Most of us are old enough to consider what kind of contribution we will leave behind when we pass. Have we shared enough, played fair, and given more than we have taken? These questions apply not only to personal lives but also to workplaces. Both our county government and our school district would be in better organizational health today if these questions had been addressed years ago.
Our county government recently went to great expense to extend the working years of Ed Hunzeker, County CEO, despite the fact that he told us years ago the exact day he planned to retire under the DROP option. In spite of this forewarning, the county commissioners failed to insist that he identify, train and otherwise enlighten those potential successors, who are already key employees of Manatee County.
There are two main reasons why this approach would have been wise: (1) if Hunzeker became ill, won the lottery, or simply had had enough, a successor could have been chosen with little disruption from this employee cluster, or (2), if none were deemed suitable as CEO and an outsider was chosen, the newcomer would have the advantage of a well-informed support cluster.
Instead, the commissioners allowed the County Administrator to become invaluable. Maintaining the balance between proper respect and too important to do without is a responsibility that our county commission to date has shirked. They now have an employee with leverage on them, who is making no apparent preparation for his successor, a clearly unhealthy situation. The county’s administration is seemingly no better off than it was last year, but it is several hundred thousand dollars poorer, largely because the commissioners painted themselves into a corner.
Unfortunately, our school board has also been disengaged. Board members allowed a superintendent, Dr. Roger Dearing, to administer through intimidation and to play tricks with its budget from 2003-09. He kept all employees and board members well beyond arm’s length and did not prepare any of the district’s eight or ten key central office employees to succeed him.
Yet Dearing somehow manipulated the board into appointing his thinly-qualified CFO, Dr. Tim McGonegal, who was complicit with the budget problems which Dearing had orchestrated. Overmatched and timid, McGonegal dodged legitimate questions and walked the budget tightrope for three years before taking a nasty fiscal fall.
In the six months which followed, three interims acted merely as placeholders, if that. The upshot of this tortuous 10-year span is that many central office employees have not grown professionally and are unprepared for their own jobs, much less that of the superintendent‘s position. The district’s central office administrative culture is impoverished.
The solution to these problems is simple: the county commission and school board must insure that Mr. Hunzeker and Mr. Mills are educating those close to them. Rather than making themselves invaluable, administrators should regard a hallmark of their success as their ability to be replaced smoothly and easily because they leave a trail which is transparent and well marked. Acting in this fashion requires humility and dedication, and it is important that they both get the message, so that years from now, county government and the school district undergo easy transitions to new administrators.
A smoothly running county government and school district have a comforting, inspiring effect on our citizenry, permitting us to act confidently and proudly. Creating this outcome is the responsibility of the county commission and school board. They can leave us no finer legacy!
A retired educator with two earned doctorates, Richard Jackson has taught from sixth grade through graduate school. He has extensive experience as a grants writer, school administrator, columnist and lobbyist. He has written more than 300 columns over the past three years on the state of the Manatee School District for the Tampa Examiner.
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