tampabay.com

Choice for leader eases concerns

By CATHERINE E. SHOICHET
Published July 14, 2006


Negotiations seemed to be spiraling downward Tuesday before either party said "I do."

But by Thursday, the County Commission's relationship with Charles C. Saddler III looked a bit brighter.

Last month, Saddler was four out of five commissioners' top choice to be county administrator. Then on Tuesday, commissioners abruptly halted the hiring process in light of concerns brought forth by Commissioner Jim Fowler.

But Saddler met with three county commissioners Wednesday: commission Chairman Gary Bartell and commissioners Vicki Phillips and Joyce Valentino.

All three said the meetings assuaged their worries.

"I am very pleased," Phillips said. "He was my first choice and he's still my choice for county administrator."

Valentino said she was "ready to move forward" with Saddler's contract.

And Bartell said Saddler had clarified any misunderstandings.

On Monday, Saddler will meet with Fowler and Commissioner Dennis Damato - the commissioners who have expressed the strongest doubt about his qualifications.

His contract likely will be on the County Commission's agenda at its next meeting on July 25. If commissioners approve the contract, Saddler will start with a $120,000 annual salary.

Turmoil arose at Tuesday night's meeting after Fowler described a conversation he had with Saddler on June 20.

According to Fowler, Saddler said he would "deal with" two senior staff members who had circulated rumors about the possibility of commissioners picking Assistant County Administrator Tom Dick for the county administrator post.

Commissioners on Tuesday night worried that meant Saddler would fire senior staff members during his first days on the job.

But Saddler assured the commissioners he met with Wednesday that firing staffers was never his intention.

"He said absolutely nothing about firing anyone ... just doing what any good administrator would do, counseling the employees on appropriate behavior and professionalism," Phillips said.

Valentino said Fowler's decision to bring up his concerns so late in the hiring process was "suspicious."

"It was just blown up out of proportion. It made it seem like Mr. Saddler was coming in with a hard hammer," Valentino said. "The way that Commissioner Fowler explained it really caused us some alarm that we needed to clarify what had happened."

According to Bartell, Information Systems director Darryl Clouse issued a memo Thursday saying that he had spoken with Saddler about Dick's likely selection.

"He called all the commissioners to tell the commissioners that he meant nothing to be any kind of a threat or anything else," Bartell said. "He merely was telling Mr. Saddler that he was very much in favor of him, and that the rumor was, according to the newspaper, that Tom Dick was going to be appointed."

Catherine E. Shoichet can be reached at cshoichet@sptimes.com or 860-7309.