Pinellas job goes to acting attorney

By Will Van Sant Times Staff Writer
Published March 12, 2008

Jim Bennett is Pinellas County's new chief attorney.

The County Commission chose Bennett Tuesday from 12 applicants. He has been acting attorney since September, when Susan Churuti was fired during the controversy over Jim Smith's land deal with the county.

A graduate of Auburn University, University of South Florida and Stetson University College of Law, Bennett joined the County Attorney's Office in 1987. He became Churuti's top deputy in 1994.

"Jim is clearly the person that stands out among" the applicants, said County Commissioner Ken Welch. "He's the right man for the job."

The county began to advertise the position in January. Of the dozen attorneys who responded, only five had relevant experience and none could match Bennett's familiarity with county government, said interim County Administrator Fred Marquis.

The county must still negotiate a contract with Bennett, who is now paid $193,015 a year and supervises 43 employees.

Bennett, 57, said he's pleased to have been chosen to head the legal department and looks forward to continuing his work for the county. The job is not without its frustrations but never fails to deliver a sense of accomplishment, he said.

"I have fun every day I come to work," Bennett said. "It's good work."

Also Tuesday, the commission hired a Texas consulting firm to search for a permanent county administrator to succeed Steve Spratt, who resigned after the Smith deal. Payment to the firm is not to exceed $45,000 and the commission is expected to choose an administrator in September.

Will Van Sant can be reached at vansant@sptimes.com or 445-4166.