County focuses on 4 in administrator search
NEW PORT RICHEY -
Pasco commissioners on Tuesday narrowed down their list of county administrator candidates to four: two local candidates and two from out-of-town.
Chief Assistant County Administrator Michele Baker, who has been groomed to take over for retiring County Administrator John Gallagher, made the short list as expected. But her selection wasn't unanimous.
Commissioner Henry Wilson said he wasn't happy with the applicants provided by executive recruiter Renee Narloch, whose 10 finalists lacked the experience he was looking for.
“I do not feel like there's one person on our list that should be our county administrator,” Wilson said.
His comment caught other commissioners by surprise. “So you're disregarding Michele completely?” Commissioner Pat Mulieri asked.
“Yes,” he said. “I want someone from outside our county to run our county.”
Two candidates received unanimous votes from the board: Eric Johnson, Hillsborough County's director of strategic planning, and Tommy Gonzalez, city manager for Irving, Texas.
Johnson has held senior level executive positions in Hillsborough County for 20 years. He was a longtime budget director and former assistant county administrator before holding his current position.
Johnson said he's looking forward to the interview, particularly a bus tour planned for the afternoon of May 23. Chairman Ted Schrader and growth management administrator Richard Gehring will lead the two-hour tour designed to introduce the applicants to Pasco County.
“I think it's a nice approach,” Johnson said. “When I interviewed for a job in Pasco several years ago, I spent two days touring the county on my own. This way they'll get to make sure the candidates see everything they want them to see, and it actually puts the competitors in the position of getting to know each other.”
Gonzalez, who is contracted to stay with Irving through September, was the favorite to be the next executive director of Tampa Bay Water, but he withdrew from consideration.
Both Wilson and Schrader had a chance to interview Gonzalez for that job and called him dynamic. Gonzalez said he was “humbled” to be invited to interview for the Pasco job. “It's a great opportunity.”
He said he also was impressed with Wilson and Schrader. “I think they've got a good vision for Pasco County and for the region,” he said.
Gonzalez retired in 2012 as a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army Reserves.
Gonzalez has made headlines for drawing one of the highest government salaries in Texas. He earned a base salary of $246,000 at Irving but also got a city car, a housing allowance and other benefits that brought his total earnings to $450,000 a year. He reportedly told Wilson he would be willing to take a pay cut.
Former Escambia County Administrator Randy Oliver also made the short list. He is interviewing this week for the Alachua County administrator position but has ties to the Tampa Bay area and is looking forward to working in a major metropolitan area.
“I have a son who lives in Tampa and another one in Fort Myers,” he said. “I also used to work in Polk County and Lee County.”
Oliver was fired in 2012 by a county commission that has gone through seven administrators in 14 years. He is the only candidate who is a registered professional engineer and a certified public accountant.
“I think I bring a unique skill mix to the table,” he said.
Commissioner Kathryn Starkey said she was especially impressed with Oliver's track record as city manager of Greenville, S.C. and Peoria, Ill. “He's got experience with public-private partnerships,” she said.
Commissioner Jack Mariano also gave Oliver high marks. “What I liked about (Randy) was he's got that one-stop shopping for permitting where you get a permit in three days,” he said.
Members of the community will have a chance to meet all of the candidates at a dinner reception May 23 at Fox Hollow Country Club in Trinity. Commissioners will interview each finalist one-on-one on the morning of May 24 at Saint Leo University's business school. Group interviews will take place that afternoon during a public session in the school's conference room.