The race for Pinellas County tax collector has been contentious in recent months. In the Republican primary, incumbent Charles Thomas faced a former employee, after allegations arose of a toxic work environment inside the office which has 270 employees and collects more than $2 billion in taxes and fees, including for driver’s licenses and concealed weapons permits. Thomas easily won the primary and now faces Democratic challenger Joseph Saportas. Despite lingering concerns with how Thomas manages his employees, this is an office that needs someone who understands its operations and its metrics. Thomas has that experience, while Saportas doesn’t.
Thomas, 63, worked as the chief deputy tax collector from 2000 to 2016, before running unopposed in 2016 after his former boss Diane Nelson retired. Thomas' strengths lie in his understanding of the numbers and the data. When asked about customer satisfaction, he quickly rattles off the number of surveys customers filled out versus how many people interacted with the office as a whole. He notes that about 98 percent who completed surveys were satisfied with the service The office also won a 2020 Governor’s Sterling award, which recognizes well-managed and high-performing organizations.
Still, Thomas does not seem completely amenable to changing his leadership style to please some of his disgruntled employees. Some employees in interviews and surveys described an environment where promotions were based more on favoritism than talent. That is concerning and should be remedied if Thomas is re-elected. He admits that he more naturally gravitates toward the logistics of the office than the people, but he will need to cultivate his interpersonal skills to keep his staff happy. He is moving in the right direction by making sure he spends more time with his staff and asking them about their experiences in the office.
Joseph Saportas, 72, is a local businessman who runs his own insurance company. His platform is largely run on the idea that Thomas isn’t doing a good job. He notes wait time and morale as two of the biggest issues. Being a businessman may be useful running for a political office, but the tax collector needs a thorough understanding of how the office provides all of its many services.
For those reasons, the Tampa Bay Times Editorial Board is recommending Charles Thomas for Pinellas County tax collector.
Candidates not recommended by the editorial board are offered an opportunity to reply. Candidates for Pinellas County Tax Collector can send replies of up to 150 words by 5 p.m. Oct. 14 to Editor of Editorials Graham Brink at email@example.com.
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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.