By the time Hernando County commissioners had finished interviewing the three finalists for the county administrator's job Wednesday, a clear favorite had emerged: Ron Pianta.
Judging by the praise commissioners heaped upon him for his work as interim administrator, they'd love for him to take the job permanently.
Of course, Pianta made it known from the start that he's not interested. He has plenty of logical-sounding personal reasons why he doesn't want to live in the county where he works — a state requirement for administrators — and uproot his family from its current home in Pasco County.
He'd be more willing, I suspect, if he didn't have to worry about uprooting it again after a couple of miserable years, which has been the pattern around here for county administrators. There's a quirk in my word processing program that seems like it could have been an omen for Pianta. Whenever I type his last name, it automatically changes to "Pinata."
"He's seen it as an insider," said county Commissioner David Russell. "He's watched the county administrators and what they've gone through."
You could call this a non-issue, because, obviously, he's not taking the job. But it does say something about working conditions here when commissioners don't even get to consider the only qualified internal candidate.
They don't get a chance to avoid the period of on-the-job training while the new administrator learns about Hernando and — because all of the finalists are from out of state — about Florida.
They don't get an opportunity to send the message to a demoralized staff that they think one its own can handle the top job.
Instead, we have three outsiders — none of the them especially charismatic, but all experienced and apparently competent. Enough so, at least, that most commissioners said they will choose one of them and will not send their hired headhunter out for a new crop of candidates.
Good. That would be just the kind of snub to further discourage qualified applicants, though there is another, similarly disrespectful idea still floating around. Commission Chairman Wayne Dukes said he wants to try to hire the new administrator for less than the advertised minimum salary of $120,000 per year.
Yes, it would save money. But so would asking the new guy to mow ballfields at county parks. When a county this desperate is trying to hire someone whose work could cost or save the county millions, it's not the time for penny pinching.
The commission won't make its choice until Tuesday, but two of the commissioners, Jim Adkins and John Druzbick, were willing to say Thursday they are leaning toward Len Sossamon, from South Carolina, who has experience working in exurban locations such as Hernando.
My favorite was Ed Green, and I hope that by saying this I won't kill his chances with a commission that tends not to agree with me. He had specific suggestions for saving money, including reducing the inmate population at the county jail. But he was also brave enough to say this won't be enough — that the commission has to get more money out of constitutional officers (read: the sheriff) and maybe raise taxes.
An independent voice, enough money to run the county, and, who knows, we might get an administrator rather than a piñata.