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Score slips for Hernando County administrator. Budget troubles to blame.

 
Hernando County Administrator Len Sossamon
Hernando County Administrator Len Sossamon
Published June 5, 2018

BROOKSVILLE — In the midst of Hernando County's budget shortfall, the county commission's evaluation score this year for county administrator Len Sossamon is the lowest since he arrived in 2012. However, as in past years, Sossamon has both fans and critics on the board.

The multi-million-dollar shortfall is the definitive issue in ratings by commissioners Jeff Holcomb and John Allocco. who marked Sossamon "unsatisfactory" in financial management. Commission Chairman Steve Champion marked him "marginal, needs improvement," in that category.

Commissioner Wayne Dukes marked Sossamon as "excellent/proficient" in each of the 15 qualities measured, as he has in past years.

Sossamon's average score this year was 4.2, with Dukes giving him a 5.0, the highest possible, and Holcomb giving the lowest score, 2.93. The five-point scale places Sossamon's average just above the category of "exceeding expectations'' overall.

The rating system includes marks for everything from job knowledge and ethics to organizational skills and humor.

Holcomb noted that Sossamon's "hiring of a budget director created a budget crisis for the 2019 budget.'' He gave Sossamon lower marks on communicating with the governing body, and being honest and fair. For Holcomb, the administrator exceeded expectations in only three areas: creativity, adaptability and resilience.

Allocco also graded Sossamon as needing improvement in honesty and fairness, and in planning.

Allocco said he trusted the accuracy of budget information given out last year, his first year on the commission, and was not aware until recently of the budget problems.

"I feel that Len was either unaware of the poor financial position ... or was unwilling to communicate this openly with the commissioners in the sunshine during last year's budget workshops and meetings,'' Allocco wrote. "I depend upon him to speak honestly during our meetings to make sure we all have the whole story, even at the risk of hurt feelings.''

Allocco also suggested goals that Sossamon make hiring and firing decisions based on the needs of the county rather than lobbying from individual commissioners, and that he give commissioners "the whole story,'' especially about budget issues.

Champion praised Sossamon for picking a strong deputy county administrator in Jeff Rogers as part of his succession plan, for his experience in leadership and his ability to forge compromises between commissioners.

But Champion also urged Sossamon to be sure that information he provides commissioners and the public is accurate. His goal for the administrator was for him to fix the budget without raising taxes and to find a compromise with the budgets of constitutional officers.

Dukes' perfect score for Sossamon praised his "strong leadership ability" and "sound judgment decisions.'' For goals, he stated: "Continue to strive to help local businesses to expand, continue reaching out to bring new businesses to Hernando County.''

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Sossamon, whose pay and benefits total $295,684, also is the county's economic development director.

Sossamon, 67, came to the county in 2012 from North Carolina, making him one of the longest-serving Hernando County administrators in recent history.

He did not do a self-evaluation this year, but said he understood the commissioners' concerns about the budget gap. Sossamon said he presented commissioners options that included reduced spending and raising revenue, but commissioners have held fast to not raising taxes.

Sossamon said he was confident that county staff and commissioners will resolve this year's budget shortfall. The budget comes up for final approval in September.

Contact Barbara Behrendt at bbehrendt@tampabay.com or (352) 848-1434.

>>>Previous coverage:> Hernando County's broken budget could mean higher fees and a sales tax vote

>>>Previous coverage:> Evaluation of Hernando administrator generally good but with reservations

>>>Previous coverage:> Commissioners give Hernando administrator excellent reviews