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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]
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