hernando County Commission on Tuesday chose Len Sossamon of North Carolina as its top choice for the county's next administrator.

The next step is for commission Chairman Wayne Dukes to negotiate a salary and a contract with Sossamon, with help from the county's recruiter and attorney.

The county advertised an annual salary of $120,000 to $150,000, noting that it hoped to hire at the low end of the range. Dukes has said he wants to pay even less.

If negotiations are successful, Sossamon will be the ninth Hernando County administrator since 1990. He was among three finalists selected by the search firm Colin Baenziger & Associates.

Baenziger passed out ballots to commissioners Tuesday, saying the first round of voting would be to get an idea of whom each commissioner thought was the front-runner among the three finalists. Immediately, four commissioners chose Sossamon; Commissioner Dave Russell chose "none of the above.''

As soon as Russell heard the results of the vote, however, he said he wanted to send the right message to the new administrator, and he made the motion to hire Sossamon. A unanimous vote followed.

"I look forward to a new direction in Hernando County,'' Dukes said after the vote.

"It's exciting. It's very exciting,'' Sossamon said in a telephone interview Tuesday afternoon.

He said his visit to Hernando last week gave him a good feel for the county's employees, who he thought were professional and seemed to work together well. He said he was also impressed by the county assets, including the airport and the Interstate 75 corridor.

"It makes me feel very pleased to get a 5-0 vote,'' he said, noting that the support made him feel comfortable that the commissioners want to work with him.

"It's super,'' he said. "I look forward to working with them.''

The commissioners had no public discussion about why they picked Sossamon over the other two finalists, Ed Green of Colorado and James Wilson of Texas.

After the meeting, Russell said he thought Sossamon was the best of the three, but didn't immediately pick him because "I was looking for someone just a little more fearsome.''

Still, Russell acknowledged he also didn't vote for David Hamilton four years ago because he thought he was a "wuss.''

"He spent three years proving me terribly wrong, and I invite Len to do the same thing,'' Russell said.

Commissioner John Druzbick said Sossamon was the clear pick for him because of his work in economic development and his involvement in the community in previous jobs. It also spoke well, Druzbick said, that a previous employer offered him a six-month leave of absence to care for a family member so he wouldn't quit.

Commissioner Jeff Stabins said of Sossamon, "I think he'll be a good fit for Hernando County. He's qualified, and I think he can do the job.''

Dukes said he had some reservations about the selection process, but he thought all of the candidates were capable. He liked Sossamon the best. "I liked his demeanor,'' he said. "I liked the one-on-one I had with him.''

Dukes said Sossamon had made him comfortable in his conversation and he liked that some of the things he'd been through in his career likely prepared him for the challenges he will face in Hernando County.

That's also what sold Commissioner Jim Adkins.

Sossamon had touted his economic development history, including his work to develop industrial parks and lure industries into the South Carolina community where he last worked in the public sector to counteract the loss of jobs in the textile industry.

Sossamon, 61, has worked in real estate development and solar energy solutions for businesses for the last several years. He served as the administrator in Newberry County, S.C., from 2004 through 2006. Before that, he was city manager of Concord, N.C., for 13 years and that city's planning and community development director for five years.

Adkins said that in Newberry County, Sossamon had the foresight to lure industries into the community to offset job losses and worked to provide infrastructure to support those industries. To be sure of the impact of those actions, Adkins called some contacts of Sossamon and found that they were very appreciative of what he had done.

"He's a good people person,'' Adkins said. "He believes in the institutional knowledge of the county staff and workers.''

Adkins said there was just one drawback to the pick.

"He eats the wrong type of barbecue in North Carolina,'' he quipped. "They eat their barbecue with vinegar on it.''

Adkins promised to introduce Sossamon to Florida barbecue when he arrives.

Sossamon said he plans to bring his appetite and see what Adkins has to offer. "I'm looking forward to it,'' he said.

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

In other business

The Hernando County Commission on Tuesday:

• Agreed to take down two large trees in Hernando Park in downtown Brooksville. The trees were examined by experts who determined that they were ailing and posed a threat to public safety. The park is a focal point for next month's inaugural Florida Blueberry Festival.

• Approved a plan to purchase for $285,000 a building at the Airport Industrial Park to house the county's parks maintenance operations center. The center had been operating out of the fairgrounds, but the Hernando County Fair Association needed extra space for its operations. The funding will come from park impact fees.

Len Sossamon is top choice for Hernando County administrator 04/10/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, April 10, 2012 8:17pm]

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