The field of candidates vying to become the next executive director of the Juvenile Welfare Board has been narrowed to 11, with Pinellas Commissioner Ken Welch making the first cut.
The board met Thursday morning to begin discussing who will replace Gay Lancaster, its long-time executive director who is retiring at the end of June. Though the search would typically attract little attention, the involvement of Welch — the county's most prominent Democrat — has thrust it into the spotlight.
Though some board members knew Welch intended to apply, most political observers were caught by surprise when he announced last week that he had put his name forward. Welch is one of four county commissioners named in a term limits lawsuit that threatens to knock them out of office, a major factor in his decision to apply.
Dr. James Sewell, who is leading the search committee, said the board is looking for someone who can sell the agency to the public before a 2016 voter referendum that will determine whether the board can continue to exist.
"They've got to be the right kind of high profile," he said, "and they've got to understand the political process."
Sewell noted that when the Children's Trust in Miami was in a similar situation in 2000, it put the publisher of the Miami Herald, David Lawrence Jr., in charge of leading a campaign for its reauthorization, "and they kicked butt."
The board received 99 applications, six of which arrived after the agency extended its deadline from late January to Feb. 8. Of those, a subcommittee culled eight names from the first batch of applications, and two from the second.
On Thursday, Pinellas Commissioner Karen Seel had a last minute request of her own. She asked the committee to add Elizabeth Warren, a former Pinellas assistant county administrator, to the list of semi-finalists. The board agreed.
Over the next several weeks, the search committee with interview the 11 candidates, whittling the list to five at most. They plan to present the finalists to the board on April 3 and a vote is scheduled for April 11.
In addition to Welch, the semifinalists include: Marcie Biddleman, the JWB's chief operating officer; Tom Avramis, executive director of Stepping Stones, California; Duggan Cooley, president of the United Way of Pasco County; Bobbi Davis, a former employee of the Children's Board of Hillsborough County; Don Dixon, the former chief operating officer of the Children's Board of Hillsborough County; Cathleen Glassford, director of the Sandusky County Family and Children First Council, Ohio; Joanne Lighter, former president of the Spring of Tampa Bay, Inc.; Wayne Witczak, president of W.M. Witczak & Group, LLC; Michael Johnson, assistant director of the Fresno County Department of Behavioral Health, California; and Elizabeth Warren, former Pinellas assistant county administrator.