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The interim county administrator appreciatesthe praise but isn't interested in the job long-term.
By BARBARA BEHRENDT, Times Staff Writer
Published January 17, 2008
BROOKSVILLE - As the County Commission wrapped up a marathon meeting late Tuesday, board members chatted about a few leftover items. Jeff Stabins offered up what he advertised as a budget-cutting idea.
The county, he said, could save some money it is spending on ink simply by dropping one word from interim county administrator Larry Jennings' title.
Praising the work Jennings has done since taking over two months ago from Gary Kuhl, Stabins asked if Jennings would reconsider taking the job permanently.
Commissioner Diane Rowden immediately piped up, asking Stabins if he were serious. With the board about to engage in several interviews next week with prospective administrators, commissioners could save a lot of time simply by giving the job to Jennings.
Jennings did not respond to the commissioners immediately, so Stabins said he called Jennings later Tuesday and asked him to consider taking the job. Jennings told him he would sleep on it.
Stabins was back at the county government center Wednesday afternoon trying to persuade Jennings. But he was not successful.
"I appreciate their confidence," Jennings said Wednesday, "but we have a hiring process under way and that's moving ahead."
Jennings, who has filled in as interim boss several times over the years, noted that he did not apply for the county administrator job when Kuhl left and that he told commissioners before that he was not interested in taking the job on for the long haul.
"I told them where I was as we started this process and we're still at the same point," Jennings said.
"I am very serious," Stabins said about persuading Jennings to take the job permanently. "I'm very serious about it and especially in the last few weeks. He's done an outstanding job. He's been decisive and clear."
Commissioners specifically praised Jennings for taking a leadership role in the discussion to create a new judicial complex to meet the county's pressing need for more space for the judiciary.
Rowden said she believes Jennings has made some "bold moves" on that issue and she has supported him from the beginning for the administrator job. Watching him in action has only strengthened her faith in his ability to do the job long-term.
"We've watched and under Larry's leadership, we're not floundering," she said. "He's leading us in a direction when we're not heading off a cliff."
With the county facing another tough year of budget cutting, which could get even more difficult after the property tax referendum before voters later this month, someone level-headed like Jennings is needed, she said.
"He's so even tempered. He's steady," Rowden said. "The whole place is on fire and he's calmly getting people out of the fire. That's what we need right now."
Rowden said that the commission is not obligated to pick one of the three finalists who will come before them next week. She said that Jennings has said he will stay until the commissioners find what they need.
Commissioner Rose Rocco said that Jennings has every quality she is looking for in a county administrator: Knowledgeable, professional and honorable. "I'd hope we'd get someone with that background coming in," she said.
While she acknowledged that Jennings was doing "a tremendously good job," she also noted, "we've got a process going" to find a new administrator. Besides, Jennings has said he does not want the job permanently and, she said, pressuring him was not a good idea.
Still, "if it was his choice to seek the county administrator job, if Larry wanted the position, then absolutely" she would approve it. "He's got a tremendous temperament," she said. "He just does not get frazzled."
"That man is a tremendous asset to our county," commissioner Dave Russell said. "I think he'd make a fine county administrator. However, he's made it clear that he doesn't want that position permanently and I respect that."
Commission Chairman Chris Kingsley could not be reached for comment on Wednesday.
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at email@example.com or (352) 848-1434.
[Last modified January 16, 2008, 20:43:13]