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Kleman tenure still in question

But a majority on the County Commission say they are leaning toward giving the administrator a contract extension.

By BILL VARIAN

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 5, 2001


TAMPA -- Dan Kleman's long-term tenure as Hillsborough County administrator remained in limbo Wednesday after one of his bosses withdrew a proposal to extend his contract.

But a majority on the seven-member County Commission said they are leaning toward supporting the extension, citing greater responsiveness to the will of the board by Kleman the past five months.

Commissioner Chris Hart said he dropped the contract proposal he had floated only a day earlier after one of his fellow board members called in sick for Wednesday's meeting. He said it was too important a vote to make with someone absent.

He said he also was responding to concerns voiced by Commission Chairwoman Pat Frank, who said commissioners need more than a day's notice for such a discussion. Hart said he thought one of his aides had asked to put the matter on the agenda a week ago when he was out of town, but returned to learn it hadn't happened.

Clearly, critical reaction from some of Hart's supporters played a part in tabling debate as well. Fiscal conservatives ranging from businessman Ralph Hughes to Sun City Center Republican President Dee Williams quickly asked what was the rush to extend the contract. They said they had seen little proof Kleman had tightened the purse strings at County Center.

Asked Wednesday whether he will reschedule Kleman's contract discussion in two weeks when commissioners meet again, Hart said maybe not. He may now wait until June or July, after commissioners get a copy of Kleman's two-year budget proposal.

Hart said waiting for a budget will give commissioners, and residents, something "tangible" with which to evaluate Kleman's performance. Once that happens, he said Kleman's contract should be extended through October 2002 so he can carry out the spending plan.

"When you give somebody a job, then you've got to give them time to do it," he said.

The extension proposal came against a backdrop of rumors that Kleman, county administrator for seven years, could be sacked soon. The talk began in earnest last November, when commissioners refused to extend his contract past November of this year.

Hart was among those opposed to an extension then. So was Commissioner Jim Norman, who offered one of the more critical evaluations of Kleman, saying he was slow to act on pressing matters.

Now Norman says he now is one of those "leaning toward" supporting a contract extension.

Norman visits dozens of homes in his northwest district weekly to meet with constituents, often fielding concerns. In the past, he said, it has sometimes taken months for Kleman to respond to those concerns, despite the commissioner's repeated demands.

Since November, that has changed, he said, with Kleman providing more timely answers.

"I'm not in the category of people who want to fire Dan Kleman," Norman said. "From my perspective, he's done some good things for the citizens out there. I'd like to see that improvement continue."

Commissioners Jan Platt and Tom Scott, who previously supported a contract extension for Kleman, said they still do. And Stacey Easterling has said she likely would follow the consensus.

That leaves Frank, who joined in denying an extension for Kleman in November and says she's undecided now; and Republican Ronda Storms, who was absent from the commission meeting Wednesday.

- Bill Varian can be reached at (813) 226-3387 or varian@sptimes.com.

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