A new year will bring key vacancies in important government positions throughout Tampa Bay. Some will be filled by the voters. Others will be appointed. Together, they will help shape the future of the entire region.
1. Hillsborough schools superintendent
Hillsborough County Schools superintendent Jeff Eakins retires after the school year ends this spring with an unfinished agenda. He successfully made the case for a countywide sales surtax in 2018 that already is delivering much-needed capital improvements to school campuses, but his administration stumbled in its efforts to confront lagging academics at low-performing schools. Eakins, though, planted the seeds for his successor to follow-through in key areas, notably a renewed focus on early childhood education. He also rebuilt public confidence in the school administration and the School Board with a respectful, inclusive management style that befits a large, diverse urban county - something his successor should emulate.
2. Hillsborough county administrator
Hillsborough County administrator Mike Merrill retires in 2020, and his calm demeanor and financial acumen has left the county in stable hands. But his successor faces a host of challenges, from calls by elected county commissioners for a stronger approach to managing growth to the unsettled discussion over a potential new home for the Rays on the Tampa side of the bay. The county is also exploring new strategies for co-locating libraries, fire stations and other essential public facilities alongside new development - a response to the fiscal strain of extending public services to the fast-growing suburbs. The next administrator will need to juggle these priorities even with continued growth in the economy.
3. Chief executive, H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center & Research Institute
The sudden resignation Dec. 18 of Alan List, the chief executive officer and president of the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center & Research Institute in Tampa, comes at a delicate time for this vaunted institution. List and five others at Moffitt resigned abruptly in the wake of heightened scrutiny by federal authorities into possible exploitation by China of American-funded research. The next leader will need to calm the waters, adopt any necessary reforms and restore public confidence in a treasured institution. The search needs to find a leader who can repair Moffitt’s image, reaffirm its dual mission of patient care and research, and maintain and grow its level of state support to meet the rising demands of the times.
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4. Clearwater leaders
Clearwater voters will elect a new mayor in March to succeed George Cretekos, who has been a steady hand over the last eight years. The City Council also will appoint a new city manager this year to succeed the retiring Bill Horne, who will have served for two decades. It’s time for fresh faces and new ideas, and the changes come at a critical time for the city. Among the challenges: Following through with the ambitious Imagine Clearwater project along the downtown waterfront, firming up plans for improvements to the Philadelphia Phillies’ spring training complex and dealing with the Church of Scientology.
5. Pinellas elected officials
The 2020 elections will bring fresh faces throughout county government. Ken Welch is not seeking re-election to the Pinellas County Commission after 20 years and plans to run for St. Petersburg mayor in 2021. Pinellas School Board member Rene Flowers plans to run for Welch’s commission seat. Pinellas-Pasco Public Defender Bob Dillinger is not seeking re-election after 24 years. That’s just for starters, and these three public servants will leave significant voids in experience and perspective.
Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Times Chairman and CEO Paul Tash, Editor of Editorials Tim Nickens, and editorial writers Elizabeth Djinis, John Hill and Jim Verhulst. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news.