They may not always like his ideas, but Pinellas County commissioners gave Administrator Bob LaSala rosy ratings on his annual performance review this month.
LaSala earned good-to-excellent overall ratings on every category. His highest marks came for integrity. His lowest area, although still a good rating, was communication.
That's despite the commission's recent rejection of the curbside recycling program he recommended, questions over a faulty first report on changing emergency medical service, and anxiety over a stormwater drainage fee he offered.
"I think you do a phenomenal job, and I think your review reflects that. Your job is always a challenge in good times and bad, but it's even more difficult during times like this," Commission Chairwoman Susan Latvala said during a meeting Tuesday.
The board took less than five minutes to discuss LaSala's review, which includes no raise due to a salary freeze. LaSala, who took the $225,000-a-year job in fall 2008 after the Jim Smith scandal forced out Steve Spratt, credited the work of employees and his top lieutenants.
Several commissioners said their rejection of LaSala's proposals were more a reflection of board divisions than LaSala's execution. Three members — Nancy Bostock, Neil Brickfield and Norm Roche — have joined since he was hired. The others have been in place for a decade.
"I'm sure he lays in bed, looks at the ceiling and says, 'What did I get myself into?' " said Brickfield, who at times has tangled with LaSala but gave him high marks.
Bostock gave LaSala subtly lower scores than other members, rating him only satisfactory for strategic planning, "facilitating county board effectiveness," involving citizens and media relations.
"He's a strong capable administrator, and the county's in good hands," Bostock said.
But too often for her tastes, LaSala relies on individual meetings to make decisions instead of having broader discussions earlier with the board in public meetings.
"I think the one-on-one meetings is the way he operates and the way he prefers to operate," she said. "I think we need to do a better job of operating as a leadership team."
Commissioner John Morroni said LaSala needs to forge better relationships with the newest members through individual meetings to build more trust. LaSala is more in step with veteran members, and it shows in policy votes, Morroni said.
"There's no secret about it; Nancy Bostock does do a tremendous about of questioning. There's nothing wrong with that," Morroni said. "But it comes to a point where you can have so many meetings, and still not be on the same page."
In response to board requests for the budget process to be more open, LaSala has held recent planning meetings to delve into budget details. Bostock said she thought they were headed in the right direction.
LaSala said he plans to continue the planning meetings after the budget is approved to focus more on the county's future.
"I want to help the board find its rhythm," LaSala said. "That's more a process effort than a substance effort."
David DeCamp can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8779. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/decamptimes.