NEW PORT RICHEY - Snubbed by their first choice, Pasco commissioners voted 4-1 to offer the county administrator job to runner-up Michele Baker, who has worked for the county for two decades.
"I'm honored and appreciative of the trust the board is putting in me, and I will work to meet and exceed their expectations in very short order," Baker said.
Commissioners clearly were stung by Irving (Texas) City Manager Tommy Gonzalez's rejection, and his comments that his decision was based, in part, on their requests that he attend numerous meetings while he was in town last week to tour the area with his family.
Chairman Ted Schrader quickly shot down any suggestion to continue negotiations with Gonzalez or invite him back for a longer visit. "Bringing him back, I just don't think is the appropriate thing to do," he said. "We've given him an offer - one I think is competitive in the Tampa Bay area and the state of Florida."
Commissioner Pat Mulieri, who always supported Baker's bid, said there was no reason to conduct a new search because the right candidate was always here. She was longtime County Administrator John Gallagher's chief assistant for seven years and was named interim county administrator last month after Gallagher retired.
"We haven't given Michele a chance to spread her wings," Mulieri said. "She's a go-getter. She's given 190 percent to this county. I think she's going to do a great job."
But Commissioner Kathryn Starkey objected, saying the county needed someone from the outside who could bring fresh ideas to Pasco County.
"What's wrong with getting someone in here who has a track record and has done it somewhere else?" Starkey asked. "We have a lot of policies and procedures here that, frankly, are bit archaic. That's one reason I ran for this position."
But when Commissioner Jack Mariano, who had also voiced many of the same concerns, said he would support Baker's promotion, it was clear she had the votes. Starkey agreed to give Baker a chance and voted with the majority.
Commissioner Henry Wilson, who wanted to go out for a new search, was the only opposing vote.