Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Pinellas County administrator faces increasingly divided board, more questions

For the past two months, a consultant hired by Pinellas County Administrator Bob LaSala has led brainstorming sessions with commissioners about ways to cut county spending.

It's a change from last year, when Commissioner Karen Seel felt like LaSala sprang budget information on them at the last minute, without enough explanation or time for debate.

"We didn't do that when I was chairman — and I would have liked to," Seel said of this year's sessions.

Facing more questions and scrutiny from the seven-member commission, LaSala has tried to become more responsive. He parlays more questions and parses details of more proposals.

That doesn't mean he's faring well. Some of his key proposals have misfired on a board that is increasingly more divided than the one that hired him in 2008.

His proposal to impose a new stormwater drainage fee on unincorporated residents barely survived in February.

The carefully watched study he ordered to improve emergency medical services contained numerous errors and is being reworked.

And despite his support, the creation of a combined curbside recycling and trash pickup service faces uncertain odds at a March 15 commission meeting.

"I think this is a learning process for Bob," Commissioner John Morroni said. "This isn't the board that he was used to before."

LaSala, 61, who is paid $225,000 annually, has spent most of his tenure trying to mend budget troubles, juggling unpopular layoffs and spending cuts.

But three members of the board that hired him are gone, replaced by the commissioners who more often question him.

LaSala acknowledged a new climate on the board, but chalked it up to the broader economic problems facing the community, not deteriorating relationships.

"I think it's a product of the times … and individual styles, interests and preferences, and new members bringing new approaches to the larger body," LaSala said.

"I think in this environment any kind of tax fee or charge is more difficult. And in this environment, it should be."

But Commissioners Nancy Bostock and Neil Brickfield have lobbed zingers at LaSala's work.

For example, LaSala tried to schedule an initial vote last month to create the stormwater fee before a consultant's report detailing the potential costs was done. The vote date coincided with legal requirements to put the fee on November tax bills. The board delayed the vote.

The report ultimately suggested charging homeowners $27 to $187 a year.

"I don't think this is a very transparent process," Brickfield told LaSala.

Later, after a 4-3 vote kept the proposal alive, Bostock suggested that LaSala had bungled the process.

"I told Mr. LaSala in a one-on-one meeting that I was concerned he was giving us one set of options to go use — not only institute this tax, but institute it now," Bostock said.

LaSala isn't without support on the board.

Seel and commission Chairwoman Susan Latvala both said they don't believe the county administrator is overreaching in his duties. The proposals originated from direction by the board.

"If they gave that direction, they should have known what was going to come back," Seel said.

LaSala said he has a duty to make recommendations to the board. He and the staff worked hard to make sure commissioners understood the vote was procedural, but he acknowledged he didn't anticipate the problem the debate could cause.

"From what I can see, he's bending over backward," Lat­vala said.

Despite an edgier working relationship, none of the commissioners said they're unhappy with LaSala's overall performance. The disputes have exposed cracks in individual relationships.

"I'm nowhere near the boiling point that maybe Neil or Nancy are," Morroni said.

Bostock called LaSala capable, but said the board needs to play a bigger role in setting the county's agenda. This budget sessions veered from strategy to only figuring out ways to make the next budget work, she said.

Brickfield said LaSala is "doing a good job" and has done better providing information in a tough job.

"In fact, it would be weird and bizarre if we weren't debating," said Brickfield, who, along with Bostock, won office after LaSala was hired.

Commissioner Norm Roche, who was elected in November to replace longtime member Calvin Harris, is a bigger skeptic of the county's practices.

"I think you're seeing an actual change — and maybe some uncomfortable changes — from what was a flowing process before," Roche said.

They aren't the only new eyeballs. Now the tea party has started showing up.

At most commission meetings, a handful of activists watch board debates for hours — more if debates on spending rile them.

"This is costly to the taxpayer and will expand our government unnecessarily, to the citizens of Pinellas County," Palm Harbor resident Deb Caso told the board about the stormwater fee.

LaSala simply stared ahead.

David DeCamp can be reached at ddecamp@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8779.

Pinellas County administrator faces increasingly divided board, more questions 03/05/11 [Last modified: Saturday, March 5, 2011 11:13pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Trump vowed to end DACA. Tampa Bay immigrants worry he soon will

    State Roundup

    Andrea Seabra imagined the worst if Donald Trump won: "I thought on the first day he would say, 'DACA is done' and send immigration officers to every house."

    Mariana Sanchez Ramirez, 23, poses for a photograph on the Tampa campus of the University of South Florida on Wednesday. Mariana, who was born in Torreon in the state of Coahuila, Mexico, traveled with her family to the United States on a tourist's visa in 2000. She was able to stay in the U.S. and attended college after President Barack Obama's action on Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals in June 2012. Mariana will graduate with a degree in political science from USF next month. (CHRIS URSO   |   Times)
  2. Want to audition for Howl-O-Scream? Here's how.

    Florida

    How would you like a job that has you running all night, dodging punches and earning high marks from your boss if you make someone wet their pants?

    Lindsay Weppelman, a University of South Florida biomedical science student, plays a Zombie Bride in one of Busch Gardens' open-air scare zones at Howl-O-Scream 2016.  Photo courtesy of Busch Gardens.
  3. On the defensive: Heisman history not in Derwin James' favor

    College

    The lowdown on Derwin James? "No offense to (Michigan's Jabrill) Peppers (a Heisman finalist last year)," ESPN analyst Rex Ryan says, "but he only wished he was the player this kid was." (Monica Herndon, Times)
  4. Trigaux: Closing Iron Yard coding school hits area tech hard but leaders talk of options

    Business

    The coming shutdown this fall of the Iron Yard software coding school in downtown St. Petersburg — announced this month as part of a national closing of all 15 Iron Yard locations — remains a shocking event to a Tampa Bay technology community that dreams big of becoming a major player in the Southeast if not …

    In better days last fall, friends and family of graduates at The Iron Yard, based in the Station House in downtown St. Petersburg, applaud during "Demo Day" when grads of the coding school show off their skills. Despite the local success and strong job placement by the coding school, The Iron Yard is closing all of its 15 locations across the country this summer. [LARA CERRI   |   Times]
  5. Kevin Kiermaier: Return to action Thursday 'didn't set the world on fire'

    The Heater

    Rays center fielder Kevin Kiermaier's return from the hip injury that sidelined him since June 8 could have gone better Thursday in Port Charlotte. He broke two bats and went hitless in two at bats while playing for the Class A Charlotte Stone Crabs.

    Kevin Kiermaier takes cuts in the cage during batting practice before the game between the Rays and Texas Rangers Saturday at Tropicana Field. [WILL VRAGOVIC   |   Times]