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Shoemaker: How well can he communicate?

For a man who is unemployed, things sure do look promising for Tony Shoemaker.

Twelve of the 15 members of the committee that selected the five finalists to fill the job of Hernando County administrator ranked Shoemaker as one of the leading candidates. That makes him, at least on paper, the front-runner for the job and a virtual shoo-in to be interviewed by the County Commission.

But Shoemaker's potential doesn't stop there.

He is scheduled to interview today for the job of city manager in Fernandina Beach, a town in Nassau County near the Georgia state line. Shoemaker is one of three finalists who are seeking the opportunity to run the burgh on Amelia Island, which thrives on the tourist trade and is home to about 10,000 residents.

That's a far cry from his last job, which was Citrus County administrator, and the one he has applied for here in Hernando County. But career choices, no doubt, narrow when you've been out of steady work for 10 months.

The Citrus County Commission asked Shoemaker to resign in December, citing his alleged "indecisiveness" and "lack of communication" as the primary reasons. He had held the job for 4{ years.

It is more than a little ironic that the Citrus commission singled out communication skills as one of Shoemaker's primary weaknesses. The Hernando commissioners who voted to oust County Administrator Chuck Hetrick criticized him for the exact same thing, and have vowed that the person they hire to replace Hetrick will be a very strong communicator.

In an interview Monday, Shoemaker was hesitant to discuss the Citrus commission's complaint, but did say that "I believe I am a good communicator," and that he was "flattered" that so many of the Hernando County selection committee members considered him a top candidate.

Beyond that, Shoemaker is still keeping his opinions to himself about the circumstances surrounding his forced resignation. Asked whether he was ready to break his silence about his untimely departure from Citrus County government, Shoemaker offered only that "there are always two sides to every story."

Maintaining such professionalism is admirable, particularly when you consider that Shoemaker was truly stunned by his dismissal.

Indeed, there was speculation among the public and the media that the commission's decision was so sudden that it might have been discussed outside the view of the public. Those suspicions never developed, though, and the commissioners, of course, denied it. They also denied that their decision was influenced by Shoemaker's decision not to hire former Commissioner Frank Schiraldi as the assistant county administrator.

Whatever their reasons, it was apparent Shoemaker did not see it coming.

It might be hard for Hetrick to imagine that there was someone who was more surprised than he the day he got his walking papers, but Shoemaker's astonishment was clearly more profound. Shoemaker told a Times reporter just hours after it happened that it was a "complete surprise" and that he "had no idea this was coming."

Was the Citrus commission's declaration that Shoemaker lacks communication skills on target? It's hard to say, because it is impossible for anyone but Shoemaker to assess what kind of one-on-one feedback he was getting from the commissioners in the months leading up to their decision to let him go.

I've known Shoemaker since his first week on the job as Citrus County administrator, when a couple of Times staffers and I broke bread with him in a greasy spoon on the outskirts of Inverness 1992. Even though that meeting was little more than a greet-and-eat occasion, I came away with the opinion that Shoemaker was a pleasant, sincere man who was a good listener, which is the most important trait of a good communicator.

My subsequent dealings with him over the next four years have not led me to question Shoemaker's expertise in that area. Granted, Mattel may not have modeled its Chatty Cathy doll after Shoemaker, but when he does speak he gets his point across with minimal equivocation.

Nonetheless, it's an issue the Hernando commissioners should ask him to address _ provided the Fernandina Beach council members allow him to return.