Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Search begins for Hernando County Administrator — with outside help

In case you wondered, former County Administrator David Hamilton did know that his bosses on the Hernando County Commission have bosses of their own.

"There is a shadowland of authority beyond the five members of the board," Hamilton said last week in the first interview he has given since he was fired in October.

Hamilton never knew for sure how this authority worked or who was involved. Otherwise, of course, it wouldn't be in the shadows. I now have a little information about that to pass on — or to shed light upon, I should say, to expand on Hamilton's phrase. It's good enough to deserve that. And to be adopted, repeated and, especially, remembered.

But first, let's agree that everything this kind of arrangement represents — secrecy, cronyism, decisions based on the need to avoid stepping on powerful people's toes — is bad for government.

Let's also agree it's one reason Hernando has run through six administrators — not including temporary stand-ins — in the 14 years since the commission fired Chuck Hetrick, the local government version of baseball Hall of Famer Cal Ripken. Amazingly for someone in such a brutal job, Hetrick managed to endure for 13 years.

Thank administrative services director Cheryl Marsden for forcefully arguing on Tuesday that the county needed to hire a well-regarded head-hunting firm from Palm Beach County to conduct the search for Hamilton's replacement.

Give credit to commissioners — with the exception of Jeff Stabins — for listening to her. And give extra credit because this meant abandoning Chairman Jim Adkins' plan.

Adkins wanted commissioners to form a selection committee that would focus on internal and Hernando County candidates. It was a perfect recipe to discourage professionals from applying and to settle on a local patsy — an administrator who owed his or her job to folks in the shadows.

One of these, it turns out, is Brooksville Realtor Gary Schraut, who, fortunately, doesn't like staying in the shadows. We had heard that a single representative from the authority had called commissioners shortly before they voted in October that Hamilton should go.

"Oh, I don't know if I was the only one, but I sure as heck made some calls," Schraut said.

Schraut, chairman of the county's Aviation Authority, had a beef with Hamilton about the resources of the Hernando County Airport. But that wasn't the real reason he thought Hamilton should be fired, he said.

"I tried on numerous occasions to talk to David. He never had so much as a cup of coffee with me," Schraut said. "He didn't reach out to the business community."

And, Schraut said, if he had the power to get administrators fired, Hamilton "would have been gone two years ago. I've never been a supporter of David Hamilton's."

That time line sounds about right, said Commissioner David Russell, a supporter of Hamilton's, because another major grievance of the people in the shadowland was the treatment of former economic development director Mike McHugh. He was demoted from a department head to a manager in 2009 and took a $13,000 pay cut about a year later.

"There was an uproar about that, and David was never able to recover," Russell said.

Hamilton's opposition to the misguided Quarry Preserve development north of Brooksville and the first round of impact fee cuts in 2009 barely figured in at all, Russell said.

Hamilton had his share of problems. Maybe enough of them that he deserved to go. But one of the problems was not that he was too much of a politician, an accusation that came out of his need to satisfy a majority of commissioners.

It turns out he wasn't enough of a politician, not in the traditional sense — someone who tried to make friends with everybody. He certainly didn't make a lot of them among county staffers. And it wouldn't have hurt him to make time for a friendly cup of coffee with someone as influential as Schraut.

But he shouldn't have had to do that to keep his job. Neither should his replacement. And a job this important shouldn't depend on whether he ticked off friends of a favored county staffer.

I think Hamilton was right in opposing sprawl and cuts in impact fees. Even so, I'd feel better if his position on these issues had done him in — something important to all the people in the county and not just a few powerful ones in the shadows.

Search begins for Hernando County Administrator — with outside help 12/17/11 [Last modified: Saturday, December 17, 2011 9:40am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. What you need to know for Thursday, Oct. 19


    Catching you up on overnight happenings, and what you need to know today

    White nationalist Richard Spencer is scheduled to speak at the University of Florida tonight and the school is on high alert for tensions. [Associated Press]
  2. Bowen: Park land deal raises Penny for Pasco questions


    The Penny for Pasco is unambiguous.

    At least it is supposed to be.

    There was no equivocating in 2004 when Penny for Pasco supporters detailed how the sales tax proceeds would be spent: schools, transportation, public safety and environmental lands. No money for parks. No money for recreation.

    Pasco County is considering a loan from its Environmental Lands Acquisition and Mangement Program to buy land for a park in the Villages of Pasadena Hills in east-central Pasco. Shown here is the Jumping Gully Preserve in Spring Hil, acquired by ELAMP in 2009 and 2011.
[Douglas R. Clifford, Times]
  3. Another Tampa Bay agency loses tax credits worth millions in dispute over application error


    LARGO — Another Tampa Bay housing agency has lost out on a multi-million dollar tax credit award because of problems with its application.

    A duplex in Rainbow Village, a public housing complex in Largo. The Pinellas County Housing Authority is planning to build new affordable-housing in the complex but was recently disqualified from a state tax credit award because of an issue with its application.
  4. Live blog: Many unknowns as Richard Spencer speaks in Gainesville today


    GAINESVILLE — A small army of law enforcement officers, many of them from cities and counties around the state, have converged on the University of Florida in preparation for today's speaking appearance by white nationalist Richard Spencer.

    Florida Highway Patrol cruisers jammed the parking lot Wednesday at the Hilton University of Florida Conference Center in Gainesville, part of a big show of force by law enforcement ahead of Thursday's appearance by white nationalist Richard Spencer. [KATHRYN VARN | Times]
  5. As Clearwater Marine Aquarium expands, it asks the city for help


    CLEARWATER — When Clearwater Marine Aquarium CEO David Yates saw an architect's initial design for the facility's massive expansion project, he told them to start all over.

    Clearwater Marine Aquarium Veterinarian Shelly Marquardt (left), Brian Eversole, Senior Sea Turtle and Aquatic Biologist (middle) and Devon Francke, Supervisor of Sea Turtle Rehab, are about to give a rescued juvenile green sea turtle, suffering from a lot of the Fibropapillomatosis tumors, fluids at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium Wednesday afternoon. Eventually when the turtle is healthy enough the tumors will be removed with a laser and after it is rehabilitated it will be released back into the wild.  -  The Clearwater Marine Aquarium is launching a $66 million renovation to expand its facilities to take in injured animals and space to host visitors. The aquarium is asking the city for a $5 million grant Thursday to help in the project. American attitudes toward captive animals are changing. Sea World is slipping after scrutiny on the ethics of captive marine life. But CEO David Yates says CMA is different, continuing its mission of rehab and release, it's goal is to promote education, not exploitation. JIM DAMASKE   |   Times