Phyllis Busansky was swept into the supervisor of elections office seven months ago with a mandate by Hillsborough County voters to clean up the ethical rot, mismanagement and untenable financial dealings that marked the disastrous tenure of her predecessor, Buddy Johnson. It would betray the legacy she carved in three decades of public service if Busansky's death slowed or compromised her mission in the elections office. Gov. Charlie Crist, who will appoint a successor who will serve until the 2010 elections, should look for someone who can bring the same competence, integrity and calm to the office.
Busansky, 72, failed to appear for sessions at the St. Augustine elections supervisors meeting and was found in her hotel room Tuesday. Only two weeks ago, she outlined an ambitious plan for restoring public confidence to an office whose former leader is now the subject of state and federal investigations. She stabilized an office budget that Johnson treated like a re-election account, moved to vastly expand poll worker training and through her outsized personality built up employee morale.
The governor needs to find a caretaker who can build on what Busansky started. Crist can do that by not leaving Hillsborough with the same sort of time bomb his predecessor did. Then-Gov. Jeb Bush appointed Johnson to the job in 2003 despite having a list of people actually qualified for the job. As he runs for the U.S. Senate, Crist should not want to create a similar liability. While Johnson is gone, his legacy in Hillsborough remains fresh, and it now falls to the interim supervisor to address technological issues Johnson ignored and deal with a state audit into his spending. The governor needs to ensure only credible candidates make the short list.