Pinellas has a communications department with 25 employees and a budget of about $2.24 million dedicated to explaining what's happening in county government.
But when it came time to tell people about his new plan for the emergency medical services system, County Administrator Bob LaSala hired an outsider. LaSala agreed to pay Beth Leytham of the Leytham Group in Tampa $175 an hour to do the job.
So far, Leytham has collected $35,087.50. Among her activities: one-on-one meetings with LaSala and County Commission members, drafting of talking points for LaSala and media training for Assistant County Administrator Moe Freaney, who oversees EMS and fire.
Hiring Leytham as a consultant was justified, LaSala said. The county's communications department has suffered severe cutbacks since 2007, when it had 43 employees and a budget of about $4.03 million.
"I don't have a whole (communications) office. I've got remnants of a (communications) office that is overextended and overtaxed," LaSala said.
The EMS issue is highly complex and multifaceted, he said.
"I need a level of dedication to that, (which) I can't rely on my own staff to provide given their other priorities," LaSala said. "This is a complex issue that requires great clarity and simplification, and the time and energy to do that does not reside in this organization."
LaSala agreed Leytham has no background in EMS or fire issues, but says that's not what he was looking for. Instead, LaSala said, he was looking for someone with expertise in communicating ideas and making them easier for people to understand.
Leytham is the second consultant LaSala has hired to deal with the EMS issue. The first was Mic Gunderson of Integral Performance Solutions. The county agreed to pay $130,000 for a study of the EMS system, but Gunderson missed deadlines. When he delivered a report in January, the document was littered with multiple factual errors that took county employees weeks to double check and correct.
Now LaSala says he wants to hire a third EMS consultant to help "operationalize" the plan Gunderson created. The request for a proposal could go out this month.
At least one county commissioner said he's uncomfortable with the idea of using so many outside consultants.
"It seems to be something that's been done around here often for a long time," Norm Roche said. "I don't understand that."
Roche said he understood LaSala had plans to put into effect whatever the commission decides about EMS, but "I didn't realize it involved a new or another consultant."
"I would question the need for a consultant," Roche said. "If we don't know how to 'operationalize' it, maybe it doesn't need to be 'operationalized.' "
Reach Anne Lindberg at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8450.