The selection of Tallahassee Community College president Bill Law this week as the new president for St. Petersburg College was predictable, safe and uninspiring. Now Gov. Charlie Crist should be more creative and bring some fresh faces to the college's board of trustees. As long as the college is embarking on a new era of leadership, there should be a clean sweep at the top.
For years, the trustees were practically hand-picked by former president Carl Kuttler and acted as his rubber stamp. The college flourished, but there were times when Kuttler should have been reined in by more independent-minded trustees. Kuttler's incredible demands for his retirement package and the initial willingness of some trustees to write him an unreasonably large check crystalized just how out of balance the relationship had become.
Crist has an opportunity next month to start overhauling the board of trustees when the terms are up for W. Richard Johnston and Deveron Gibbons. Johnston has served more than 20 years over two different stints and was even on the board when Kuttler was hired. Gibbons has served just four years, but he has not been the most diligent or effective trustee. He wound up on the board primarily because of his close ties to former St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker, which created a mess when Baker did not endorse Gibbons in last year's mayoral primary and Gibbons did not support Baker for the St. Petersburg College presidency.
Next year, a new governor can replace Evelyn Bilirakis, the wife of the former congressman and mother of a current one, and Ken Burke, who can devote his full attention to his day job as clerk of court. Both have been trustees for more than a decade.
Now is the time for the governor to make appointments based less on political patronage and more on the qualities of leaders who can offer more aggressive oversight and better match the college's priorities with the community's needs. Law comes into the job facing a divided faculty and the long shadow of his larger-than-life predecessor. At 61, he is not likely to have a particularly long run as president. St. Petersburg College needs a strong board of trustees with more vision to ensure its long-term future is bright.