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Pasco Sheriff Bob White hires Timothy Couet, Jeremiah Hawkes, Richard Corcoran

NEW PORT RICHEY — When Sheriff Bob White went to hire new attorneys and a public relations staffer recently, he didn't advertise the jobs, solicit applications or conduct a nationwide search.

Instead he hired three people he knew who have substantial political connections — locally and in the halls of state government.

In recent weeks, White brought on:

• Timothy Couet, former campaign manager for state Sen. Mike Fasano, a White ally who is a powerful force in Tallahassee. Couet filled a newly created public relations position, writing for the Sheriff's Office Web site and newsletters.

• Jeremiah Hawkes, former general counsel for the Florida House of Representatives under Speaker Marco Rubio. Hawkes took over as White's staff attorney.

• Richard Corcoran, who was chief of staff to Rubio until resigning to run for the state Senate in 2007. He dropped out of that race and is now considering a run for the state House. Corcoran — another Fasano friend — is the sheriff's new contract attorney, representing the agency in employment and union matters.

White made no apologies for not opening the application process to the general public.

"I don't do that," he said. "Those are command-level positions. I have to choose my closest staff, and those are the people that share my commitment to making this agency deliver."

The manner in which the three men were hired — with no public posting — differs from the process Pasco County government follows.

County personnel director Barbara De Simone said even positions for at-will employees (mainly professionals and some secretaries with no right to appeal if they're fired) are advertised.

Is there ever an exception?

"A vacant position and somebody is just hired and put into that position? I can't think of a time we've done that," De Simone said.

Records show none of the three new hires contributed money to White's campaign, and the sheriff emphasized he simply picked the best people.

"They did get hired because they're well-connected," he said. "They're connected to me, and that's what's important."

• • •

Couet was an Eckerd College student working on the 2006 campaign of Kim Berfield when he met Fasano, a fellow Republican. Berfield lost that state Senate race to Democrat Charlie Justice. As he often does for campaign volunteers, Fasano wrote a letter to Couet, thanking him for his work.

"I said if there's anything I can do for him in the future, let me know," Fasano said.

After finishing school that same year, Couet wrote to Fasano to inquire about job possibilities. Fasano, R-New Port Richey, hired him to manage his 2008 Senate campaign.

"He did press releases, he did campaign coordinating as far as volunteers," Fasano said. "He just ran the campaign from A to Z and did an outstanding job."

Along the way, Couet met White, who was also in the thick of campaigning.

Fasano said he knew the sheriff was looking for someone to do internal communications work, and that one of the sheriff's public information officers was leaving. Doug Tobin resigned in November to become press secretary for the Department of Environmental Protection in Tallahassee.

"I recommended him to the sheriff," Fasano said, "because the sheriff was looking to reduce the costs within his department and also replace individuals with people who could come up the ladder.

"I highly recommended Tim Couet to him."

Couet, who declined to comment for this story, started work Jan. 5. He earns $37,500.

"What a bright, bright young man," said White. "He is a quick study. I lucked out because Tim Couet could make a lot more money somewhere else, but don't tell him that."

• • •

Hawkes, 32, took on the attorney's job long held by Mike Randall, who was told in January that the Sheriff's Office was "going in a different direction." It was part of an agency-wide shuffling of personnel to save money.

Hawkes is the son of an appellate judge, Paul Hawkes, who also served in the state House.

White said he first met the younger Hawkes during a business trip to Tallahassee a couple of years ago. Hawkes became available for hire after Rubio's term as speaker ended in November. He had been a general counsel, earning $82,500.

"I asked him, I said, 'Do you want to come to Pasco County and be my general counsel?' " White said. "We had a meeting of the minds, and boom."

White is paying Hawkes $85,696 and said he has received compliments about him from others in the Sheriff's Office.

"He is a bright, bright young lawyer, and he's already hit the ground running," White said.

Hawkes declined to comment for this story.

• • •

Corcorcan's connections run longer and deeper.

His brother, Michael Corcoran, is a political consultant whom White hired to run his campaign last year. Of the $206,501 White raised, $187,260 was paid to Michael Corcoran's Capitol Consulting, records show. Some of that money went to media buys and other campaign materials, but it also included a $2,500 monthly consulting fee.

Both White and Richard Corcoran, who have known each other about 10 years, said Richard played no role in the sheriff's campaign.

Corcoran served a stint as Rubio's chief of staff before resigning in 2007 to run for the state Senate. He raised $185,000 in two weeks but quit the race amid attacks over his conduct in a previous campaign.

He's now eyeing a possible run for the House District 45 seat held by Tom Anderson, who will be forced out by term limits in 2010.

Corcoran said he hasn't made a decision yet about running. White said he hasn't talked to him about the idea of running for office, but added, "I'm sure he's capable."

Fasano has been friends with the Corcorans going back decades, and Richard Corcoran already has Fasano's support should he jump into the House race.

White said he has wanted to hire Corcoran, 43, since he was first elected. His contract pays $150 an hour, up to 50 hours a month — potentially $90,000 in a year.

"I spoke with a few lawyers over the last few years, and quite frankly some very good ones," White said. "(But) my dream team would be Richard Corcoran. Once he moved back to Pasco County, it was a no-brainer for me to reach out to him, and it's worked out well."

"There are two kinds of people in politics — cowards and cowboys," White added. "Richard's a cowboy."

Molly Moorhead can be reached at moorhead@sptimes.com or (727) 869-6245.

Pasco Sheriff Bob White hires Timothy Couet, Jeremiah Hawkes, Richard Corcoran 02/14/09 [Last modified: Saturday, February 14, 2009 2:48pm]

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