The Children's Board of Hillsborough County has made the right decision to broaden its search for a new chief executive. The talent pool of original applicants was shallow, and the agency's governing board has an obligation to look further for a leader who can solidify the future for this valuable organization.
The board voted Wednesday to extend the search by 30 days. It plans to interview the finalists in April and select a CEO in May. That is a reasonable investment of time. The initial pool of 225 applicants was flush with midlevel bureaucrats from agencies across the country and one-man bands at obscure nonprofits. The extra 30 days does not offer a huge chance to widen the net. But it sends a message about the minimum requirements for the job and helps the board focus on the most qualified candidates.
The board also needs to use the next month to highlight in a very public way what it needs in a new leader. As a leading social safety net in Hillsborough, the Children's Board plays a critical role in moving poor and at-risk children and families through an array of services that build self-worth and self-sufficiency. As a public institution funded by local property taxes, the agency has a duty to spend responsibly and produce results. The new CEO must appreciate the dual demands of serving the needy and being a prudent steward. And he or she must have the integrity and political skills to run an agency whose books and meetings are open under the law.
Former Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio has put the agency on sound footing as interim chief executive, moving swiftly after the ouster last year of Luanne Panacek to address wasteful spending and low morale. Iorio cut the staff, redirected money from overhead to services and instituted new contracting and ethics controls. She is spreading the success story of the Children's Board, which the agency must do if it hopes to win reauthorization of its tax base in a public referendum in 2016.
The circumstances that led to Panacek's ouster and the year lost looking for new permanent leadership should be a lesson to the board that it needs to put a sharper eye on the operation and take on more responsibility as community leaders for raising the agency's profile. The vote in 2016 will be here soon enough. With plenty of competition for the public's money, the board needs to underscore its mission as a priority in Hillsborough.