In his quest to become the next Hillsborough County property appraiser, candidate Bob Henriquez is stressing the experience he gained running a regional office for the state's Department of Children & Families.
Henriquez, a Democrat, likes to point out that his opponent, Republican state Sen. Ronda Storms, has had little or no administrative experience in her career as a county commissioner, lawyer and teacher.
But his former boss found room for improvement in Henriquez when he evaluated his performance as a manager, rating him middling at best and urging him to spend more time in the office with his staff.
Henriquez worked three years and received an annual salary of $105,000 as administrator with the Department of Children & Families in Pasco and Pinellas counties, the 6th Judicial Circuit. He had just termed out of the state House of Representatives when he was appointed to the post by then-Secretary Bob Butterworth, a fellow Democrat.
In his last evaluation, September 2010, Henriquez received an overall grade of 3.2, or satisfactory, with 4.5 to 5 the highest score possible. He also received a satisfactory rating in his first evaluation.
"While his outside relations are great, he must spend more time in the office with his staff throughout Circuit 6," supervisor Nick Cox wrote. "He must be very visible to them and take a very active role in seeing them and being seen."
Cox said he wanted Henriquez to move beyond "running an efficient organization" to developing his own initiatives that would have an impact on the clients the agency served.
"I am hopeful he will begin to instill more of his own management styles and pursue goals for the circuit beyond maintenance of a once-troubled and recovering system of care."
Still, Henriquez touted his work with the office as a quality that separates him from his opponent in the property appraiser's race.
"We're confident it will be a spirited and healthy debate over who has the experience and the demeanor to run the office better," Henriquez said in August, shortly after Storms beat incumbent Property Appraiser Rob Turner in the Republican primary.
"This should not be political or policy debate," Henriquez said then. "It should be a capability debate and a hiring decision."
In defending his record at DCF, Henriquez said it took some time learning to grasp all the technical issues involved in running a circuit with 300 employees and a multimillion-dollar budget.
He and Cox were both new on the job, "trying to find the right mix" between hands-on management and being "the face of DCF" in Pinellas and Pasco counties.
"He wanted me also, as I gained a greater knowledge of the processes involved, to really become more proactive rather than just manage the office," Henriquez said in an interview.
A year later, however, Cox expressed the same concerns, saying Henriquez "must continue to become more visible to Circuit 6 staff and enhance those relationships." Cox also said he was still waiting to see "more local initiatives and innovation in Circuit 6."
Cox, now the statewide prosecutor for the Florida Attorney General's Office, said in an interview there were no signs Henriquez was skipping work or shirking his duties. But he said Henriquez needed to work harder at countering a perception he wasn't around the office much, even if it meant just walking the halls and saying hello to workers.
"I was concerned; I was hearing he wasn't in the office," Cox said. "The perception can become the reality in their minds."
Henriquez worked at first for Butterworth, who had served as attorney general and Broward County sheriff before the DCF job, then for Butterworth's successor at DCF, former Deputy Attorney General George Sheldon, also a Democrat.
Both agency chiefs were appointed by then-Gov. Charlie Crist, a Republican who now leans Democratic and spoke on behalf of President Barack Obama on Thursday night at the Democratic National Convention.
"Anytime those kinds of appointments are made, people want to ask questions about them," Henriquez said. "I felt comfortable the general had faith in me to do the job and the Republican governor at the time felt comfortable with that appointment."
Henriquez also held government jobs in the 1980s and '90s, first with the Hillsborough City-County Planning Commission then with the county's Planning and Growth Management Department.
His evaluations with the agencies were mostly in the "exceptional" range.
During his four years at the planning department, Henriquez rose from community planner 1, at a salary of $25,147 a year, to senior planner, at $34,278 a year. He was given high marks for teamwork, customer service and job knowledge.
He had some supervisory duties as a senior planner, but not of the scale he assumed at the Department of Children & Families.
Henriquez was dismissed from DCF in April 2011, three months after Gov. Rick Scott appointed David Wilkins as the agency's new secretary. Wilkins evaluated the team he inherited and decided to eliminate the circuit administrator post to focus resources on investigative staff, said DCF spokesman Joe Follick.
"Decisions on retaining employees in any senior position, including former circuit administrators, are ultimately made by the secretary based on his assessment of their ability to provide support and resources for our front-line staff," Follick said in an e-mail.
Despite some rough spots, Henriquez said he grew in his DCF post.
"I know in my heart as we moved along I became much more familiar with the processes and became a better administrator over time," he said.