BROOKSVILLE – The Hernando County administrator couldn’t recommend the two narrowed-down candidates he interviewed recently for the vacant economic development manager position.
So, at the insistence of his county commission bosses, Len Sossamon has agreed to do the job himself.
Sossamon will meet in the next several days with Commission Chairman Dave Russell and draft a package, with an expected salary increase, for the five-person board to vote on at an upcoming meeting.
Commissioners on Tuesday agreed unanimously to give Sossamon, hired in May 2012, a one-year trial as economic development boss. He will also continue his administration duties.
He vowed that if he believes he is being stretched too thin or he gets too bogged down with double duties, he would tell his bosses and they would review the situation.
But commissioners believe Sossamon has the right temperament and the expertise to do the job, especially since he now has four assistant administrators who can fill in where needed.
Commissioners also said Sossamon will ably be assisted by new Airport Manager Kevin Daugherty, Economic Development Supervisor Valerie Pianta and her staff.
And while Sossamon will undoubtedly get a salary hike, it should save the county money, especially since the new economic development manager position might have cost Hernando County some $100,000, Commissioner Nick Nicholson said.
Sossamon makes $125,000 annually.
Sossamon told the board he had whittled down a list of nine applicants for the vacant economic development manager position to two men: Thomas Carrino Jr. of Illinois and David Lyons Sr. of Georgia.
Hernando County has been without an economic development boss since former manager Mike McHugh resigned in September.
But after subjecting both men to an intensive series of interviews, testing them in social situations and looking at their experience, Sossamon said he and staff did not believe they were qualified for the position.
Sossamon said the board had two choices: re-advertise or hire a professional headhunting firm for about $30,000.
But Commissioner Jim Adkins proposed a third option: let Sossamon have a crack at the job on a trial basis for about one year.
Nicholson said the administrator had already expressed interest in the job.
“I’ve talked with Sossamon about this and he has been telling me for months he can do this job as good as or better than anyone else and he has a better track record of those who applied,” Nicholson said.
Commissioner Diane Rowden said this is the kind of “out of the box” thinking that may work.
“Doing something different isn’t necessarily wrong,” Rowden said.
Commissioner Wayne Dukes said he doesn’t doubt Sossamon can do the job but questions whether he is taking on more than he can handle and he fears losing the good working relationship the administrator and board enjoy now.
Dukes, who was in favor of hiring a headhunting firm to conduct a nationwide search, said he would go along with the consensus of his colleagues.
“We’ve got a good administrator and I don’t want to put him in a position to fail,” Dukes said. “He’s got the ability. That’s not the issue.”
Sossamon has already been testing the economic development waters by meeting with Valerie Pianta recently about the possibility of revamping the incentives package for potential businesses wanting to locate in Hernando County.
Sossamon said he has some model plans he will bring back to the board at a future meeting.
When commissioners hired Sossamon, they were pleased with his private and public sector background and his familiarity with business recruitment in past jobs.
Sossamon was county administrator of Newberry, S.C. from 2004-06. He was also city manager of Concord, N.C. from 1985-98.
He was co-founder and owner of Cabernet Holdings, a limited liability company in Lexington, N.C. and was CEO and executive vice president of Alliance Development Group LLC in Charlotte, N.C.
He is looking forward to this new challenge.
“Whatever the board feels is best for the county, I’d be willing to step up to the plate and take a swing,” he said.