The Pasco Commission finally bought into its own marketing slogan of "bringing opportunities home.'' Last week, the commission correctly turned its attention in-house and presented the opportunity to Michele Baker to become the next county administrator.
Baker, 51, will succeed John Gallagher who retired last month after 31 years as the appointed leader of Pasco County government. One of Gallagher's sharpest moves was promoting Baker to the role of chief assistant administrator six years ago, allowing Baker to demonstrate her substantial skill set to a broader constituency.
Notably, she asked employees and commissioners alike to work smarter. Internally, staff moved toward greater accountability on strategic planning, time management and budgeting in an organizational change dubbed LEAP — Lean, Efficient, Accountable Pasco. Commissioners, meanwhile, no longer breezed along on twice monthly meetings, but instead met routinely in workshops for more in-depth discussions on a long-range business plan and other issues that attempt to match available resources with the county's performance goals.
Anybody suggesting Baker is not right for the job is indicting the performance of the county government as a whole and of the commission in particular over for the past several years. Unfortunately, such a suggestion came from two of her new bosses. Commissioners Kathryn Starkey and Henry Wilson both advocated a continued search after the board's first choice, Irving, Texas, City Manager Tomas Gonzalez, turned down the job.
Wilson never did rationalize his desire for an outsider, and Starkey acquiesced when she realized picking an internal candidate did not contradict her own philosophy of exposing the county to new ideas at professional seminars and conferences.
It is odd reasoning. Frankly, if that is Starkey's goal she should plug money into the upcoming budget for professional development of the staff, rather than trying to hold up the selection of a government chief executive officer.
Baker now faces a familiar short-term to-do list of: selling a proposed gasoline tax increase; rebuilding a staff in flux: and advancing a planned sports/tourism park in Wesley Chapel. She and the county also must better its east-west road network, diversify the local economy and try to make headway on an ambitious long-term redevelopment of west Pasco.
Her hiring, presuming a contract can be negotiated successfully, brings an immediate benefit — stability. Baker knows the job and the challenges facing the Pasco County administrator and, most importantly, she already is working on solutions.