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County needs communicator

Published Oct. 7, 2005

With his resignation, Pasco County Attorney Tom Bustin handed county commissioners an opportunity to re-establish compatibility between the county's lawyers and its managers. To capitalize, commissioners should hire a successor who is a strong communicator as well as a good lawyer.

Though a recent string of expensive courtroom setbacks may have precipitated his resignation, Bustin's weakness was his managerial style, not his professional competence. As a manager he was aloof. As a key county staffer, he failed to work and communicate effectively with commissioners and fellow staffers. As Commissioner Hap Clark once said of Bustin, "I just wish he'd speak up more. That's the only problem."

Bustin's style, and his results, contrast sharply with those of his predecessor, Ben Harrill. Harrill was actively involved in the daily management of Pasco government. He and County Administrator John Gallagher teamed up for hard-nosed negotiations with contractors and developers, often forcing concessions and reducing the county's costs. Gallagher and Harrill produced impressive results primarily through close communication and cooperation.

Re-establishment of those ties should rise to the top of commissioners' agenda. The next county attorney should be an activist, a communicator, a strong manager and a good lawyer. Gallagher ought to be consulted, and politics should be purged from the selection process. Bustin was chosen three years ago ahead of Land O'Lakes lawyer Tim Hayes, in part because Hayes was a political foe of Commissioner Bonnie Zimmer. Gallagher was barely involved in the selection. Commissioner Ann Hildebrand, who voted for Bustin with Zimmer and Commissioner Ed Collins, said at the time that Bustin was a more politically "neutral" choice. She may have been right, but the ultimate result was wrong.