BROOKSVILLE — Len Sossamon is out as Hernando County administrator.
The Hernando County Commission fired Sossamon on a 3–2 vote Tuesday, ending his nearly seven-year tenure. Deputy County Administrator Jeff Rogers will take over Sossamon's duties until at least the next commission meeting.
Commissioners again and again on Tuesday brought up Sossamon's management of county budget shortfalls in their decision to cut him loose.
"I have no confidence in the county administrator's oversight in any part of the budget process," said commission chairman Jeff Holcomb, who made the motion to nix Sossamon's contract. "We owe it to our county to get this fixed, ASAP."
During last year's planning sessions, commissioners chose not to increase taxes or cut services in their 2019 budget, deciding instead to dip into their reserves. Now, they find themselves with an $11.4 million budget shortfall. Commissioners argued that Sossamon kept them in the dark about the extent of their budget problems. Sossoman disagreed.
Holcomb and others on the board also said Sossamon went against internal recommendations when he hired former county budget manager Pam Lee. She was fired last year after the county faced an almost $6 million deficit because of an error in moving figures from one budget year to the next.
Commissioners said that Sossamon's decision to fire Lee months after the error showed that he was too lenient.
Commissioner John Allocco also cited recent problems with the county Human Resources Department and possible conflicts of interest, adding: "Our administrator has not held his high-level staff accountable for poor records."
Sossamon had been reluctant to fulfill ordinances they passed, commissioners said, like one meant to create an airport advisory council for the Brooksville-Tampa Bay Regional Airport.
Commissioners Wayne Dukes and Steve Champion, the two who voted to keep Sossamon, said it would be a mistake to fire the administrator.
"You take risks. You make decisions. Things happen," Champion said, explaining that while Sossamon made a mistake by hiring Lee, he didn't need to be fired for it.
Champion suggested giving Sossamon stern direction if he were kept on and added that the board was at fault for some of the problems pinned on the administrator.
Dukes agreed, and said Sossamon suggested to commissioners that they shrink services to prevent budget shortfalls.
"They said no every time," Dukes said. "And now, all of a sudden, it's his fault."
Dukes bristled at the idea of firing Sossamon, saying that Holcomb — elected as chairman on Jan. 15 — came into his role with a bias against the administrator.
"There's something wrong with this," Dukes said. "It smells."
Sossamon said he inherited a slew of "festering" problems from his predecessor in 2012. Commissioners shot down his recommendations to solve budget problems, he said.
"You can terminate me today. That's your prerogative ... and I'll be out of your hair," Sossamon said. But he predicted that his successor would face the same challenges and would meet the same fate.
Prior to coming to Hernando, Sossamon worked as the administrator for Newberry County in South Carolina. He was a city manager in North Carolina for 13 years and a planning and community development director for five years.
Along with his Hernando administrator job, he held the role of county economic development director. His salary and benefits package was worth $295,684. His contract calls for a severance worth four months' pay.
After the vote, Rogers told the Tampa Bay Times that the county staff will not be deterred.
"It's an unfortunate situation for Hernando County," he said. "The leadership team of Hernando County government will move forward and continue to provide the quality level of service to citizens while we look for another administrator."
Sossamon told the Times that he wasn't surprised by his firing. He said that he and his wife will discuss how long they remain in Hernando County, even though it had been a pleasure to serve its people.
Then he turned back to commissioners' claim that they didn't know they had approved a deficit budget for 2019.
"They were told about it," Sossamon said.
Contact Justin Trombly at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @JustinTrombly.