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Wednesday, Aug 27, 2014

LaSala firing leaves void at top


ST. PETERSBURG — The departure of Pinellas County Administrator Bob LaSala means the county could be without a top executive for months as commissioners search for his replacement.

County commissioners voted to terminate LaSala without cause Tuesday. The vote was unanimous among the six commissioners in attendance, with Commissioner Norm Roche absent.

LaSala is expected to stay on board for 90 days. An interim county administrator may also be appointed.

Beyond that, little else is known about how the process of selecting LaSala’s replacement will go.

“We’re kind of dealing with one thing at a time,” commission Chairwoman Karen Seel said.

The commission could hire a third-party recruiting firm — commonly called a “headhunter” — to conduct a national search for a replacement; it could handle the hiring through its own human resources department, or it could promote someone from within.

If it recruits an outside candidate, the process will be public in accordance with state Sunshine Laws.

“Open records laws in Florida are very tough, and the headhunters all know that,” said Lynn Tipton, executive director of Florida City and County Management Association. “The people who want to apply from out of state get told that.”

Applicants from other states would have to tell their employers they were seeking the position, lest the news media report it first.

That wouldn’t be an issue if the board chooses to hire internally. Commissioner John Morroni said that’s possible, given the number of people on staff who may qualify.

Politics could be a factor regardless, but not that of the Republicans vs. Democrats variety.

“I usually see that the elected body workshops this so that they could get a good feel for what the board wants,” Tipton said. “There’s always going to be politics involved — and I mean politics with a small ‘p.’”

That could mean the commissioners might disagree on which qualities and strengths should be emphasized during the selection process, she said, such as knowledge of utilities or economic development.

The job description may turn into a tall order.

“We’re going to be looking for the perfect person, all seven us,” Morroni said. “So it’s going to be interesting.”

Seel said she sees the board being cohesive on the process.

“If you look through the changes we wanted to see in the administration, I think you’ll see exactly the kind of person we’re looking for,” she said. “We’re a fairly cohesive group.”

LaSala had been criticized as lacking in interpersonal skills and not engaging with residents.

LaSala’s case isn’t uncommon, Tipton said, noting that the average tenure of a county administrator in Florida is just under seven years. Elected boards change frequently, not to mention shifting economic and social environments, she said, so being fired is kind of an occupational hazard.


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