Thursday, February 22, 2018
Opinion

Ruth: Sure, LaSala was a curmudgeon, but who wouldn't be?

There's a reason why the chief administrators in big locales such as Pinellas County are so well compensated. How else are you going to find anyone to take on such a miserable job ultimately doomed to failure?

After being forced out of his job, this much was pretty certain: Dead man administrating Bob LaSala deserved every lousy, stinking penny of his annual $225,000-a-year paycheck — and that was just for having to put up with Pinellas County Commissioner Norm Roche.

It's not as if LaSala didn't make mistakes. He did. It's not as if LaSala doesn't have a prickly temperament that occasionally grates people the wrong way. He does. And it's not as if the day he took the job back in 2009, LaSala didn't understand that the time would eventually come when he would be shown the door. He did.

LaSala, 64, found himself getting sideways with his bosses on the Pinellas County Commission, some of whom gave him less than glowing performance evaluations, citing his abrasive manner, high employee turnover and a sometimes-wanting collegial relationship with other local government entities.

Who knew that LaSala's job description called for him to be the Leo Buscaglia of public administration, running around hugging everyone and making goo-goo eyes at the county commissioners?

But here's a question for some of LaSala's harshest commission critics: Chairwoman Karen Seel, Ken Welch, Janet Long and Roche, how long would you last in the county administrator's job before you wanted to punch someone in the mouth?

How many of LaSala's detractors could manage a $1.6 billion enterprise with roughly 5,000 employees, including almost 1,700 workers reporting directly to the administrator?

How many of his naysayers could juggle issues ranging from multiple competing budgets, transportation planning, waste management contracts and an ongoing fractious dispute involving the reorganization of the county's emergency medical services?

How many in the anti-LaSala cabal could navigate trying to work with and appease 24 municipalities in Pinellas County without EVER making someone angry?

And last, how many of LaSala's angry birds on the commission would want to answer to seven elected nitpicking officials who think they know more about managing the county than the administrator does as they question almost every decision and treat every misstep as proof of incompetence?

Come to think of it, it's nothing short of amazing LaSala lasted this long.

To be sure, it is probably not the best "Miss Manners" style of governance to be abrupt with various officials LaSala came into contact with. But in fairness to the administrator, when you've spent your decades-long career having to listen to all manner of endlessly bloviating imbeciles, it must eventually take a toll on one's patience, if not one's sense of etiquette.

Fairly or not, once an administrator begins to lose the support of the commissioners, it is probably best to award LaSala the Purple Flowchart medal and part company.

With LaSala's departure, Assistant County Administrator Mark Woodard would likely be in line for the top job, at least on an interim basis. As the husband of former Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio, who had to deal with a city council, Woodard would be well schooled in how to handle petulant pols.

And what of LaSala's future?

Well, on her evaluation of LaSala, Long noted that the administrator needed to work on his cranky demeanor and do something about his apparent lack of respect for elected officials, not to mention his penchant for making snarky comments in the general direction of public servants.

Long is right, of course. These are probably not the skills one would normally look for in a county administrator.

But they certainly would nicely position LaSala for a fruitful second act as a newspaper columnist.

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