Micromanaging or free rein
By Michael D. Bates | Hernando TodayBROOKSVILLE - County Commission Chairman Wayne Dukes said the flawed process in drafting a new job description for a public safety director was a clear case of micromanaging the county administrator.
Published: December 13, 2012
Published: December 13, 2012
A well-known civic activist, Anthony Palmieri agrees and sent out an email blast to all county commissioners telling them how they stripped the administrator of his power.
But Commissioner Jim Adkins says the board went out of its way this week in giving Administrator Len Sossamon a free hand in exercising his duties.
Sossamon, contacted Wednesday, said he is ambivalent about how the whole thing went down and puts it all down to politics.
"I'm the new guy," he said. "I've been here six months. They have an opinion of who they want to see."
The flap started in September when Sossamon decided to reclassify County Public Safety Director Mike Nickerson's position and recruit outside for candidates.
The new position would be called Director of Integrated Fire Rescue and Public Safety Services, and the annual salary range was $72,488 to $116,858.
Sossamon said the move was necessary because he wanted to consolidate the county's fire rescue and suppression, emergency medical and animal shelter services into a single, integrated department.
But on Tuesday, commissioners told Sossamon they wanted him to forego advertising and instead strongly consider Nickerson or Spring Hill Fire Chief Mike Rampino.
"I made a recommendation and they changed it, so what can I say?" Sossamon asked.
Dukes said the process left a bad taste in his mouth.
"We've gone though a lot of administrators for this very reason," Dukes said. "It's not our job to hire or fire people."
Dukes said he has been doing job descriptions for 25 years in his business career and never saw the process done this way.
By not advertising the position, the board will never know who it could have gotten for the position, and that is a disservice to taxpayers, he said.
"The commissioners hamstrung the administrator by telling him he's only allowed to pick these two guys," Dukes said.
Dukes said he wanted to advertise for the position but voted with the majority after he saw he had no support from his colleagues.
"I was trying to protect the process," he said.
Palmieri was surprised at the abrupt about-face by commissioners and stripping Sossamon of his power.
"The board actually took away from the county administrator his right to advertise and hire a public service director of his choosing," Palmieri wrote in an email to all board members. "Instead he was told to select out of the two fire chiefs now on the payroll. If this is not micromanaging I do not know what to call it."
Palmieri said the consolidated fire department is a larger operation than the former Spring Hill or county districts, and a new director needs to be hired.
Commissioner Dave Russell said it was implicit in the motion made Tuesday that Sossamon may consider other qualified candidates for the job, as long as they are inside the organization.
Russell said Sossamon sought the board's advice and wanted concurrence and he got it Tuesday. That, he said, is not micromanagement.
Adkins said he feared that changing the existing job description for Nickerson would have placed the county in potential legal hot water.
"It's not prudent to change your job description only to get rid of somebody," Adkins said.
The job description Sossamon had come up with would have made Nickerson ineligible to continue in his present job, Adkins said.
For example, the job would have required a minimum of a four-year degree and Nickerson does not have one.
"We don't need to go down that road right now," Adkins said.
Adkins said he also doesn't view the board's vote as micromanaging. Just the opposite, he said. The board gave Sossamon the flexibility of choosing from two people.
"I don't even know why a new job description was formulated to begin with," Adkins said.
Added Adkins: "I'm assuming he will leave Nickerson there and Rampino would be his assistant."
County Commissioner Nick Nicholson said the public safety issue started before he took office last month so he was somewhat blindsided.
However, he is not upset with the way things went down this week.
"The board is not micromanaging at this point," Nicholson said. "But Mr. Sossamon needs to do his job. He needs to proceed with his duties without fears of repercussions from the county commission."
County Commissioner Diane Rowden said in a workshop last week that Nickerson and Rampino have decades of experience, have served this county well and should be allowed to continue their jobs.
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