Pasco commissioners interview administrator finalists
ST. LEO -
Pasco commissioners spent the day Friday interviewing four finalists for next county administrator. Now they will spend the holiday weekend contemplating who made the strongest case for the job.
“It's not going to be an easy decision,” Chairman Ted Schrader said. “They all interviewed exceptionally well.”
For internal candidate Michele Baker, the challenge was to separate herself from her boss and mentor, John Gallagher, who is retiring after 31 years at the helm. Gallagher promoted Baker, who has spent 20 years in county government, and groomed her to succeed him.
“I am not John Gallagher,” Baker said. “We share a commitment to this community. We both share ethics, which I think is important. We have different personalities.”
Baker said she helped transform the culture of Pasco County government when she joined the administration in 2007. Her leadership style is more collaborative and relationship-based.
“We disagreed many times, but it was always behind closed doors — respect and loyalty demands that,” she said.
Baker said her relationships and experience within county government make her the strongest candidate. “There will be no hesitation. There will be no learning curve. There will only be momentum,” she said.
Eric Johnson, director of strategic planning for Hillsborough County, stressed his financial expertise.
“There's no one in the state of Florida who has the local government budgeting expertise that I have,” he said.
He's also exceptionally well-liked. “I think generally people love me,” he said. “The commissioners I've worked with would tell you that the recommendations I've made have stood the test of time.”
Johnson said he has spent the past 26 years preparing for this opportunity. “I probably can't convey how excited I am about this,” he said. “I'll just concede that my wife has already found a house here, and I might be buying that house whether I get the job or not. I hope I can afford it.”
He compares Pasco County to Reston, Va., a one-time bedroom community of Washington, D.C. “As I look at Pasco, it brings back to me what happened in Reston,” Johnson said. “Probably a majority of people in Reston today drive less than 5 miles to go to work — and that's the future I see for Pasco County.”
Irving City Manager Tomas “Tommy” Gonzalez highlighted his West Texas upbringing and military career, which taught him that to gain respect he had to earn it.
“For me, the most important thing is respect and engaging your employees,” Gonzalez said. “I focused on challenging our employees to be the best we can be.”
Gonzalez said during his seven-year tenure in Irving, the city created 20,000 new jobs. “We did that by becoming a lot more aggressive in our incentives,” he said. He describes himself as “a guy who gets results.”
He brought light-rail to the community, installed seven miles of solar-powered streetlights and saved the city millions of dollars by renegotiating electric franchise agreements.
“That $21 million in savings went to pay raises for our employees when no one else was giving raises,” he said.
Gonzalez said he also created a system to reward employees on the spot for a job well done. “Everybody hands out certificates, but it's kind of cool to get a $5 Starbucks card,” he said.
Management consultant Charles “Randy” Oliver describes himself as a change agent who values technology and whose personality can be “intense.”
“I'm known as a problem solver,” Oliver said. “You have to be willing to take risks. You have to take chances.”
He recounted how he dealt with a problem that nearby Tampa is struggling to handle — booming car stereos. He said his police department was writing anywhere from 600 to 800 noise violation tickets a year, and it wasn't curbing the problem.
“The answer was to impound the car,” Oliver said. Drivers had to pay $100 to get their car out of impound. “The first year we picked up 100 cars, but for every one we impounded, we probably stopped 10 more. It fixed the problem because we changed how we did things.”
He was fired from his last two jobs, as city manager for Surprise, Ariz., and county administrator of Escambia County after two years on the job. At both jobs, he faced serious budget deficits.
Commissioners will meet Tuesday afternoon in Dade City to make a selection.
“I don't think we'd go wrong with any of them,” Commissioner Kathryn Starkey said. “It's going to be a restless weekend.”
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