Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Pinellas Commission may give administrator more land buying power

A little more than a year ago, a grand jury slammed Pinellas County's purchase of Property Appraiser Jim Smith's land and urged those responsible to "take all steps necessary to restore confidence in our government."

The County Commission swiftly fired the county attorney. The county administrator was forced to resign. And the seven commissioners prostrated themselves before the public, vowing more transparency and accountability.

"We are beginning now to start the process of rebuilding this bridge of trust," Commissioner Ronnie Duncan said then.

Today the commission considers a proposal from a panel convened to improve the county's real estate practices to avoid another Smith fiasco. The measure would grant the county administrator authority to spend as much as $250,000 to purchase property without approval from the commission.

While a reform measure to some, at least one commissioner is saying the move isn't consistent with the promises voiced a year ago.

"We already went through a process where secrecy took place and full disclosure was not given," said County Commissioner Karen Seel. "I don't want secrecy to surround the county courthouse."

In June 2007, the commission voted unanimously to buy Smith's land for $225,000, nearly four times the value Smith's office gave the property. The purchase was to settle Smith's claim — later questioned by the grand jury — that county work crews had damaged his land. Commissioners maintain their staff of professionals failed to disclose key information and assured them the deal was clean.

The proposed increase to the administrator's powers comes from a panel assembled after the Smith debacle and charged with improving county real estate procedures. The group recommended giving the administrator wide authority in the real estate arena so that the commission could focus on policy and planning, thus streamlining the process.

The particulars were developed inside county government. A cap of $250,000 was selected, officials said, because current rules already allow the administrator to approve contracts and make change orders up to that amount without the commission's involvement.

Under the proposal's language as written Monday, the administrator would only have the power to make land buys that "advance the completion" of a capital project already approved by the commission. After being questioned by the St. Petersburg Times over whether the Smith purchase would have been possible under such terms, County Attorney Jim Bennett said the language was being narrowed to bar that possibility.

Not good enough, Seel said of Bennett's changes.

"This isn't going to happen again under my watch," she said, referring to the Smith mess. "So I'm not abdicating that authority to anyone, no matter how honest and good they are."

County Commissioner Ken Welch holds a different view. Welch said removing the commission could take politics out of the process. Further, he said, if you can't trust your administrator to use such authority wisely, maybe you've hired the wrong administrator.

While she believes the intent of the proposal is sound, County Commissioner Susan Latvala said she understands how it could have unintended and ugly consequences.

"We need to have a good discussion about it," she said.

Will Van Sant can be reached at or (727) 445-4166.

Pinellas Commission may give administrator more land buying power 10/06/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, October 8, 2008 5:06pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Colt Prattes and Abigail Breslin do the iconic lift scene in the remake of Dirty Dancing on ABC.
  2. Goodbye Tampa Bay Express, hello Tampa Bay Next; but toll lanes aren't going anywhere


    TAMPA — Tampa Bay Express is dead.

    But it's replacement — Tampa Bay Next — will likely include many of the same projects, including express toll lanes on the rebuilt Howard Frankland Bridge.

    The Florida Department of Transportation on Monday announced that it was renaming its Tampa Bay Express plan, also known as TBX. The plan will now be known as Tampa Bay Next, or TBN. DOT officials say there are still re-evaluating the most controversial aspect of the old TBX plan: spend $6 billion to add 90 miles of toll roads to bay area highways - Interstates 4,75 and 275 - that are currently free of tolls. But TBN will keep the plan to add express toll lanes to the rebuilt Howard Frankland Bridge. [Florida Department of Transportation]
  3. Trigaux: Tampa Bay lands on Forbes 2017 ranking of best places for young professionals

    Working Life

    Consider this one more notch in the belt of Tampa Bay starting to win serious attention from millennials as place to live and build a career.

    Mike Griffin is a senior managing director in Tampa for Savills Studley Occupier Services, which provides integrated real estate services. He is also chairman for 2017 of the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce, the first of the next generation of leadership emerging in this metro market. [Courtesy of Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce]
  4. Column: Trump beat Bush, Rubio but has become an 'establishment sellout'


    NYT’s Ross Douthat's Sunday column: Donald Trump, Establishment Sellout

  5. Haitians get a reprieve from Trump administration


    Haitians living in Florida, and the rest of the country, will be allowed to stay an additional six months, federal officials have decided.