CLEARWATER — The search for a new Pinellas County administrator will be conducted in-house despite concerns by some commissioners that an independent firm should be hired to remove any perception that internal candidates have an advantage.
Commissioners voted 6-2 Tuesday to approve a six-month search process to replace recently fired Administrator Bob LaSala. A national search will be conducted by the county’s Human Resources Department, with a screening committee appointed to review résumés.
Hiring an outside search firm would cost up to $35,000 and several commissioners expressed doubts about the value. Too often, the firm has its own pool of candidates it wants to push, commission Chairwoman Karen Seel said.
“Every time we have used a recruitment firm, I have been disappointed every single time,” she said.
But the decision to keep the search in-house led commissioners John Morroni and Norm Roche to vote against the proposal. Morroni said he had confidence in the county’s staff, but county employees he has spoken to want an outside firm involved.
“If it’s done in house, I’m afraid people will think it’s an inside baseball pick should it be someone from Pinellas County government chosen,” Morroni said. “It kind of puts a little black cloud on it.”
Commissioner Susan Latvala said those fears are groundless since the county shares its human resources staff with the clerk of the court, the tax collector, the property appraiser and the supervisor of elections.
HR Director Peggy Rowe does not report to the county administrator, but to a citizens board appointed by a combination of commissioners and constitutional officers.
Nonetheless, the likely presence of several top county officials in the applicant pool could raise questions about the selection process.
Interim County Administrator Mark Woodard, who has been praised by commissioners for his performance filling in for LaSala, said he would accept the job if asked by commissioners to continue permanently.
The commission also approved a new compensation package for Woodard with a salary of $199,500.
Another possible applicant is Animal Services Director Maureen Freaney, who served as an assistant county administrator until the county restructured. She also served as interim city manager of Dunedin.
“I wouldn’t rule it out,” she said. “There are still a lot of things to play out.”
Bruce Moeller, director of Safety and Emergency Services and who served for roughly five years as city manager of Sunrise in Broward County, said he may also consider applying.
“I’ll listen as the board goes through and talks about what they’re looking for,” Moeller said. “If I think there’s a match there and there’s an interest from the board, I certainly would consider it.”
Commissioners plan to schedule a special meeting before May 20 to agree on what qualities they will be looking for in their new administrator.
“Pinellas County is a desirable place to live and work,” Latvala said. “I don’t think we’ll have a shortage of qualified candidates.”