Editor’s note: This is part of a series on the top stories in Pasco County during 2013 as selected by The Pasco Tribune staff.
NEW PORT RICHEY — Pasco’s search for a new county administrator led commissioners down a bumpy road, but it ended with a smooth transition.
New County Administrator Michele Baker “never missed a beat,” Commissioner Ted Schrader said. As commission chairman at the time, he was tasked with leading the search to replace longtime administrator John Gallagher, who retired after more than 30 years on the job.
The search was full of drama, beginning with the slate of job applicants released by executive recruiter Renee Narloch. Commissioners were shocked to learn that only 61 people applied for the job. The job posting also attracted multiple applicants with little to no administrative experience, including a couple of graduate students, a self-employed musician, a high school teacher and a car parts salesman for AutoZone.
Commissioner Henry Wilson wanted to reject them all and start over. “I do not feel like there’s one person on our list that should be our county administrator,” Wilson said in May.
Commissioners ultimately settled on four finalists to invite for two days of interviews leading up to Memorial Day weekend. Baker, then the chief assistant county administrator who had been groomed for the job, made a strong case. But from the beginning, Irving (Texas) City Manager Tommy Gonzalez impressed commissioners with his confidence and economic development credentials.
“We had our sights set on getting someone from outside of the region who could bring a new set of eyes on Pasco County,” Schrader said.
Commissioner Kathryn Starkey said she didn’t want to pass on the opportunity to land the Texas “superstar” who could take Pasco to the next level. “I think the opportunity we have in front of us with Tomas is extraordinary, and I think his strengths play to our weaknesses,” she said.
Commissioners voted unanimously to offer the job to Gonzalez only to be turned down after he brought his family to Pasco for a three-day visit.
“I think we underestimated how difficult it would be to relocate his family,” Schrader said. “I think we made him the best financial offer we could, but it ended up being a family decision, and they wanted to stay in Texas.”
Commissioners debated whether to start the search anew, but ultimately decided to offer Baker a two-year contract. Commissioner Pat Mulieri was her strongest advocate.
“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.”
Wilson was the only dissenting vote.
The Irving City Council hired a new city manager, but Gonzalez is still employed at the city as a “transitional consultant” through the end of the year.