Continue the revival of county Children's Board
Thanks to former Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio, who took over as interim director last August, the once beleaguered Children's Board of Hillsborough County now has renewed focus and energy. But the agency could quickly get off track again if its board doesn't take care in selecting a new director, and Gov. Rick Scott isn't equally conscientious about picking new board members. In choosing a new administrator, board members should consider the counsel of Iorio, who believes that leadership experience is more important than a background in children's services. "You can learn it," she says,It is encouraging the board has extended its search for her replacement for another month. It received more than 200 applications, but the firm conducting the search wanted to find additional candidates. Iorio has no interest in the post. But she makes a useful point when she says it might be wise to seek a veteran leader who isn't necessarily looking for the job but would accept the challenge as a public service — someone like her. Scott should be similarly thoughtful in making his five picks on the 10-member board, which distributes $26 million to nonprofit groups that aid children. Only two of the current governor appointees have applied for reappointment, and both are worthy. The governor should look for conscientious individuals who will focus on efficiently aiding children, not political grandstanding. There's no question about the importance of the Children's Board, which was created by voters in 1988 to invest one-half mill in property taxes in programs that improve children's health and well being. It provided crucial aid, but its leadership seemed to lose focus in recent years. The former director resigned following complaints of poor employee morale, no-bid contracts, waste and lax management. The board brought in Iorio to straighten things out. The former mayor, Hillsborough County commissioner and supervisor of elections shook things up in a hurry. She cut the staff from 55 to 35, dropping salary expenses from $5 million to $3 million. Where only 73 percent of the budget had been going to programs, Iorio pushed that to more than 80 percent. She implemented a code of ethics that, among other things, prevented employees from accepting gifts from vendors and commanded that the organization "will spend the taxpayer's money wisely." She insisted on competitive bids. Thanks to such actions, the Children's Board is now an accountable and transparent agency. A quick transformation was essential for the agency's survival. The Legislature adopted a measure that requires every children's council in the state with taxing authority to undergo periodic voter referendums. Hillsborough voters will determine the board's fate in 2016. Thanks to Iorio's guidance, the Children's Board of Hillsborough County now merits the public's confidence. But it's vital that board members make sure they find a successor to Iorio who will be equally committed to accountability and fiscal stewardship.