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County administrator's decision to resign minimizes upheaval

Hernando County Administrator David Hamilton put the county's best interests before his own. If only a trio of commissioners could say they did likewise. Tuesday, Hamilton offered to resign his job at the end of December, cutting off a debate on Commissioner John Druzbick's motion to fire the administrator.

Hamilton's proposal spared Commission Chairman Jim Adkins from casting the deciding vote. Commissioner Jeff Stabins, as he had done previously, supported termination and Commissioners David Russell and Wayne Dukes had stated their opposition. Adkins eventually said he favored a negotiated settlement as proposed by Hamilton.

Druzbick, Adkins and Stabins are all scheduled to face the voters in 2012 and for the foreseeable future their main task will be to hire the county's 11th administrator since 1997. At three years and nine months, Hamilton will have served longer than any of the nine immediate predecessors including the prior two who both bolted after 18 months of battling nonstop public negativity.

That certainly played a role in Hamilton's departure, too. Stabins, earlier this year, and then Druzbick, knee-jerked to the chirping from past and present employees rather than weighing the severe and unglamorous budget-cutting tasks they saddled Hamilton with from the outset.

Druzbick said he had lost confidence in Hamilton after discovering the administrator's recommended promotion and $8,000 salary bump of an underling — authorized by commissioners two weeks ago — had not been approved by the county's human resources director. Hamilton had said the missing signature had been an oversight, but the director asserted the promotion should be a lateral move without compensation.

Much more troubling, but not yet vetted, is an accusation from the audience Tuesday that Hamilton shredded public records tied to a past investigation of discrimination within the utilities department.

That, however, was inconsequential to Druzbick, who had asked Hamilton for his resignation during a private meeting Monday, citing, among other things, Hamilton's pending application for the administrator's job in Sarasota County. Druzbick said he wanted someone committed to Hernando. Considering the administrative carousel since 1997, Hamilton surely met any reasonable definition of commitment.

The irony is that Hamilton's career here will end because of his attempts to reward an underpaid director, newly minted environmental services boss Susan Goebel, after so much of the sniping about the administrator's performance since 2008 centered upon Hamilton's supposed indifference toward employee stability and morale.

In essence, Hamilton tried to rectify an erroneous decision by the commission majority in December 2010 when it declined to approve recommended salary increases for Goebel and just-retired Community Development Director Jean Rags or to reduce the wages of two male employees no longer in director level positions. The commission's decision resulted in a successful federal gender discrimination complaint against the county by Rags whose settlement included a $16,000 annual raise.

In trying to save the commission from itself and a potential repeat of its discriminatory behavior, Hamilton ended up sacrificing his own job.

To his credit, Hamilton avoided a bitter public split. He persuaded the commission to allow him to prepare an administrative transition so as not to interrupt work on: The channel dredge at Hernando Beach; planning for a still-smaller budget 2013; completing a comprehensive salary schedule for county employees and preparing an interim successor.

"We will not traumatize this organization,'' Hamilton told his bosses.

Too late.

County administrator's decision to resign minimizes upheaval 10/26/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, October 26, 2011 4:08pm]
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