There aren't any household names, but the Children's Board of Hillsborough County has a solid short list of candidates for its next chief executive. The governing board, which meets today, should start the public interviewing process with the goal of installing a new leader this spring.
The board was right to vote last month to extend the search into April. The initial pool of 225 applicants was thin, and the added time brought new talent into the process and helped the board focus on what it needs in a leader. The interim executive, former Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio, has set the agency on a sound course in the aftermath of the ouster of former director Luanne Panacek. Iorio cut staff, shifted money from overhead to services and enacted new ethics and spending controls. But she has already stayed longer than she planned, and it is time the board brought on a permanent leader.
The candidates on the short list include experienced leaders from government, the military and the child welfare field. These are appropriate backgrounds to run a publicly financed, leading social safety net in Hillsborough. As a conduit for services to poor and at-risk families, the agency needs a capable money manager who can maximize its contracts with outside providers. It needs an administrator with a steady hand to build on the progress Iorio made in strengthening the management and improving staff morale. And it needs a chief executive comfortable operating in the public eye, as the agency rebuilds its mission and credibility and prepares for a referendum in 2016 to reauthorize its tax base.
The board still needs to look hard behind the resumes to see who has the right people skills to manage the staff and navigate the local political waters. And the public vetting process will test the candidates' comfort level in running an agency whose books and meetings are open under Florida law. The search produced no recognizable heavy hitters. But the pool of finalists is both qualified and large enough for the board to find a capable new leader. And it is time to complete the transition in leadership at the agency. The next CEO needs a chance to continue the progress and put his or her own mark on the Children's Board before its future is determined by the voters. The governing board can start the process today by selecting the finalists and moving toward hiring one in the next month.