Pasco commissioners unanimously picked Irving (Texas) City Manager Tommy Gonzalez to be the first new county administrator in 31 years.
They appointed Michele Baker, who was a close second, to serve as acting interim county administrator until Gonzalez arrives. Longtime Administrator John Gallagher is retiring Friday after 31 years at the helm.
Commissioners lauded Baker for her experience and hard work, but said they could not pass up the opportunity to land a “superstar” to take Pasco County to the next level.
“I’m a big fan of Michele,” Commissioner Kathryn Starkey said. “I think she’s a bright, intelligent, good leader. But I think the opportunity we have in front of us with Tomas is extraordinary, and I think his strengths play to our weaknesses.”
During his seven-year tenure in Irving, the city created 20,000 new jobs and won national awards for management. The city also was named one of the Dallas area’s top places to work. He brought light-rail to the community, installed seven miles of solar-powered streetlights and saved the city millions of dollars by renegotiating electric franchise agreements.
“I think having a new person at the top will send a message to a lot of nationwide companies that won’t do business in Pasco County,” Starkey said.
Now the question is whether commissioners can put together a package attractive enough to lure Gonzalez to Pasco County. Gonzalez made headlines for drawing one of the highest government salaries in Texas. He earned a base salary of $246,000 at Irving but also got a city car, a housing allowance and other benefits that brought his total earnings to $450,000 a year.
Commissioner Chairman Ted Schrader and Commissioner Pat Mulieri argued for Baker. Mulieri said the county needs someone with institutional knowledge because so many of Gallagher’s top lieutenants have already left. Schrader said he was hoping to hear a more detailed vision for Pasco County during Friday’s interview.
“I didn’t get the sense that Mr. Gonzalez is very passionate about coming here,” he said. “I could be wrong.”
Commissioners authorized Schrader to negotiate a contract with Gonzalez, up to three years with a one-year automatic renewal. He must also pass a thorough background check before the board approves the final contract.
“He knows that Pasco County is not going to pay anywhere near what he’s making in Texas,” Schrader said.
Commissioners Henry Wilson and Jack Mariano said they were confident he would accept. Mariano called Gonzalez a few minutes for Tuesday’s special meeting to make sure he was genuinely interested.
“I really like his energy. I like his potential,’ Mariano said. “I think we’ve got a huge opportunity to elevate. I wanted to make sure he wanted to come. He said, ‘I want to come there.’”