TAMPA — In the last two years, Hillsborough County commissioners have thrown one big policy initiative after another at County Administrator Mike Merrill, asking him to lead the charge on economic development, transportation improvements and homelessness.
On Friday, Merrill announced a sweeping reorganization of the county’s management team. The move, he said, will allow him to focus on those big-picture initiatives, as well as improve efficiency and customer service.
Foremost among the changes is the hiring of Greg Horwedel, city manager in Plant City, as the new deputy county administrator. Horwedel, 52, will be paid $180,000 to run day-to-day operations in an organization with 5,000 employees.
Horwedel will manage four assistant county administrators who oversee a range of county services, including parks and recreation, public works, animal services, libraries, economic development and fire rescue. Those departments employ about 1,500 people, but Horwedel will have operational oversight responsibilities over the entire organization, Merrill said.
Merrill and Horwedel developed a mutual respect working together on the countywide Transportation Policy Leadership Group.
“Working with him, seeing how he solved problems, his judgment and common-sense approach ... I suspected he is really a top-notch public sector manager,” Merrill said.
The two men say they share a passion for reinventing government and making it more responsive to the taxpayers.
“Whether it’s pulling a (building) permit, or trying to get your water set up or trash picked up, we have to demonstrate we are providing the best possible service for our customers,” Horwedel said. “It’s critically important and sometimes it’s easy to forget.”
Horwedel was appointed Plant City manager in February 2010 after serving as assistant city manager for four years. Like Merrill, Horwedel managed to maintain public services at a high level even as the city’s tax revenues shrunk by 23 percent.
During his career, Horwedel managed creation of the Northeast Plant City Master Plan, an effort that resulted in major road improvements, either completed or scheduled to be completed in the next three years. The plan also spurred an international development group to buy 1,000 acres for an upscale housing development and town center to be built over the next 15-20 years.
Horwedel also led the Midtown Redevelopment Vision Plan, which led to Plant City purchasing 14 acres of blighted properties, realignment of a road to create an additional city block for new development, and over $1.4 million in federal brownfield grants to clean up contaminated sites.
Before coming to Plant City, Horwedel spent 15 years in administrative and managerial positions in local governments from Ohio to Sarasota.
Merrill briefed commissioners on his reorganization plan before he made the public announcement Friday. Commissioners supported the plan and the hiring of Horwedel.
“Professionally, I like Greg’s attention to detail, his no-nonsense manner, his ability to pull people together with opposing and conflicting ideas,” said Commissioner Al Higginbotham, a Plant City native.
Plant City Mayor Mary Mathis said Horwedel has done a good job as city manager and that the city’s loss would be the county’s gain.
“Anybody that can advance in their career … I give them my blessings,” she said. “He’s done a great job for the city.”
Plant City Commissioner Mike Sparkman said the city commission will likely appoint Assistant City Manager Bill McDaniel as interim city manager while the city advertises for a new city manager. Sparkman said McDaniel could be a strong candidate for the permanent job.
Merrill also restructured the government organization into smaller business units so directors can better evaluate operations. When he took over in 2011, he cut the number of assistant administrators reporting directly to his office from eight to four.
“That made sense then because we were trying to cut back and get better integration between functions,” Merrill said. “But it was always a huge load for four (assistant administrators).
“To get to the next level of customer service and innovation, I really feel we needed a smaller team so the leaders of those teams could spend more time on the strategy level.”
As part of the reorganization, Merrill promoted three department directors to assistant county administrators and gave them the following salary increases:
• Dexter Barge, Code Enforcement director; salary will go from $135,532 to $150,000.
• Tom Fass, Real Estate and Facilities manager; salary will go from $135,511 to $150,000
• Ron Barton, Economic Development director, salary will go from $135,511 to $150,000.
• Carl Harness, director of children and youth services, will become the new chief Human Services Administrator with a salary bump from $150,587 to $165,000.
• Sharon Subadan, deputy county administrator of Public Safety and Community Services, will see her responsibilities and pay shrink. Under the reorganization, Subadan will become the fourth assistant county administrator and her salary will decrease from 165,641 to 160,000.
• Helene Marks, the county’s chief administrative officer, will become chief communications administrator.
Merrill said he will also be recruiting a Chief Information and Innovation officer.
Reporter Dave Nicholson contributed to this report.