Four years ago, retiring Tax Collector Diane Nelson threw her support behind her top deputy Charles Thomas, who won unopposed. In a notable turnaround, Nelson is now backing Thomas’ opponent in this year’s race. Welcome to the topsy-turvy Republican primary for Pinellas County Tax Collector, which has 270 employees and collects more than $2 billion in taxes and fees, including for driver’s licenses and concealed weapons permits. Both candidates have years of experience working in the Tax Collector’s office, but the Tampa Bay Times editorial board is recommending challenger Joyell Bobala in the Republican primary.
Bobala, 44, worked in the office for 21 years before resigning in May to run for the top job. By the time she left, she had risen to the level of a tax supervisor. She believes the role of the tax collector is to be a “public servant at heart,” and says she is “all about serving people.” She wants to reduce tax waste, institute express lane service and decrease employee turnover. To her, it’s about improving the service for the customer and for employees internally.
That both previous tax collectors — Nelson and Fred Petty — have endorsed Bobala was a major factor is this recommendation. Nelson worked hand-in-hand with Thomas as her deputy for 16 years. But she now says that walk-in wait times have doubled since she left office, while Petty wants a candidate who will be more present in the office.
Thomas, 63, says that wait times have increased only because of his focus on accuracy, which can lead to longer conversations and wait times but better experiences for customers. “I feel I’ve established a track record of success,” Thomas said.
During his tenure, the Tax Collector’s Office won the 2020 Governor’s Sterling Award, a state recognition for high-performing organizations that are well managed. Awards do not tell the whole story — comments from former employees in interviews and in an employee satisfaction survey offer inklings of a work culture that has not benefited everyone. One comment on the survey said: “Promotions appear to be a popularity contest.”
The winner of the Aug. 18 primary will face Democrat Joseph Saportas in the Nov. 3 general election. The tax collector is elected to a four-year term and makes $163,000.
For Pinellas Tax Collector in the Republican primary, the Times editorial board recommends Joyell Bobala.
Candidates not recommended by the editorial board are offered an opportunity to reply. They can send replies of up to 150 words by 5 p.m. July 27 to Editor of Editorials Graham Brink at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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 Graham Brink, and editorial writers Elizabeth Djinis, John Hill and Jim Verhulst. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news.