There will be some disgruntled political partisans who will take issue with Gov. Charlie Crist's decision Tuesday to appoint former Hillsborough County school superintendent Earl Lennard to replace the late Phyllis Busansky as supervisor of elections. Lennard is a Republican, and Busansky was a Democrat who defeated the incompetent incumbent Republican Buddy Johnson just eight months ago. But Lennard is a prudent choice with a long record as a solid administrator, and he can bring some stability to the office.
The selection of Lennard has less to do with party affiliation than with his obvious competence to step into a troubled agency to restore public confidence and the integrity of the elections process. Nothing would honor Busansky's memory more fittingly.
Lennard, 67, brings unique skills to the supervisor's post, and he is better qualified to step into a difficult situation than many of the other applicants. From 1996 to 2005, he oversaw the administration of the eighth largest school system in the country with nearly 200,000 students, almost 30,000 employees and a budget of more than $1 billion. Certainly if Lennard could manage such a massive bureaucracy as a school system, he more than qualifies to undertake the administration of the elections office.
While he hardly has the ebullient personality of Busansky, Lennard should bring a quiet, steady presence to the supervisor's job. There is no reason to believe Lennard is likely to politicize his new position.
Busansky and her team were only beginning to get the elections office in order when she died last month. Understandably, the Republican governor had been under some modest pressure to appoint another Democrat to the position. The Busansky family had favored the late supervisor's chief of staff, Craig Latimer, to succeed her. But the issue here is experience and competency, not party affiliation or political connections. To win more political points for himself, Crist could have tilted the scales further and appointed a more partisan Republican with less managerial experience. The governor avoided that temptation, and Hillsborough voters should benefit from his restraint.
The last time the elections supervisor's job was open, Gov. Jeb Bush appointed Johnson. The fallout from that disaster is still being investigated. Lennard is a much smarter choice than that one. Whether he serves as a caretaker as elections supervisor or runs for the job in the special election next year will be up to him. That will be the time for partisan politics. Now the focus should be on building on the momentum Busansky created to restore the credibility of the Hillsborough elections office.