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Kleman's fate on docket today

The County Administrator's contract extension could come up for a vote today when the commission meets.

By BILL VARIAN

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 4, 2001


TAMPA -- Hillsborough Property Appraiser Rob Turner was heading to lunch Tuesday when he bumped into County Administrator Dan Kleman in the lobby of the County Center.

"Do you want to come up and measure my office?" Kleman said.

It was a light, if awkward acknowledgment of persistent talk about the county administrator's imminent demise ever since county commissioners refused to extend his contract last November. One recent whisper even had the county's longest-serving administrator being voted out this month and replaced, possibly by Turner.

Commissioner Chris Hart will attempt to put an end to the speculation today. He will ask his fellow commissioners to support extending Kleman's contract another year, he said in a memo Tuesday.

Hart said that Kleman has turned a corner with commissioners since a partly critical evaluation five months ago -- including from Hart himself.

"I now believe it is clear that he can work very effectively with us," Hart wrote. "He has been and continues to be responsive to the directions we establish."

Conservative activists who have criticized what they consider the county's free-spending ways under Kleman were quick to respond as the news spread Tuesday.

"What is the meaning of this?" wrote Dee Williams, president of the Sun City Center Republican Club, in a fax to Hart, a Republican. "Why would you consider an employee's contract seven months before it is due to expire?"

"I'm at a loss to understand why this is going to happen tomorrow," said Ralph Hughes, another frequent critic of Kleman's administration.

Hart did not return calls to his office Tuesday. His about-face could have political ramifications for his own rumored bid to be Tampa's next mayor.

Kleman has served nearly seven years in the county's top staff post. But in November, on the eve of a Republican majority taking control of the board, commissioners voiced several concerns with his performance.

A majority of commissioners described Kleman as slow to act on their most pressing wants. Democrat Pat Frank, the commission's chairwoman, accused him of pretending to carry out their wishes while actually pursuing his own.

She joined the then-Republican minority in refusing to extend his contract through 2003 -- in a sense, placing him on probation for the remaining year on his contract. With the election of Stacey Easterling later in November, a Republican majority took control of the board, fueling speculation that Kleman's tenure was nearing an end.

In recent weeks, rumors have gotten specific enough to predict a vote this month on Kleman's future. A five-person supermajority of commissioners would be needed to fire him with one vote, or a simple majority of four if they vote twice.

Turner said he first heard the timing and his name thrown into the mix of potential replacements at a Strawberry Festival event in Plant City March 5.

"I'm very flattered," said Turner, but added he had not fed the rumors. "I have not given any consideration to anything other than doing the best job I can as property appraiser."

Most of the commissioners did not return phone calls to their offices Tuesday. Commissioners Tom Scott and Jan Platt supported a contract extension for Kleman in November and Platt said she still does, though she'd prefer to see another year added.

Frank said she didn't think such an important decision should come with only a day's notice and wouldn't say how she will side if it comes to a vote this morning.

In recent interviews, Kleman has acknowledged hearing some of the same stories everyone else has. He didn't know how a vote would go today.

"I'd rather see it pass than fail," he said.

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