CLEARWATER — Pinellas County commissioners may decide Tuesday whether to fire County Administrator Bob LaSala, who received mediocre evaluations from several of the seven-member commission.
Commissioners critical of the county’s top administrator wrote that LaSala’s combative leadership style led to disputes with other local governments and nonprofit groups. They also panned his communication and interpersonal skills.
The latest criticism came from Commission Chairwoman Karen Seel, who filed a scathing evaluation of LaSala on Monday, awarding him the lowest possible score on 18 of the appraisal’s 24 categories. Areas where she marked him down included personal and professional integrity, leadership and citizen service.
In a memo to other commissioners, Seel stated a discussion of LaSala’s evaluations will be added to Tuesday’s meeting. That comes after she initially met with county legal staff about the evaluations and pulled a discussion from the agenda “in lieu of other options.”
On Monday, LaSala met with several commissioners to discuss their evaluations, but said he had not had the chance to meet with Norm Roche or Seel, whose evaluations were the most critical of his performance.
LaSala did receive glowing appraisals from commissioners Susan Latvala, who is leaving office in November, John Morroni and Charlie Justice.
“There are a couple of commissioners who have very sharp departures from the rest of the group,” LaSala said. “I think overall the rest of the commissioners have provided overall pretty good evaluations. There’s opportunity for improvement – I’m certainly open to that.”
LaSala also pointed to recent positive results in a survey of Pinellas residents as proof that county government is performing well. “I think I still have the ability to contribute in a positive way toward this community,” he said.
Replacing LaSala, who was hired in 2008, will not be cheap. He is paid an annual salary of $231,750, a monthly car allowance of $750, and an undisclosed allowance for a deferred retirement fund.
Unless he is fired for cause, his contract guarantees him six months of severance pay and benefits, which would add up to about $120,000 in salary and car allowance. He also has accrued roughly $40,250 in unused sick and vacation leave, according to the county’s human resources department.
Commissioners recently have expressed frustration with the county’s handling of several issues, including a staffing crisis in the county’s veterans services offices and clashes with other cities and fire districts over attempts to lower costs for 911 medical emergencies.
Last week, commissioners learned an administrative mix-up with BayCare Health System led to the county missing out on $8 million of matching state monies for care of poor and uninsured residents. About 10 percent of that money would have come back to the county.
“We’re at a serious point,” Commissioner Ken Welch said. “We need to have some frank conversations about our direction.”