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Pasco demotes development services boss

Don Rosenthal’s responsibilities included the building department, which had high-profile gaffes.

Pasco County’s frequently beleaguered building department is getting a new top boss.

But not before the old one, former Assistant County Administrator Don Rosenthal, lobs criticisms at his own boss, County Administrator Dan Biles.

Rosenthal said that his stated retirement plan “was far from accurate’’ and that he had received “garbled communication’’ from Biles about his performance overseeing the county’s development services branch.

Rosenthal’s comments came in a Dec. 17 letter addressed to county commissioners, in which he rescinded the retirement he announced in October 2019. The retirement was supposed to be effective June 2020, and the county already advertised for a replacement. Rosenthal told commissioners that he changed his mind and wanted to remain as assistant county administrator to continue the improvements in the development services branch.

But he won’t get the chance.

On the first Monday of the new year, Biles reassigned Rosenthal to a newly created job, acting as a county liaison to developers of commercial and redevelopment projects. The demotion carried a nearly $74,000 pay cut from $163,941 to $90,000 annually.

Don Rosenthal, formerly Pasco County assistant administrator for development services, rescinded his resignation letter and now will serve in a newly created role of a county liaison on commercial and redevelopment projects. [Pasco County]

The new job, Biles said in an interview, will give Rosenthal “the ability for him to use the skill set he has to facilitate (commercial development) projects in a role we sorely need.’’

Biles assigned Rosenthal his new duties just a day before Commissioners Ron Oakley, Mike Wells Jr. and Jack Mariano publicly expressed dissatisfaction with what they called county employees’ poor customer service when dealing with contractors and property owners. The commissioners’ comments came after businessman Jeromy Harding complained, during the public comment portion of the commissioners’ Jan. 7 meeting in Dade City, about the red tape he had confronted trying to expand his Barrett Harding Insurance Agency on Little Road into a neighboring property. Mariano, who works for Barrett Harding, did not comment on Harding’s complaint, but pointed to examples of other gripes from Hudson property owners.

“I think it’s a role he can flourish in,’’ Biles said about Rosenthal’s new duties to facilitate solutions on commercial and redevelopment issues.

Related: Audit: 31,000 building permits can't be accounted for in Pasco

In an email to the Tampa Bay Times, Rosenthal said he ''enjoyed working for the Board of County Commissioners and the citizens of Pasco County. In fact, the most fulfilling part of my job has been helping individuals successfully complete their respective projects.'’

The development services branch includes the county’s building services, development and planning, code enforcement and economic growth departments. The county issued nearly 52,000 building permits last year, including more than 4,000 new single-family homes and approximately 500 new commercial projects

Biles declined to cite specific shortcomings with Rosenthal’s performance, other than to say he, as county administrator, needed to get the right people in the right positions for the county to operate most effectively.

Related: Which building permits? What transportation fees?

In his letter to commissioners, Rosenthal said he met with human resources director Barbara Hitzemann in October “to seek assistance identifying what Mr. Biles’ issues were relative to my performance, so I could quickly address those concerns.’’

Instead, he said, he was “tersely informed that the county administrator’s wish was that I resign my position as assistant county administrator. Since my inclination was to put the organization above self-interest, I accepted Mr. Biles’ request.’’

Rosenthal signed an Oct. 18 letter to Biles, that he said Hitzemann drafted, in which Rosenthal said he was looking forward to traveling and spoiling his grandchildren in the next chapter of his life.

He said he changed his mind about retiring after speaking with “commissioners and stakeholders.''

Rosenthal joined the county in 2014 under former County Administrator Michele Baker. He previously was the city of Atlanta’s director of the office of buildings. In his letter to commissioners, Rosenthal cited organizational and technology initiatives that have improved customer service under his watch in Pasco. Last year, the county produced a testimonial video quoting business representatives about the county’s pro-business environment and improved efficiencies in its development services branch.

Still, one of Rosenthal’s departments, building services, experienced several high-profile embarrassments over the past five years.

Those included the departure of multiple building officials. At one point, the department shut down for a day when it lacked the appropriate personnel to authorize building plans, but told the public the closure was for employee training.

The Clerk of the Court and Comptroller’s Office conducted three critical audits that faulted how the department tracked school impact fees and building permits and how it handled public records. Most recently, one of Rosenthal’s subordinates authorized paying overtime wages to employees building gingerbread houses during the work day.

Related: Pasco County workers got overtimes pay to build ginerbread houses

In a Jan. 6 email to commissioners, Biles said he hoped to have a new assistant county administrator hired within four months. He named Todd Bayley, the county’s chief information officer, to serve in the role in the interim.