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Pasco County's veteran administrator encourages growth while Hernando scrambles

John Gallagher is just four months shy of his 30th anniversary as Pasco County administrator. Ron Pianta is two days short of completing his first week at the helm of Hernando County's government.

It is indicative of the way the two counties do business. Pasco opts for strength and consistency. Hernando picks the flavor of the month.

This is not meant as a criticism of Pianta. He didn't ask for the job. Pianta, the county's land services director, now carries the title of interim administrator, a fairly common role in Hernando where commissioners are about to start a search for their 12th county administrator — counting interims — in 14 years.

Pianta replaces David Hamilton, who was handed his walking papers last week after 44 months on the job, making him the longest-tenured administrator since Chuck Hetrick departed in 1997 after 13 years.

The stated reasons for Hamilton's demise are various. He wasn't warm and fuzzy enough while dismissing employees as he tried to match spending with revenue. He applied for a vacancy in Sarasota County. He changed a job qualification to try to promote an underpaid subordinate then failed to be up-front about it with commissioners. The business community was disgruntled. (We'll come back to that one.)

Mostly, though, his bosses included three weak commissioners facing re-election in 12 months and Hamilton became a convenient scapegoat for the dysfunction within the commission chambers.

Five days ago, Commissioner Jeff Stabins made the motion to fire Hamilton after earlier saying the administrator didn't inspire people to follow his leadership. Stabins has inspired people over the past year with his announcements that he would: run for re-election; not run for re-election; commute to his job from his new home in upstate New York; resign his seat early and run for Congress in New York; and, finally, go back to his first plan and run for re-election in Hernando. Stabins' leadership included being out of town and out of touch so frequently he was ignorant of the county's plans to close community parks in Ridge Manor and Brooksville despite sitting through an extensive briefing from the staff on that very topic in May.

This week, Stabins and the rest of the commissioners will talk about a permanent replacement for Hamilton, though they already have one application from the former head of a failed local bank. Commission discussions previously included suggestions to find someone who is local, willing to work for less money than Hamilton, be a strong leader, and perhaps be a business person or someone already on staff.

Coincidentally, also on Tuesday's agenda, is final consideration for a plan to cut impact fees to levels not seen since the last century. And this brings us back to statements from Commissioner John Druzbick about the business community criticisms of Hamilton.

Whereas Hernando plans to cut its impact fee for a single-family home to less than $2,000 to again try to jump-start the home-building industry, Pasco took much more dramatic action. Earlier this year, it scrapped its transportation impact fees and encouraged new growth in planned transit corridors by adopting so-called mobility fees. It provides discounts for homes, and waives fees entirely for job-producing employment centers.

The plan only works, however, if voters agree to renew the Penny for Pasco sales tax that includes money for transportation improvements. The 10-year tax is scheduled to expire at the end of 2014. In acquiescing to builders and developers seeking reduced fees, Gallagher extracted promises from those same business interests to support the campaign to renew the penny-on-the-dollar sales tax. Support, one developer said, means "open your checkbook.''

It is indicative of the effectiveness of a tenured administrator who can lead without always looking over his shoulder. Gallagher has the ability to bring the business representatives together in a room and twist their arms to advance the public interest.

Not so in Hernando. Here, it is the business sector that gets individual commissioners in a room and starts twisting arms to suit private interests.

Pasco County's veteran administrator encourages growth while Hernando scrambles 11/12/11 [Last modified: Saturday, November 12, 2011 10:13am]
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