BROOKSVILLE - Hernando County Administrator Len Sossamon will have at least six months to demonstrate he also be an effective economic development director.
After a spirited debate Tuesday, county commissioners voted 5-0 to direct their staff to alter Sossamon's contract so he can do double duty. The corresponding salary boost is expected to be about $20,000 if he stays the entire six months.
Commissioners also agreed to hold off hiring a recruitment firm to find a permanent director to see how Sossamon works out.
The discussion got off to a contentious start after County Commissioner Diane Rowden chastised Commission Chairman Dave Russell for what she called failing to carry out the directive of the board.
Last week the board voted unanimously to hand over the economic development job to Sossamon and asked Russell to draft a plan and a salary range to that end.
But Russell said the board's directive was ambiguous and, after more thought, he believed it would be difficult for Sossamon to do both jobs. Performance of his current administrator duties might suffer, Russell said.
"I think the county administrator should live, eat and breathe Hernando County," Russell said. "He's the face of Hernando County."
An economic development director must be ready at all times to travel, meet potential new clients and be immersed in the retention and expansion of industry.
"I think we need to leave (Sossamon) free to do his job 100 percent as county administrator," Russell said.
But Rowden questioned why Russell did an about-face after the full board gave him his orders last week and was in apparent agreement on Sossamon's role in economic development.
"I guess I'm really concerned as to why you didn't do that," Rowden said.
Russell said he did come up with a plan: to give Sossamon 30 to 60 days to develop a plan on how he intends to focus on his duties as county administrator and also handle business development.
"I want to see goals and objectives and performance measures," Russell said.
Commissioner Nick Nicholson said he also was befuddled, especially after a previous in-house search for an economic development director yielded 30 candidates - none of them seemingly capable of doing the job.
"Why are we wasting time looking for somebody when we already have the best candidate sitting right next to us?" Nicholson said.
After almost one hour of debate, commissioners voted unanimously to try Sossamon out on both jobs for six months. If he proves successful, that time frame might be extended. It also can be shortened if the arrangement doesn't work out.
"It's evident that we all feel that (Sossamon) is more than qualified to do this job," Russell said. "He believes he can do it and still attend to his duties as county administrator. But let's give him six months to do it."