Editorial: Judge administrator on performance, not pet peeves

Published Sept. 11, 2014

Elected officials shouldn't blame their staff for their own political shortcomings, but that was the emerging pattern for two Pasco County commissioners in their first-year evaluations of County Administrator Michele Baker.

A commission majority of Ted Schrader, Kathryn Starkey and Pat Mulieri gave Baker high marks with all three listing her performance as exceeding expectations in professional skills, relationships with commissioners and the community, financial management, supervising staff and executing board policies.

Not so with Commissioners Henry Wilson and Jack Mariano, who looked to scapegoat Baker for their own political performances. Wilson, who lost his re-election bid in the Aug. 26 primary, voted against hiring Baker last year and continued his contention throughout his campaign that the county would have benefitted from hiring an outsider.

In a July 18 interview with the Tampa Bay Times editorial board, Wilson said, "Do I think she (Baker) is doing a good job? Yes. Do I think we still should have gone out for somebody else? Yes.''

Yet, a few weeks later, Wilson scored Baker brutally, saying she failed to meet expectations in 16 of 30 categories and gave her an overall score of 2.6 out of 5, below the threshold of "meets expectations.'' Imagine her scores if Wilson had thought she was doing a poor job. Wilson remains in office until after the Nov. 4 general election, and on Tuesday, he correctly based Baker's salary for the coming year on performance, not on her home-grown resume. The commission unanimously gave Baker a one-time $10,000 raise, increasing her salary to $180,000.

Mariano, who complimented Baker publicly Tuesday on her worth ethic and energy level, was much more generous than Wilson in his written scoring, giving Baker an average rating of 3.7 out of 5. But, he also criticized her for issues in which he came up on the losing end of commission votes including developing SunWest Park and adding lacrosse fields to the Wesley Chapel District Park. It's not Baker's job to ensure Mariano's pet issues are favored by a board majority. It's Mariano's chore to persuade two other commissioners to vote with him.

More disturbing was Mariano's contention that Baker should have killed a proposed gasoline tax increase without a public vote by commissioners and she also should have quashed a proposed privately built and operated state toll road "months earlier — (it) caused a lot of stress and distrust that continues today.''

What nonsense. The proposed gas tax was a policy issue that demanded commission attention. Likewise, the state pulled the plug on the toll road plan in May, five months after Mariano joined a unanimous commission in voting to continue a feasibility study for the highway. That vote came at the request of the Florida Department of Transportation, which wanted to know if the commissioners supported the project. Mariano had his chance then to kill the highway plan and chose not to do so. How is that Baker's fault?

Baker earned her raise, but providing political cover to commissioners shouldn't be part of her job description.