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Can this top man survive?
David Hamilton is named county administrator, but not without opposition.
By BARBARA BEHRENDT, Times Staff Writer
Published January 24, 2008
David Hamilton was chosen on Wednesday by the county commissioners as the next Hernando County administrator. Already he faces challenges.
[Maurice Rivenbark | Times]
BROOKSVILLE - He hasn't even negotiated a contract with his potential new bosses yet and already David Hamilton faces a political challenge.
Chosen by three of five county commissioners early Wednesday as top pick for new county administrator, Hamilton has to win the confidence of two board members who are not sure he is the right person to lead Hernando County.
Making matters even more interesting, the three who chose him are all up for re-election later this year, meaning that Hamilton's supporters today may not be in office by year's end.
Hamilton, 58, was not on hand Wednesday morning when he was chosen. He was headed back to Crow Wing, Minn., where he is county administrator, and could not be reached for comment.
Commission Chairman Chris Kingsley and Commissioners Diane Rowden and Jeff Stabins supported Hamilton, one of two finalists along with Kathy Rice of Surprise, Ariz. A third finalist dropped out before Tuesday's interviews.
His supporters said they were impressed by Hamilton's strong interest in making Hernando County his home, his extensive experience in government and his knowledge of the challenges of a dynamic community.
But Commissioner Rose Rocco was not so sure. She was less interested in someone willing to "work with us" or "cooperate" and more in a person who showed strong leadership and who could "hit the ground running."
She would have rather seen Hamilton talk with county department heads to learn what he knew about Hernando rather than his "Googling the county."
"I don't think he's the right fit for the position at this time," she said.
Rowden countered that Hamilton had "done the homework" and had, in fact, been looking to the area since he and his wife first visited in 2004.
She cited positive comments made by Hamilton's current bosses. "That speaks very highly of his ability to lead," Rowden said. "I think Mr. Hamilton will do a fine job."
Stabins asked interim County Administrator Larry Jennings about the cost of doing another administrator search. Jennings said the direct cost would run from $3,000 to $6,000, not counting staff time.
Stabins commented that both Hamilton and Rice were good candidates, and that Hamilton seemed "too good to be true."
During both Tuesday's public interview and again more strenuously in his private talk with Hamilton, Stabins stressed his concerns about the charged political atmosphere in Hernando County.
"I was as blunt as I could be about what he was getting himself into," Stabins said. "He said he could handle it."
Like Rocco, Commissioner Dave Russell said he struggled with whether to choose Hamilton, whom he gave an edge over Rice because of his senior-level management experience.
He likened Hamilton's calm demeanor to previous administrators who were not able to handle the negativity in the community. "I'm just not so sure either one of those candidates, as qualified as they are, would fit that ticket," Russell said.
Kingsley said that the applicant's demeanor really didn't affect how well he could do the job and he pointed out that Russell himself has an unflappable persona. "It works," Kingsley said.
He was impressed that Hamilton had been in a number of leadership positions and had never been asked to leave. But Kingsley was also sold on Hamilton's comments that he applied for the job because he had wanted to settle here. He told commissioners he had applied nowhere else and was happy in his current job with his current commissioners.
"Mr. Hamilton wants to live in Hernando County. Our last administrator we almost had to force to live in Hernando County," he said.
Kingsley, who will handle contract negotiations with Hamilton, also defended the county's process to arrive at the final applicants. He said that the pared-down list and final selection allowed the commission to choose "the best of the best."
After the vote, Russell said he hoped that Hamilton would prove him wrong and would enjoy a long relationship with the county.
While Rocco said she still felt strongly that the county needed to look further, she vowed to work "very diligently" with Hamilton. She added that she wanted some contract language that would penalize Hamilton if he left before his contract was finished. "We want commitment," she said.
Other commissioners expressed concern about encouraging an administrator to stay if the arrangement is not working out for one side or the other.
Russell noted that Hamilton told the board during his interview that a five-year commitment would be in order. "We have to hold his feet to the fire," he said.
While the timing of Hamilton's arrival would have to be worked out if a contract is negotiated, Russell said Hamilton told him that he wanted some time to transition out of his current job. That spoke well of Hamilton's character, Russell said.