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Sossamon gets 1st review

Published:   |   Updated: May 7, 2013 at 07:14 PM

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"A model of efficiency." "Leading the charge to improve citizens' perception of government." "Handles employee challenges professionally and fairly." "A refreshing, take-charge attitude."

These were some of the remarks from county commissioners when they evaluated their new county administrator after his first six months on the job.

Only these were from 2008, and the administrator was David Hamilton.

Hamilton was fired about 3 ½ years later after commissioners criticized his professional judgment, blamed him for a severe drop in employee morale and questioned his role in promoting directors.

"I do not have any confidence left in this administrator to lead this organization," Commissioner Jeff Stabins said in a November 2011 meeting.

Fast forward to November 2012 and the first performance evaluation of County Administrator Leonard Sossamon.

In his first six months on the job, commissioners gave Sossamon a sterling evaluation, receiving an overall 3.93 average out of a maximum 5. That puts Sossamon well within the "excellent-proficient" category.

Among other things, Sossamon was evaluated on such things as decision-making, initiative, customer service, dependability and leadership.

Like his predecessor, Sossamon is still in the "honeymoon period" and commissioners are expecting the best. But this time, they hope Sossamon breaks the routine of rapidly departing administrators and erases the stigma that Hernando County cannot keep an administrator around long enough to stabilize the organization.

Incoming commissioner Diane Rowden, criticized during her previous tenure on the board and in the just-concluded political campaign for her style of micromanagement, said she will maintain a "hands-off" policy toward Sossamon and allow him to do his job.

New commissioner Nick Nicholson, though, believes there has been too little oversight of county administrators in the past and intends to keep a close eye on Sossamon to make sure he is monitoring department heads and weeding out the bad ones.

Nicholson said he doesn't put much stock in Sossamon's six-month evaluation because he hasn't been there long enough to learn the ins and outs of the community or government or familiarize himself with employees.

"It's too much to learn (in six months)," he said.

Nicholson said Sossamon should have had enough time on the job to start implementing some of his initiatives instead of doing things "off the cuff."

Commissioner Jim Adkins said the next six months will be more telling for Sossamon as he starts from the beginning the crafting of a new fiscal year budget and deals with the reorganization of the county utility department.

From hereon, evaluations will likely be tougher, especially as Sossamon is expected to get a major chunk of his much-awaited long-term strategic plan for Hernando County completed.

Adkins said Sossamon is inheriting a different atmosphere from Hamilton, who almost from the start was forced to cut directors, trim employees and streamline government.

That led to ill will for many in the system, he said.

Adkins said he intends to continue talking to Sossamon about issues but not to the point of micromanaging.

"I don't ever want to do that," he said.

County Commissioner Dave Russell said he has great hopes for his administrator. He describes Sossamon as "extremely congenial, and it's meant a lot to the folks who work under him."

Hamilton was criticized as time went on for his lack of "people skills" and a decline in morale.

"I don't want to compare the two," Russell said. "They're two different people.

Sossamon was hired in May and faced a tumultuous budgetary session. He was immediately faced with a breakdown of management in animal services. A tropical storm caused huge residential and commercial damage and destroyed much of the Peck Sink stormwater project.

In his performance self-evaluation, Sossamon said he has worked to manage many of those problems.

"I have worked to find new revenue sources to help bring the budget into better control," Sossamon wrote.

He lists as his accomplishments the reorganization of stormwater management, animal services and code enforcement.

His objectives include developing a "smoother and better process for the annual budget" and to finish the county's strategic plan. As chairman of the county commission, Wayne Dukes said he probably interacts the most with the administrator.

"I'm impressed by what I see," Dukes said. "He's bringing a lot of new ideas and setting good standards for the workers."

Dukes added someone would have to work hard to receive a poor six-month evaluation.

"If you screw up your first six months, you better be looking for a bus trip home," he said. (352) 544-5290

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