Wednesday, January 17, 2018
Opinion

Steinle: In Pinellas County administrator decision, don't focus on address

It looks like Pinellas interim County Administrator Mark Woodard is a shoo-in for the permanent job of managing county government and a budget of almost $2 billion. County commissioners pretty much guaranteed that outcome by structuring an in-house, "national search" for a replacement for Bob LaSala, who was fired in April.

First, they gave the interim post to Woodard, LaSala's second in command, which meant no one below him on the organizational chart was likely to apply.

Then, in a split vote, the commission put the county human resources department in charge of the search for a permanent administrator, eschewing an outside search firm. (Hint to would-be applicants: Any internal candidate will have the inside track.)

They heaped praise on Woodard during the last three months. And 10 days before the deadline for applications, Commissioner Susan Latvala wondered aloud in a public meeting whether it was "disingenuous" to complete the search when they were sooooo happy with Woodard. Highly qualified candidates for top government jobs often wait until the last day or two to submit their applications, to keep their current employers from learning too soon that they are job hunting. If there were any such applicants for the Pinellas job out there, they probably stuck their applications in their shredders after hearing Latvala's public musing.

So the county ended up with 45 applicants, not one with the level of expertise needed for the big job of Pinellas administrator.

The commission could choose to re-advertise, but I'm betting it will soon call off the search and hand Woodard the job.

Some people will criticize that choice, because Woodard doesn't live in Pinellas. He lives in Tampa and says he will not move for the administrator job.

Woodard is married to former Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio, now CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters of America. She and her husband have deep roots in Tampa that they don't want to sever.

Though the Pinellas charter doesn't require residency, an argument can be made that the county's top appointed official ought to live in the county he administers and be subject to its regulations and tax rate. And some would say you can't really know a place until you live there.

But after 26 years as a county employee, starting in the budget office and working his way up, Woodard probably knows Pinellas better than many residents. And with a reputation for long work days, he certainly spends more of his waking hours during the week in Pinellas than in Tampa.

As assistant county administrator and LaSala's chief of staff, Woodard traveled throughout the county, got to know residents and their local leaders, heard their complaints and needs. As the county's budget guru, he grappled with trying to find the funds to meet those needs.

That's a lot of knowledge and experience. With no qualified applicants beating down the door for the job, it would be shortsighted to make where Woodard lives a deal-breaker.

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