By Matt Wiley | June 8
The debate is over and the Pasco County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) has chosen a replacement for retiring administrator John Gallagher: Tomas “Tommy” Gonzalez, who currently is the city manager of Irving, TX (near Dallas). Current Pasco chief assistant county administrator Michele Baker is serving as interim administrator until a contract is negotiated with Gonzalez.
On May 28, the BOCC met for a special meeting in Dade City with one order of business to discuss: replacing Gallagher, who has been Pasco’s county administrator for the last 31 years. A list of more than 60 applicants had been narrowed down to four, each of whom interviewed individually with the BOCC on May 25.
Among the final four were Gonzalez, Baker, Hillsborough County director of strategic planning Eric Johnson and Randy Oliver, who previously served as Escambia County, FL’s administrator, before his contract was terminated last October.
“I think this process has been one that has been extremely transparent to the public,” said BOCC chairman Ted Schrader. “We’ve made every effort to distance ourselves from the internal candidate (Baker). I think that demonstrates the openness of this Board to make sure that our search led us to who we all feel like is the right person for this job. Procedurally, we obviously have never done this before.”
Although Gonzalez, 46, was chosen by a unanimous 5-0 vote, several commissioners raised concerns and it seemed as though it would be a tough choice between Baker, who has worked for Pasco for 20 years (the past six years in administration) and Gonzalez. Johnson and Oliver were ruled out early in the meeting.
District 2 Commissioner Pat Mulieri expressed concern that Gonzalez’s city manager contract in Irving had not been renewed and that it wasn’t clear whether he didn’t want it renewed or if it was the Irving City Council that decided not to renew it. Gonzalez currently is set to serve as interim city manager until October.
“I just want to make sure he’s committed,” Mulieri said.
“New ideas are good and new people can be good,” Mulieri also said later in the meeting. “And I do think we need a bridge. Gallagher is leaving. I think there has to be someone there who holds the fort together. I think that if we had (Baker) and someone from the outside, it would be a perfect fit.”
Schrader said he was skeptical of Gonzalez’ passion for Pasco County.
“When you run for public office, people ask if you have the ‘fire in the belly,’” said Schrader. “I didn’t sense from Mr. Gonzalez that he was really passionate about coming here. But, I could be completely wrong about that.”
Dist. 5 Commissioner Jack Mariano said that he was “very impressed with (Gonzalez) from the get-go. I liked his energy and his tempo. He’s looking for something great to do. I wanted to make sure that he wanted to come here.”
Mariano also said that he sensed that Gonzalez was a “results-driven” person and took notice of his confidence.
Like Mulieri, Dist. 3 commissioner Kathryn Starkey also appeared torn between the two candidates.
“I’m a big fan of Michele’s,” she began. “I think that the opportunity that we have in front of us with Tommy is extraordinary and he has a track record that I just can’t ignore. I think his strengths play to some of our weaknesses, but I would not want to lose Michele. Tommy and Michele together would be extraordinary.”
Dist. 4 commissioner Henry Wilson also expressed interest in the team of Baker and Gonzalez, but ultimately decided with the latter for the job.
“I believe (Baker) is a great asset we have in the county,” he explained. “She has a lot of historical knowledge that is very beneficial for the county. I think Mr. Gonzalez presented well, just like the other three. I do believe that Mr. Gonzalez could take us to the next level.”
Schrader said that he wanted to play “Devil’s advocate” during the meeting because he thinks that Gonzalez will expect financial incentives to come in and get things accomplished.
Whether or not Baker will continue with the county after Gonzalez takes over the administrator’s job, at our press time, had not yet been determined.
While deciding to offer Gonzalez a three-year contract, which will automatically renew for one-year unless notice not to renew is given, commissioners asked Gallagher, who had remained silent throughout the meeting, about his initial contract.
“I didn’t come here for the money,” Gallagher said. “Don’t pay any attention to what you did with (my contract). I loved (being administrator) and I would’ve worked for a lot less.”
Gonzalez will still have to pass an extensive background check and, if he accepts the job, won’t take over until at least September 1, as he will have to give Irving a 60-day-notice of departure. Schrader will begin negotiations with Gonzalez, while Baker began serving as interim administrator at a salary of $150,000, as of June 1.