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County OKs deal with interim administrator
Commissioners agree to use ‘in-house’ resources for administrator search
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Screenshot by SUZETTE PORTER
Human Resources Director Peggy Rowe explains the process for searching for a new county administrator during a May 6 commission meeting.
CLEARWATER – Pinellas County government is saving about 20 percent in salary costs while an interim administrator continues at the helm.

Commissioners unanimously approved a compensation agreement with Mark Woodard during its May 6 meeting. Woodard will receive an annual salary of $199,500, which is 20 percent less than former administrator Bob LaSala received. LaSala was terminated April 15 and is spending his last 90 days of employment on assignment at St. Petersburg College.

Woodard, who was formerly an assistant county administrator and LaSala’s chief of staff, will serve “at-will” and receive the same benefits as other county employees, per his request.

Commissioner Ken Welch thanked Woodard for agreeing to the proposed compensation and for not asking for additional benefits.

Commissioners then turned their attention to the upcoming search for a new administrator. Before they began Dick Kane, founder at SpotOn!, spoke on behalf of what he described as a “silent majority” of “gray beards,” asking that the commission consider those capable “gray beards here in Pinellas County,” as they begin their search.

He said many “gray beards” – male and female – lived in the county with experience leading large corporations. He said the “very skilled” people know how to work with boards and do many of the duties that would be required of a county administrator even though they had not worked for government.

More importantly, they are familiar with Pinellas County and invested in its future.

“There are great leaders and executives that have lived here for decades,” he said. “We are here.”

Human Resources Director Peggy Rowe then answered questions about the process should the commission decide to use in-house staff to look for a new administrator versus an outside consultant.

“We’re certainly well equipped to do it. We have the capacity to do that,” she said.

Rowe said her staff would advertise the position in all appropriate publications.

The tentative timetable would be to develop a profile that includes the desirable criteria for an administrator during May, followed by announcing the job during June and July. Rowe said resumes would probably be available by August so interviews could take place in September and October. She estimated that someone could be hired as early as October.

She said if an outside consultant were used, it would cost between $30,000 and $35,000 and delay the process by 30 to 35 days, as time would be needed to negotiate a contract with a consultant.

The majority of commissioners supported using Rowe and her staff. Commissioner Susan Latvala said Human Resources had proved its capabilities during a recent search for the head of Business Technology Services.

“I was pleased with the BTS process – after we got rid of the consultant,” she said.

Welch pointed out that with the exception of LaSala, candidates provided by a consultant during the last search for an administrator were “weak.” He concurred with Latvala that Rowe’s staff did a good job with the BTS search.

However, Commissioner John Morroni worried about the “perception” of using in-house staff.

“The last two times we’ve used a consultant,” he said.

He is concerned that using in-house resources would result in a “grey cloud” hanging over the process.

“I prefer going out,” he said.

Commissioner Norm Roche said he had “been inclined to stay inside” with the search but had since changed his mind, favoring the use of an outside consultant.

“I’ve not seen value added by hiring a consultant,” Welch said.

Commissioner Janet Long said she was “very confident” that Rowe and her staff could do the job.

Commissioner Charlie Justice said while he was concerned that there could be some “perception of an inside game sort of thing,” he still believed the best course was to use Rowe and her team.

“I’m very concerned about the perception to our employees,” Morroni said.

Commission Chair Karen Seel said the county had used a consultant for about four candidate searches.

“I’ve been disappointed every time,” she said.

In the end, the commission voted 5-2 to use in-house resources for the search. Morroni and Roche voted no.

The next step will be a meeting to discuss the criteria to be used to create the job profile, as well as the process for screening resumes and applicants. Rowe said her staff would talk to references given by the candidates as well as former employers and people they had worked with to come up with a list of pros and cons for each candidate – the same as would be done by a consultant.

Seel pointed out that Rowe’s department did not work for the Board of County Commissioners, but was an entity of the Unified Personnel System, which reports to 11 independent boards.

Commissioners also agreed to act as “ambassadors” when attending meetings, such as the Florida Association of Counties, to spread the word about the job search.

Rowe said her staff would begin work on a list of potential characteristics to include with the job profile criteria.

County Attorney Jim Bennett told commissioners that the Sunshine Law would take effect as soon as resumes were received – regardless of whether they were sent to a consultant or to the county’s Human Resources department.

“Anything we send and anything provided to them would be public record,” he said.
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