Sunday, December 17, 2017
Editorials

Editorial: Waffling sends wrong message to business prospects

Hernando County needs to send a stronger message to its business development prospects than it's sending to the guy in charge of the industrial recruiting.

A week after commissioners unanimously named County Administrator Len Sossamon as their point person on economic development, Chairman David Russell attempted to reverse the decision Tuesday, telling the board — while quoting Dale Carnegie — that he favored a full-time business recruiter.

Then Commissioner Jim Adkins suggesting Sossamon hold the title only temporarily while the county contracted with a headhunter to conduct a simultaneous job search for the full-time economic development director's job that has been vacant since September. Adkins, the original advocate for giving Sossamon both jobs, didn't articulate a reason for his changed position. His inexplicable flip flops are becoming routine.

Adkins also mismanaged a bumbling attempt at human resources work. He suggested a six-month salary boost for Sossamon of $20,000 and a new management title and corresponding pay increase for the current number two in that office, Economic Development Supervisor Valerie Pianta. He was out of line on both counts. Sossamon's salary is a negotiable item under his soon-to-be amended contract and it is the administrator's role, not the commission's, to determine the duties and compensation of individual subordinates.

That the commission is so easily flummoxed by what should have been a routine appointment doesn't instill public confidence in its ability to set and help execute appropriate economic development priorities in a county trying to shed its reliance on residential construction and low-wage service sector jobs.

The waffling, in the astute observation of current commission candidate and former business executive Jimmy Lodato, reinforces the county's reputation of instability and will leave potential business prospects with the impression the local government doesn't know what it's doing.

Kudos to Commissioners Nick Nicholson and Diane Rowden for attempting to hold firm in their choice of Sossamon and questioning the motives of their contradictory counterparts.

Eventually the commission agreed to give the job to their administrator and to re-evaluate the decision in six months. Nicholson and Rowden had advocated for one-year appointment, and certainly nine months (the end of the current fiscal year on Sept. 30) would have been a more logical point to review the dual roles.

Sossamon, as Russell pointed out, has emerged as the face of the county government, even riding on a float in the recent Christmas parade through downtown Brooksville. His background in business and airport development in North Carolina is significant asset of which the commission should take maximum advantage.

A commission committed to building a better business environment shouldn't be sidetracked by second-guessing their own decisions or be so easily manipulated by private-sector interests doing likewise. The commission had it right the first time.

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