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Wednesday, Sep 17, 2014

Fired Pinellas official reassigned to St. Pete College


Published:

— Less than two weeks after his firing, Pinellas County Administrator Bob LaSala has been reassigned to work at St. Petersburg College.

With immediate effect, LaSala will work as a “loaned executive” at St. Petersburg College for the remainder of his 90-day notice period, according to a letter sent to LaSala on Thursday by Commission Chairwoman Karen Seel.

He won’t be the only top-level county administrator there.

Gwen Warren, the county’s beleaguered director of health and human services, has also been reassigned to the college to work on its wellness program. Warren, who is retiring June 30, had been under scrutiny for her performance after problems with veteran’s services and medical care for poor and uninsured residents surfaced.

The letter to LaSala states that he should report to the college’s Clearwater administrative office to work with college President William Law on economic and community development issues at the college’s Institute for Strategic Policy Solutions. The county will continue to pay LaSala’s salary of roughly $225,000 until his final day on July 14.

“A desk phone and computer will be provided for your use,” Seel wrote.

Seel said she made the decision to avoid tensions in the county administrator’s office.

“It’s awkward when someone has been terminated to have them still in the workplace,” Seel said. “(The college) was very agreeable to having Bob come down. He will be working on things that benefit the county as a whole.”

LaSala said he was looking forward to ending his time with the county working at the college. He said he will retire after that but is planning an “encore career” doing consultant work and training.

“I’m looking forward to the opportunity to work with President Law and his senior team,” he said. “I hope I can make a positive contribution to their various initiatives.”

Commissioners fired LaSala on April 15, saying his sometimes-abrasive leadership style led the county into too many disputes with key partners including local hospitals and nonprofit service providers.

That included the county’s decision to reduce funding to Bayfront Health St. Petersburg for indigent medical care. The county also cut funding for a group that provided beds for Baker-acted patients, further eroding commissioners’ confidence in their top administrator.

An administrative mix-up with BayCare Health System led to the county missing out on $8 million of matching state money for care of poor and uninsured residents. About 10 percent of that would have come back to the county. Commissioners were also frustrated at the county’s inability to finalize an operating budget for a new homeless clinic.

Many of those issues fell under Warren’s purview in her role as director of health and human services.

She was informed of her reassignment in a letter also sent Thursday by interim County Administrator Mark Woodard. It states she should remove all personal effects from her office and return her county ID badge, keys and any files by today.

Warren was absent from recent county meetings when commissioners attempted to resolve a funding dispute with local hospitals. Her department was represented by Lynda Leedy, deputy director of the county’s health and human services.

Woodard declined to comment on why Warren was being reassigned.

“I don’t comment on personnel matters other than to say that it’s in the best interest of the organization,” he said.

Commissioners have yet to decide how they will search for a permanent replacement for LaSala.

After appointing Woodard as interim administrator, Seel agreed to a $20,000 pay hike for his extra responsibilities, increasing his salary to $199,500.

Woodard, who offered to work in his new role without a contract or an automobile allowance, declined to comment on whether he would apply for the position.

“I’m willing to do whatever the board wants me to do to continue to serve the county,” Woodard said.

codonnell@tampatrib.com

(727) 215-7654

Twitter: @codonnellTBO

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