LARGO — As St. Petersburg College trustees began the process of looking for a new president Tuesday, one of them criticized departing president Carl Kuttler for suggesting possible replacements.
Trustee Ken Burke said Kuttler's recent statements that St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker and Pinellas school superintendent Julie Janssen should apply for the college presidency taint the process.
"We're not helped by Carl's comments in the paper where he named two possible successors," Burke said during a morning meeting of the college's five trustees. "By naming people, that may hinder some of the good people who should apply for this job from applying."
Trustee Evelyn Bilirakis disagreed.
"Is it wrong for Dr. Kuttler to recommend?" she asked. "I don't think so. I think he can make comments publicly to us about what he thinks."
Janssen has signaled she's not interested in the job, while Baker, whose second term as mayor expires at the end of year, said he is interested.
Trustees gathered Tuesday to begin the process of sorting it all out.
The group vowed during the 90-minute meeting not to let talk of either possible candidate affect its search to replace Kuttler, the school's president since 1978. Kuttler, 69, announced last month he was retiring.
"This meeting and the process we design should make it clear to everyone that it will be a fair and open process," said trustee Terry Brett.
Trustees said they would hire a firm to conduct a national search for candidates, and planned to form a selection committee made up of representatives from the college community. They also said they hoped to create a Web site so the public can receive updates about the search.
They did not discuss the requirements for the job, whether the next president would be required to hold a Ph.D., or a potential job description.
Nor did they discuss a time line to replace Kuttler, who has not announced when he would step down.
But Burke and trustee Deveron Gibbons, who is running for mayor in St. Petersburg, suggested that the college might be best served by appointing an interim president to allow breathing space between Kuttler and his eventual successor.
No decision on naming an interim president was made.
Kuttler has 23 months remaining on his current contract and is among the 10 highest-paid community college presidents in the country, earning nearly $400,000 a year in pay and benefits.
Sitting to the right of the trustees, Kuttler — who is credited with leading the college through a period of rapid growth — said he hoped to make the transition seamless.
But he did sprinkle in another surprise. Kuttler, who has tenure at the college, left open the possibility of staying at SPC to teach.
"I don't know whether that's something I want to do or not," Kuttler said.
Aaron Sharockman can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 892-2273.