Pasco administrator candidates get grand tour
ST. LEO -
After a full day of tours and receptions, the four county administrator hopefuls will make their case today to succeed Florida's longest-serving county administrator.
After more than 31 years at the helm, John Gallagher retires at the end of the month. Commissioners will choose either his top lieutenant, Michele Baker, or one of three career administrators to fill his shoes.
Commission Chairman Ted Schrader said Thursday's events, which included a five-hour bus tour followed by a dinner reception at Fox Hollow Golf Club, were designed to sell Pasco County to the applicants.
“I'm excited to showcase Pasco County,” Schrader said before boarding the bus. “We're going to try to show them what a diverse county we are. We have an awful lot to offer. I want them to know we're a coastal county, but where else can you start out on the Gulf, drive 30 minutes and be in rolling hills 300 feet above sea level?”
Schrader and Gallagher accompanied the finalists on the tour, which was led by Planning Administrator Richard Gehring. The bus left the West Pasco Government Center at 12:30 p.m. and completed a loop around the county, making stops at the future SunWest Park and at the historic courthouse in Dade City.
Schrader said it was important that the tour hit each of the county's six incorporated towns, as well as the U.S. 301 corridor and the State Road 56/54 corridor, the county's main growth corridor.
“It's an opportunity for them to show us the highlights and what they think is important,” former Escambia County Administrator Randy Oliver said.
Oliver previously worked in Polk County, and his son has lived in Tampa for 10 years, so he said he's familiar with East Pasco. “I chose to stay (in a hotel) on the west side because I know the east side much better, and because I knew we'd be at Saint Leo (today),” Oliver said.
It's quite a change of scenery for Irving City Manager Tomas “Tommy” Gonzalez, who has spent his entire 22 year career in Texas. Gonzalez, whose contract with Irving ends Sept. 30, was a front-runner to take over as executive director of Tampa Bay Water, but he withdrew from consideration.
Eric Johnson, Hillsborough County's director of strategic planning, said he'd been touring the county on his own to prepare for the interview. He also attended one of the county's stakeholder meetings last week in Land O' Lakes to hear the presentation on the budget and proposed gas tax increase.
“I'm interested in seeing some of the county facilities and some of what they've accomplished in terms of community development and redevelopment,” Johnson said.
For Baker, who has worked in Pasco County for the past 20 years, the bus tour was an opportunity to observe the competition. And for them to interact with her, Johnson noted.
“For the three of us, it's also a good chance to spend time with Michele Baker, because if she doesn't get the job and one of us does, she's going to be our right hand,” Johnson said. “And for her it's a chance to meet the person who could potentially be her new boss.”
Johnson has been a finalist for administrator jobs in Sarasota and Seminole counties. Oliver interviewed a week ago for the administrator job in Alachua County, but commissioners ranked him third out of the five finalists.
Commissioners will meet privately with each candidate this morning. Then the full board will interview the finalists in open session in the TECO Hall Room at Saint Leo University's College of Business. The interviews will not be streamed on the Internet, but they will be recorded and posted on the county's website, www.pascocountyfl.net, all weekend and rebroadcast several times on Pasco TV.
Commissioners will meet Tuesday afternoon in Dade City to rank the candidates.