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McIntosh strives to maintain focus

Under fire, the county administrator says the county should attend to other "meat-and-potato issues on the table.''

By JEFFREY S. SOLOCHEK, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published January 13, 2002


BROOKSVILLE -- Commissioner Mary Aiken might stand alone among her colleagues, but she has remained steady in her support of battered County Administrator Paul McIntosh.

Without condoning questionable procurement and contracting activity, which even McIntosh now has admitted was procedurally improper, Aiken has not wavered in her stance that the administrator should stay. He has laid the groundwork for important county business, she said, and the commission should not waste that work.

The likelihood of that scenario became distant during the past week, as McIntosh's once-rising star faded in the eyes of the other four commissioners.

Aiken watched with horror as her colleagues, who granted McIntosh a three-year contract with enhanced benefits scant weeks ago, ripped the deal to shreds, attacked his character and drove him to seek work elsewhere. Still, Aiken acknowledged, the outcome could have been worse.

"Tuesday I was surprised at the flexibility of the board. I thought he was going to go down in flames," she said, referring to the commission's decision Tuesday to replace McIntosh's new contract with a one-year extension of the old, with no raise above his $101,403 annual salary.

And that was not the end. When McIntosh revealed Wednesday that he had applied for the Marion County administrator's job because he felt insecure here, the commissioners who protected him from dismissal a day earlier challenged him to declare his loyalty or resign.

Pure politics, Aiken declared. With commissioners Nancy Robinson and Chris Kingsley up for re-election in the fall, she speculated, the posturing is likely to continue.

All of which leaves McIntosh in the lurch.

"To some extent, I feel like a political pinata," McIntosh said. "It's too early to tell how this will really work out. I hope it will strengthen our relationship.

"Obviously, I have to look at contingencies simply to protect myself and my family," he continued. "But that's not my first choice, and, quite honestly, I feel it's a choice I'm being forced into."

Some commissioners countered that McIntosh's future rests solely on his shoulders. He has a year left on his contract, they noted -- plenty of time to make repairs.

"I think he knows if he's able to come across less arrogant to people, communicate better and get things moving in the direction we want things to move, then I'll be supportive of that," Commissioner Betty Whitehouse said. "I'm not going to make a blanket statement because I don't know how he's going to behave or how anyone else is going to behave."

The outcome of a State Attorney's Office inquiry into McIntosh's dealings with utilities consultant Hartman & Associates also will weigh heavy on his future, Whitehouse observed.

Commissioner Diane Rowden, the only commissioner to vote against McIntosh's three-year deal, said she stood by the board's revised contract, which McIntosh also accepted.

"I'm really satisfied with the resolution that we came up with last Tuesday, with what took place and with the contract," Rowden said. "He's asked for an opportunity to make sure everything is going the way the board members like it, and I agreed to that."

More important, Rowden and Whitehouse each said, is that the government continues to function well for Hernando County residents.

Despite the disarray in the leadership ranks, McIntosh said, "I think that county government is still working effectively for Hernando County."

At a staff meeting Thursday, department heads discussed purchasing rules to make sure they understand them correctly, especially now that the commission has asked for reports on all violations.

They spent nearly an hour talking about the issue, and planned to form a committee to find solutions to any problems they perceive in the system.

"There's always going to be things falling through the cracks," parks director Pat Fagan said. "We've got to make sure they don't."

Purchasing director Jim Gantt said he intended to begin training programs for all employees who buy things for their departments to ensure knowledge of the rules. He had worries of his own, though, because he had challenged McIntosh's position on the Hartman & Associates contracts that now are under review by the State Attorney's Office.

Commissioners said Gantt had nothing to worry about, because they would not abide his firing. McIntosh said he would not retaliate against any employee, and Gantt would remain as long as he continued to do a good job.

With all the turmoil at the top, McIntosh said, it becomes increasingly important to keep employees focused on their work.

"A lot of other things are going on in Hernando County that deserve our attention," he said.

He ticked off a list of items that employees are working to resolve.

The Fire-Rescue Department needs increased revenue. The Fleet Management Department has growing problems with the Utilities Department. The county and city of Brooksville are battling over water and sewer issues, and also over the annexation of about 1,600 acres just south of the city limits. The budget season begins in February. Construction on a new public works complex is about to start.

"There's plenty of meat-and-potato issues on the table that we need to focus on and address," McIntosh said. "I thought and hoped last Tuesday we had finally addressed those contract issues and put them to rest."

Instead, the discomfort between the commission and administrator has remained.

Aiken suggested that McIntosh could win back support by showing strength under fire and proving his critics wrong.

"We can't go around hiring a new county administrator every two or three years," she said. "I would be sorry to see him leave. I think he's doing a good job. I would like to see him continue to do a good job."

-- Jeffrey S. Solochek covers Hernando County government and can be reached at 754-6115. Send e-mail to solochek@sptimes.com.

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