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Pasco administrator job has 61 hopefuls

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NEW PORT RICHEY -

Some familiar names grace the list of 61 people who applied to be Pasco’s next county administrator.

Chief Assistant County Administrator Michele Baker is the only internal candidate, but high-ranking administrators from Pinellas and Hillsborough counties have also thrown their names in the hat to succeed retiring County Administrator John Gallagher.

“I’ve been interested in Pasco for a while now,” said Eric Johnson, Hillsborough’s former budget director. He now heads the county’s strategic planning office. “They’ve done some great things up there. I’m interested, but I’m also respectful of the fact that Michele has the first shot at convincing them to let her move on up.”

Johnson said he wanted to speak with executive recruiter Renee Narloch about the position and how serious Pasco commissioners are looking at outside candidates. “I don’t know if going out for this recruitment is a formality,” he said.

Commissioners hired Narloch to avoid the appearance of favoritism.

Johnson interviewed for the chief assistant administrator’s job when it was created several years ago. “It had gone so far as to house hunting in Pasco County,” he said. He said his boss, then-county administrator Pat Bean, called Pasco officials and “told them not to hire me – that she was going to do something for me here.”

Hillsborough officials ousted Bean in 2010 following a scandal over secret pay raises. Johnson was demoted to his current position.

Another one of Bean’s lieutenants, Carl Harness, applied for the Pasco job. Harness, Bean’s public safety administrator, was one of seven officials who received raises at a time when the county was laying off workers. He left Hillsborough to take a job as assistant county administrator in Pinellas County.

Harness is also a finalist for the executive director position at the Hillsborough County Children’s Board and is expected to interview for that position on May 9.

Former Polk County Administrator Mike Herr has also applied for the Pasco job. Herr left the job in Polk after seven years to become president of a Lakeland-based civil engineering firm. He joined Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn’s staff as administrator for public works and utilities a year ago.

Former Sarasota City Manager Bob Bartolotta is another candidate with local ties. Bartolotta resigned in 2012 under pressure from his council after being accused of computer fraud. Bartolotta maintained his innocence – and he was later cleared of any wrongdoing – but he said the council had lost faith in him.

Pasco’s job description calls for a candidate with “at least seven years of senior level management experience in public or business administration, preferably within local government, as a City/County Manager with agencies of similar size and complexities.”

A handful of applicants meet that criteria. Two hail from the Philadelphia area: Ade Fuqua, Philadelphia’s assistant city manager; and James Rhodes, deputy county administrator of Camden County, N.J.

Irving, Texas City Manager Tommy Gonzalez, who just signed a six-month extension to stay with the city, is also an applicant. Irving has a booming tech economy and is home to the new Dallas Cowboys stadium.

Gonzalez has made headlines for drawing one of the highest government salaries in Texas at $450,000 a year. The county has won prestigious management awards, but Gonzalez has been accused of ethical violations. He was pressured to resign earlier this year but wanted a $500,000 buyout.

Gonzalez will remain city manager through Oct. 1, 2013. After that time, Gonzalez will be retained by the city as its transitional consultant to the interim city manager. Gonzalez will remain in that position at his current salary until Dec. 31, 2013.

The job posting attracted multiple applicants with various degrees of experience, including a self-employed musician, a high-school teacher and a car parts salesman for AutoZone.

Narloch will present her recommendations on May 6. Commissioners will interview the finalists during the week of May 20.

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