From 2003 to 2007 — years when Sheriff Bob White made annual pleadings for more money to run his agency — he paid a management consultant $2,000 a month to advise him on internal communication issues and work with Sheriff's Office staff in areas such as training and promotions.
White makes no apologies for the nearly $100,000 he paid to Barry Banther. He says it was needed to fix problems in the agency.
"How could we not afford it?" White said. "When you're talking about developing people — there was no emphasis on developing people before I got here.
"I brought Barry on because this agency needed a healing."
The consulting contract was never put out to be bid on by other firms, but White said the agency got its money's worth out of Banther.
"There's no way to really quantify it," White said. "I would have to say that Barry has been pivotal to our success."
If the agency was in disarray, the man who left it that way would have been Lee Cannon, whom White unseated in the 2000 election.
Cannon wondered about the time gap between his departure and White's hiring of Banther.
"If he didn't hire him until 2003, that means there's a couple years there that the people that were there when I left must have been doing a pretty good job," Cannon said.
Alan Weinstein is a former member of White's command staff who retired last fall after 29 years with the agency. He's now working for Robert Sullivan, who is challenging White in the Republican primary.
He was unimpressed with Banther.
"He didn't do anything that any individual couldn't do if they had the manual in front of them," Weinstein said.
After attending a few focus groups Banther led, he concluded the subject matter was "pretty elementary stuff."
"I can tell you that he provided nothing that we could not provide in-house or by calling an adjoining agency," Weinstein said.
Two Tampa Bay area sheriff's agencies contacted by the Times provide training for their members similar to what Banther did.
But they don't pay for it.
Marianne Pasha, spokeswoman for the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office, said 35 supervisors, both certified and civilian, recently completed a weeklong course in leadership issues.
"It covers the gamut, and it's specific to team-building in our workplace," Pasha said.
Such courses are taught, she said, by experts on the subject from within the agency.
"This is them imparting their knowledge to the newer supervisors," she said.
Donna Black, spokeswoman for Hernando County Sheriff Richard Nugent, described a setup similar to the one in Pinellas.
Training for new sergeants is mandatory, and it's done in-house.
"We do not employ any outside consultants for the purposes of staff development," Black said.
Not put out to bid
White was asked why the consulting contract was not put out for bid.
"It's not like you put a (request for proposals) out and three people call up and you choose one of them. In this business, I think that's money well-wasted," he said.
White, who has seen his requests for double-digit budget increases regularly denied by county leaders, rejected any idea that Banther's $24,000-a-year service was a luxury.
"There's got to be that certain environment, a meeting of the minds, if you will," he said. "You just don't go get a consultant, an organizational leadership consultant, off the shelf."
So how did the sheriff find Banther?
He has known Banther for years. White's wife met him first, when Banther was brought in to consult at the bank where she worked. The two couples attended the same church for a while. Banther's son, David, came to work for the Sheriff's Office in a clerical job from 2006 to 2007. His daughter-in-law, Ruth, works in the agency Human Resources department.
Banther, 56, was president of Trinity College from 1987 to 1991. He holds numerous credentials in the consulting field, and before starting Banther Consulting in 1994, he worked for Dale Carnegie Training.
The Sheriff's Office kept almost no records of his work.
Spokesman Doug Tobin provided an e-mail from Lt. Brian Prescott, head of the training section, which describes about a dozen meetings in 2003.
"The sheriff informed me Dr. Banther would be meeting with me to help get things in the right direction since what I inherited was a mess," Prescott wrote. "His services were definitely welcomed and appreciated and underscored the sheriff's commitment to improving training."
Banther led team-building exercises with Prescott's staff and conducted personality inventories on each. He also worked with newly promoted supervisors on the best way to evaluate employees, Prescott wrote.
The only other documents provided on Banther's work are three sign-in sheets from 2006 for "member performance appraisals" for a total of 34 employees.
F.J. Collura, who headed the Sheriff's Office Crime Prevention Unit before White disbanded it in 2007, attended one of the sessions.
"He was touted as this super-duper instructor," said Collura, who is now retired. "He was okay. He was dynamic enough. … Most of our in-service (training sessions) were informational rather than motivational. His was more motivational."
"It was more general than it was specific to law enforcement," Collura added.
Banther says that's on purpose.
"We don't bring an expertise in the content of what they do. We bring the questions people need to ask themselves," he said.
Banther's own records and recollections provide a more complete picture of the work he did for White.
There were a handful of major projects, he said: assisting Prescott in the training program, evaluating the process for promoting people in the Sheriff's Office, working with supervisors on coaching subordinates and looking at all aspects of communication in White's agency.
"He wanted to give the individual members of the department (the opportunity) to communicate with each other," Banther said. "I think everybody got a chance to be heard."
A major component of his work, he said, was simply being available by phone for consultations.
"The sheriff would call and say, 'I've got this issue between two departments, how do I work through this,' " he said. "That's a big part of what happened between these bigger initiatives."
Banther could not quantify the time he spent per week or per month on Sheriff's Office work, saying it varied widely. But he emphasized that he spent many hours — not documented — talking to White and members of his command staff individually and said a lot of time and work went into preparing for the focus groups he led.
Fee wasn't full price
Banther, whose clients are primarily private companies around the Tampa Bay area and Florida, called the fee he charged the Sheriff's Office "a way of giving something back."
Most of his clients pay $3,500 for a half-day seminar with him and $5,000 for a full day. For annual retainers like the one he had with the Sheriff's Office, Banther said he typically earns more than twice what White paid him.
"One thing we certainly, in terms of my office, we feel good about ... was the fee itself," he said. "That was sort of deliberate. We live in this community. That was a little bit our way of giving back."
Last fall, by mutual agreement, the contract was not renewed. White said the work with Banther was completed and his budget was growing ever tighter.
But in the future, when times are more flush, White said he wouldn't hesitate to hire Banther again.
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"It covers the gamut, and it's specific to team-building in our workplace. ... This is them imparting their knowledge to the newer supervisors."
Marianne Pasha, spokeswoman for the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office, which uses in-house expertise
"We do not employ any outside consultants for the purposes of staff development."
Donna Black, spokeswoman for Hernando County Sheriff Richard Nugent