Thursday, November 23, 2017
News Roundup

Pinellas County to cut jobs of two top administrators

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Pinellas County Administrator Bob LaSala is eliminating the jobs of two of his top deputies, part of an administrative shakeup he said is aimed at cutting costs and combining departments.

The new plan would cut two of the three existing assistant county administrator positions. Maureen Freaney and Carl Harness, both of whom became LaSala's assistant administrators two years ago, will no longer hold those jobs.

"I've recruited these people, they've been top performers, and it's with a great deal of anxiety that I am doing this," LaSala said Tuesday. "But I think it needs to be done."

Freaney will stay on staff, LaSala said, as the director of the county's Animal Services Department, which she has been running for several months on an interim basis while the county searched for a new leader. But the job will come with a significant pay cut — Freaney currently makes about $155,000, LaSala said, and in her new position will earn about $30,000 less.

"I've known for a few weeks and kind of my only comment on this is I've been in Animal Services for about four months and I have absolutely found a real passion there," Freaney said.

The elimination of her job was a budget-based decision, she said. She said she and LaSala are "absolutely on good terms."

LaSala said he offered to find a new job for Harness but was turned down. Harness has applied to lead the Children's Board of Hillsborough County and has also put himself in contention to replace outgoing Pasco County Administrator John Galllagher. Harness was on vacation Tuesday and could not be reached for comment.

Freaney and Harness oversaw a long list of county departments, including health and human services, emergency management, tourist development and public safety.

Taking effect in early October, LaSala's reorganization will hand new power to Health and Human Services director Gwendolyn Warren and Public Safety Services director Bruce Moeller, both of whom will get raises. How much is still being worked out, LaSala said.

The plan will leave Mark Woodard, whose official title is chief of staff, as the sole assistant county administrator.

"There will be substantial savings, several hundred thousand dollars in savings," LaSala said. "Some of that will be used to undertake some careful study of work process improvement and service delivery improvement as well as some other reorganization."

Though property values are expected to rise in Pinellas for the first time in five years, the county's leaders are still bracing themselves for a large budget gap in fiscal year 2014. They expect lawmakers in Tallahassee will force them to pay more into the state's retirement system, and that fear, coupled with declining revenue from the gas tax and the need to give employees raises, has them looking for ways to slim down.

Though he does not plan to present the commissioners with his budget proposal until July, LaSala has begun to discuss combining departments such as Community Development, Health and Human Services, Code Enforcement and Justice and Consumer Services. Warren and Moeller will become executive directors under this change, he said, and will oversee the departments that are born out of future consolidation.

Anna M. Phillips can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8779.

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