By B.C. Manion
Negotiations are underway to make Michele Baker the first female to serve as county administrator in Pasco County.
Commissioners voted 4-1 on June 25 to offer the position to Baker, and to direct Commission Chairman Ted Schrader to negotiate the contract with her.
The vote came after Schrader told the board that its first choice — Tomas “Tommy” Gonzalez, the city manager from Irving, Texas – had halted negotiations in a June 22 email.
In that email, Gonzalez wrote, “Thank you and the commission for your offer to be the next Pasco Chief Executive Officer. However, after discussing compensation and much consideration, I don’t think this is the best fit for my family and me at this time.”
Gonzalez’s total salary and fringe benefits in Texas exceeded $400,000, compared to a salary of $180,000, plus a car allowance for John Gallagher, who retired June 1 from Pasco’s top post.
Commissioner Pat Mulieri, who championed Baker all along, made the motion to offer her the job.
After the meeting, Mulieri said in an email: “I felt she should have a chance to spread her wings. She is dedicated and gives 200 percent.”
The commissioner noted that Baker played a key role in brokering the deal for The Shops at Wiregrass to locate in Pasco County. That shopping mall, according to Mulieri “was the catalyst for much of the growth in Wesley Chapel, and Wesley Chapel is the economic engine for Pasco.
“I believe Michele is the right person at the right time,” Mulieri added. “We are entering budget season, and it is going to be a tough year. We need stability on the board to move it forward. We cannot be dickering over an administrator.”
Mulieri also cited the historic significance of having a woman at the local government’s helm for the first time since the county was formed in 1887.
Commissioner Henry Wilson was the sole dissenter.
Baker reacted to the commission’s action, via email. She said she is “honored and humbled” by her selection, and she hopes the contract negotiations will be completed swiftly.
Baker began serving as interim county administrator on June 1, when Gallagher retired following 31 years as the county’s top executive.
She joined the county in 1993 as its emergency management director. In 2005, she became program administrator for engineering services. Two years later, she became chief assistant county administrator.