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New Hernando County Administrator Len Sossamon met challenges of a difficult year

County Administrator Len Sossamon, center, talks with Brenda McDaniel, left, and Ana Trinque. Sossamon received high marks in his recent evaluation.

WILL VRAGOVIC | Times

County Administrator Len Sossamon, center, talks with Brenda McDaniel, left, and Ana Trinque. Sossamon received high marks in his recent evaluation.

BROOKSVILLE

Len Sossamon had been warned.

Hernando County had a reputation for devouring county administrators; yet he still wanted the job.

When Sossamon left North Carolina in May to take the reins of Hernando government, he became the county's ninth administrator since 1990.

He replaced 31/2-year administrator David Hamilton after the commission fired him in late 2011, with a majority of commissioners saying they had lost faith in him.

Sossamon, 62, had no real honeymoon.

He started just a month after the widely publicized incident in which a healthy young dog named Zeus was euthanized just 12 minutes after a relative of his owner surrendered him to Hernando County Animal Services.

People were calling for the firing of the Animal Services director and workers. Animal lovers from all over the country were flooding the county with emails.

Sossamon's arrival also came at a time when the county was wrestling with its 2012-13 budget, the fifth straight year of declining property tax revenues and depleted reserves.

Days after Sossamon began his new job, Hernando got slapped with the remnants of Tropical Storm Beryl, which doused the county with more than 6 inches of rain, giving Sossamon a quick trial run of handling a crisis.

He would need that when Tropical Storm Debby swept into Hernando a month later, dumping nearly three times that amount of rain in some areas, flooding roads and homes and opening up sinkholes on major thoroughfares and at the airport.

Last month, Sossamon got high marks from the five county commissioners for his leadership, professionalism and teamwork during his first half-year on the job. In his self-evaluation, Sossamon said he had "worked diligently to build trust within the organization and with the public and the media'' and had communicated well with the public and the staff.

In commenting on his management skills, he wrote, "I have worked to manage the conflicts/problems that were existing prior to my being hired. These include Animal Services, lack of revenue, flood control, etc.''

Sossamon also noted among his accomplishments his reorganization of storm water management, Animal Services and Code Enforcement.

As for the future, he listed goals that include developing a smoother budget process, developing new revenue sources, completing a strategic plan and working on a plan for the money the county expects to receive from the 2010 BP oil spill settlement.

Earlier this month, Sossamon hosted town hall meetings and heard comments regarding what Hernando residents consider their priorities for county services. There was a divide, with some people wanting only basic services while others said they support higher-tier offerings.

Libraries were one service a number of people supported.

"People are passionate about libraries,'' Sossamon said. "I'm not thinking about closing libraries or parks.''

Those options have been on the table in previous years, as the commissioners have struggled with multimillion-dollar revenue shortfalls.

"What we're trying to do is establish a level of service that people want,'' Sossamon said. "That sets the bar for what are going to be quality-of-life issues.''

With the start of 2013 days away, Sossamon said he looks forward to seeing the recommendations that came out of the Animal Services audit put into place. A new veterinarian manager and other new staff positions should be filled early in the year.

Multiple issues related to the economic diversification of Hernando are also high on Sossaman's list for the new year, including workforce development, business development and various aspects of the operation at the newly renamed Brooksville-Tampa Regional Airport.

Sossamon's leadership team has also been working on a strategic plan for the county, and he said he is still mulling over ideas for reorganization of county government in order to increase efficiency.

The other critical project for 2013, Sossamon said, is completion of the consolidation of the county and Spring Hill fire-rescue operations.

"The consolidation with Spring Hill must be accomplished by Sept. 30,'' he said. "It's moving along in just the way that it should.''

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

New Hernando County Administrator Len Sossamon met challenges of a difficult year 12/26/12 [Last modified: Wednesday, December 26, 2012 8:27pm]
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