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Search involves style, then substance

Before commissioners find a new county administrator, they need to decide how to search and what qualities they seek.

Bonnie Dyga may be out as county administrator, but that doesn't necessarily mean an end to the squabbles plaguing the County Commission.

Commissioners already seem headed for a fight over how to look for her replacement: traditional search committee or head hunter?

Only after that is resolved can they get to the real issue: What kind of administrator do they want to lead Hernando County through a growth spurt that's sure to continue well into the next decade?

Should the new chief executive be as aggressive as Dyga? Or more hands-off like her predecessor, Chuck Hetrick? And can anyone possibly satisfy commissioners who have opposing viewpoints?

Finding a person everyone can live with, always difficult with five different personalities and philosophies, may be a bigger challenge now. Dyga's surprise resignation announcement Wednesday has only worsened tensions among commissioners.

Paul Sullivan and Nancy Robinson are both staunch Dyga supporters who hate losing her. Pat Novy and Bobbi Mills have been frequent critics, and Dyga says their interference and constant carping drove her to quit after just 18 months on the job. In between those camps is Chris Kingsley.

The group will assemble Tuesday for the first time since Dyga revealed her intention to leave to take a job as assistant city manager in Port St. Lucie. The 9 a.m. meeting already is laden with controversial topics,which is why it will be held at the more spacious Hernando County Fairgrounds. The agenda includes a proposed gas-tax extension to pay for residential roads and a proposed 40 percent increase in residential fire assessments in the Northwest and East fire districts.

The commission also may appoint an interim administrator at the meeting. Dyga's resignation is effective Oct. 10, but she plans to take several weeks of vacation before that. Some commissioners prefer Deputy Administrator Dick Radacky, who said he would do whatever is best for the county.

On one point, all commissioners seem to agree: A new administrator should be brought on board quickly.

"This county is growing at such a rapid pace, I don't think we can dillydally around," said Kingsley, who is pushing for an ambitious three-month search. Four months passed between Hetrick's 1997 firing and Dyga's hiring, but it took two more months before she started in February 1998.

Kingsley favors hiring an executive search firm, commonly called head hunters, to speed the process. Sullivan said that may be a good option unless a search committee could do its work in four months.

But the commission would have to be willing to spend some money for a professional search.

A volunteer committee might require only about $1,000 to pay for advertising. By contrast, DMG-Maximus Inc., a leading national search firm, told the county late Friday its standard fee "for a search of this caliber" is between $14,000 and $17,000, plus $5,000 to $6,500 for expenses. Commissioners would seek bids if they select a professional search.

Mills had not heard those figures when she objected to hiring a firm because of the cost.

"I think that's an extremely expensive process. I think we could just advertise like before and have a committee similar to before," she said Thursday.

Novy has no interest in going outside the county, either.

"The firm does not know the community," she said. "I feel when it's a citizens committee, the citizens know what kind of administrator they need in addition to the professional qualifications."

Robinson said she would be open to using a search firm as long as the public had a role.

After Hetrick's dismissal, the commission created a search committee, whose members elected Sheriff Tom Mylander chairman. The group helped weed out applications and gave commissioners the most promising candidates to interview.

The committee and commission reached the same conclusion: Dyga was the best choice.

One advantage to hiring a search firm, human resources director Barbara Dupre said, is that the companies often have lists of possible candidates on file. Also, the firms can seek out promising candidates instead of waiting for them to apply.

Whatever method commissioners choose, they will still have to decide on a candidate profile. Sullivan is not optimistic they can agree.

"We're going to have the same problem," he said. "I want what Bonnie Dyga is. And what are the other two (Mills and Novy) going to say? That they want somebody who is a "yes' person and tells them what they want to hear? I don't want another Hetrick."

Mills, however, does not want another Dyga, and neither does Novy.

Mills criticized Dyga for trying to set policy. She pointed to Dyga's attempt to build public support for a residential road paving program based on a $21-million bond. Mills also faulted Dyga's demeanor, which she described as "belittling" to the public and not always straightforward with commissioners.

And Mills thought Dyga interfered too much with department heads _ an echo of Dyga's complaints about the way Mills and Novy treated her.

"I'd like somebody who has enough confidence in their staff to direct their staff to do things and let staff do it the best way they can," Mills said. "If he or she is not satisfied with how staff produces, get rid of them."

Dyga said hiring a head hunter might allow the commissioners to iron out their differences.

"That will help them describe better what they're looking for _ characteristics, personality style _ in the next administrator," she said.

But if nothing else, Dyga said commissioners need to stop micromanaging.

Dyga said she knew before she took the job in December 1998 that some commissioners had a tendency to get involved in day-to-day management issues.

But she said she hoped they wanted what they said they did: "a stronger administrator who would take charge and be more active in the community.

"I thought that was the overriding concern when they fired Chuck Hetrick," she said.

At the time, even Mills endorsed the hard-working Dyga and applauded her "vision."

Robinson said she makes a point of referring staffers to the right supervisor to avoid micromanaging. And she said that unless other commissioners learn to stay out of the administrator's way, it will create a revolving-door effect, making it harder to recruit top-notch leaders.

"If we're not willing to let them manage, you're going to continue to have turnover," she said. "You're going to have managers say, "I can't be effective in this environment.' "