Pinellas County commissioners heap praise on county administrator

Pinellas County Administrator Barry Burton told commissioners that he doesn't blush often after listening to lavish praise from all but one commissioner during his annual performance review on Oct. 6.

CLEARWATER — Amazing. Outstanding. Extraordinary. Remarkable.

Those were just a few of the words being tossed around Oct. 6 as Pinellas County commissioners conducted the annual performance review of their administrator.

The majority agreed with Commissioner Karen Seel who said, “You were a good hire.”

Barry Burton has been county administrator since Oct. 29, 2018.

Seel complimented Burton “for an amazing job” this past year.

“It’s been unbelievable what you’ve been able to do for our county employees as well as our county citizens through this crisis with COVID,” she said.

She also praised Burton for the budget presentation, which she said was “the most in-depth presentation she’s seen in some time.”

Commissioner Ken Welch reminisced back to when the commission was interviewing Burton for the job and he told them that they had made a mistake 17 years ago when they didn’t hire him.

“One of the things we were concerned about was dealing with emergencies and hurricanes, and Barry reminded us how much he had dealt with FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Administration).

Welch said Burton’s leadership through the COVID crisis had been “outstanding.”

He pointed out how well Burton had coordinated and collaborated with the community and the region. He said Burton “had lived up to that promise to be able to handle an emergency.”

He agreed with Seel about the good job done on the budget and also praised his work to improve the county’s processes.

“Pinellas County is in really good shape thanks to your leadership,” he told Burton.

Commission Chair Pat Gerard said she was uncertain about how the county would handle things at the start of the pandemic.

“I’m so glad you took charge for the whole community,” she said.

She talked about the way Burton organized daily calls to keep everyone informed and the other work he did to get the county through the emergency. She also said it was “amazing” that anybody could get anything else done during the pandemic.

“It was pretty all-consuming for months and months,” she said, adding that despite all that, Burton had managed to accomplish things.

“I fess up,” Commissioner Janet Long said as she took her turn to make comments about the administrator’s performance. “I did not vote for Barry in the initial go-around and he has certainly proved me wrong on every single point.”

She said she was “very grateful” to her colleagues for voting to hire him.

“Because boy oh boy, he’s been extraordinary,” she said.

She praised Burton for his passion, determination, and his sense of urgency to get big things done.

“You’ve certainly made an impact in the community,” Long said.

Commissioner Dave Eggers said he was “extremely happy with the work Barry’s been doing.”

“He brings incredible enthusiasm and energy to the job,” he said, adding that it started even before he was hired as he worked to get the job.

He pointed out that Burton same from a county that had even more cities and county commissioners than Pinellas had, which had been a factor in the decision to hire him. He said Burton realized the value of collaboration between governments and that had certainly been true during the pandemic.

He praised Burton for his remarkable leadership with the executive policy group. And he agreed with the others that talked about this work on the budget.

“He had the foresight and strength to uniquely look at the coming budget as a two-year operating budget,” Eggers said, adding that Burton also continues to look for ways to better provide service to the people.

Commissioner Charlie Justice began his remarks by saying, “When you hire someone from outside, you get the benefit of someone coming with a fresh eye to look at everything without a history of baggage or long-term good or bad relationships.

“But you worry about the relationships you need to develop especially with the 24 cities and all the different chambers and everything like that.”

Justice said he had recently met with “10 or a dozen” of the county’s majors who had said that the relationship with the county had been getting better over the last few years. In addition, they all had said relationships “had never been better than it is now with Barry leading the conversations.”

“That’s so critical for everything we want to get done in our community to have those partnerships and to have those relationships,” he said, adding that he appreciates Burton making it a priority.

In Burton’s response, he said he was following the priorities that had been set by the commission. He said he had been told how much commissioners valued relationships with the cities and community partners.

“Some of you said ‘don’t mess that up’ and I took note of that,” he said.

He thanked the commissioners for their support and said he had received support from community partners and municipalities.

“They’re been so open to share ideas and to provide input,” he said. “And then, what is even more amazing and what really makes Pinellas County special is that they come together and then they stick to an issue.”

He’s also impressed about how everyone works together as a region to get things done.

“That’s so unique and I think we are so much stronger because of the way our cities and county work together,” he said.

He praised the county’s “very, very dedicated” employees and pointed out the added work load hundreds of them had taken on during the pandemic.

“I’m very proud to be a part of our organization to work with them to deliver on the services,” he said.

Commissioner Kathleen Peters was the only one that did not speak during the administrator’s evaluation. However, she did complete the written review that included the areas of communication skills, interpersonal/character skills and leadership/management skills and abilities.

Out of a possible score of 5.0, the composite score from all commissioners for the three areas was 4.30, with 4 meaning that an employee is performing above expectations.

Eggers gave Burton a composite average of 4.6, Gerard 4.8, Justice, 4.0, Long 4.6, Seel 4.8, Welch 4.62, and Peters gave him a 2.7.

Peters gave Burton the low score in all categories, coming in at 2.5 for communication skills, 2.7 for interpersonal/character skills and 2.8 for leadership/management skills and abilities.

A score of 2.0 means the performance is below expectations and 3.0 means an employee meets expectations.

In her written comments, Peters said she was concerned about the administrator’s consistency and follow up. She objected to what she described as attempts by the commission chair and the administrator to remove the emergency order into their authority to make renewal decision.

She gave him mixed reviews on his interpersonal/character skills, saying Burton had “fallen short in some areas, in others he has excelled.” She complained about his decision to use 211 Tampa Bay Cares to manage the Pinellas Cares program and she pointed to mismanagement of employees that work for commissioners. Lastly she talked about shortcomings with the criminal justice system and availability for services for mental illnesses.

Suzette Porter is TBN’s Pinellas County editor. She can be reached at sporter@tbnweekly.com.