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Hamilton hits a rocky road in Florida

David Hamilton, former Crow Wing County administrator, appears to be on his way out from the Hernando County job he left Brainerd for in 2008.

The county offices are in Brooksville, Fla. Hamilton was unable to be reached by phone there Wednesday. Hamilton was county administrator here from September of 2006 to February of 2008. He put his name in for the Hernando County post in late 2007.

Stories from the Hernando Today and the St. Petersburg Times newspapers indicate Hamilton’s recent road has been particularly rocky with a motion for his firing made in late October.

At that Florida county commissioner meeting, Hernando Today reporter Michael Bates said the words of choice were “mutual separation” and “exit strategy” and that two commissioners stated they lost confidence in Hamilton. Two other commissioners supported Hamilton’s employment with the county.

Bates reported before another commissioner could speak to provide a decisive direction, Hamilton read from “a prepared statement asking that he be given the chance to bow out gracefully and suggested the board table any action until Nov. 8.”

Hernando Today reported Hamilton’s cashout and benefits may total $89,372. But more on that should be known after Tuesday’s meeting.

Barbara Behrendt, St. Petersburg Times reporter, wrote Tuesday afternoon, that Hamilton hired an attorney and asked for his full severance package, prompting one commissioner to suggest an emergency meeting and an immediate firing.

Dan DeWitt, St. Petersburg Times columnist, recently wrote that Hamilton was “an idea guy even up to last week’s meeting, when he salvaged a constructive departure — agreeing to leave at the end of the year — from what was shaping up as an ugly and expensive firing.”

DeWitt said Hamilton compared his departure to a divorce. And from the copy in various newspapers in the area, it’s been a messy one. Hamilton’s brief tenure in the Brainerd lakes area had rumblings beneath the surface with background comments about the damage left in his wake, but nothing on the record the way it has been aired in Florida.

And in recent months there have been several calls from Florida in an attempt by people there to determine what kind of administrator Hamilton was when he was here. In combing through the news coverage, similar comments were found for his belief in more management and fewer managers. In Florida, Hamilton had a record of firing subordinates.

“And who can say, even if Hamilton had the means to carry out his vision for the county, whether it would have made up for his real flaws as a leader,” DeWitt wrote on Oct. 30. “He could be a hypocrite, who liked to tell you how much he studied and believed in deliberative, open government, while operating as a world-class corner-cutter.

“... That tendency to fudge, along with his insulting treatment of talented and committed workers — something we heard more and more about — was summed up in an incident my colleague Barbara Behrendt wrote about last week.”

The incident, relayed in Hernando Today and the St. Petersburg Times, described Hamilton as grabbing notes from a then-staff member regarding a 2008 investigation of racial discrimination and feeding them into a paper shredder. Paul Douglas, president of the local chapter of the NAACP, filed a complaint with the state attorney’s office. The St. Petersburg Times noted Douglas brought up the allegation at the recent commission meeting where one commissioner favored severing Hamilton’s employment.

The Times reported Hamilton was previously investigated by the state attorney’s office related to the selection of a project manager for a channel dredging project. No criminal wrongdoing by Hamilton was found. The case was forwarded to the FBI, where the Times reported it remained under review as of Oct. 27.

“By the time Hamilton agreed last week to leave, it was probably too late for him to salvage his relationship with some commissioners and almost all county employees,” DeWitt wrote in his recent column. “It didn’t help that he was the one who had to lay off employees, freeze their wages and cut their benefits, but I can’t remember anybody at the government center so widely and intensely disliked.”

Hamilton was listed as one of eight candidates for the job as Sarasota County administrator in Florida. A decision may be made there on Nov. 15.

Hamilton was Crow Wing County’s second administrator, following Peter Herlofsky Jr. He was followed by current administrator Tim Houle.

Hamilton, originally from Canada and served as mayor of Thunder Bay, Ontario and was Goodhue County administrator from Red Wing before moving to Brainerd.

During his job interview before the Crow Wing County Board, Hamilton expressed a strong interest in land use and balancing growth with costs and the environment. When he took the job in Florida, Hamilton said the economic challenges there were immense. At that time, Hernando County had gone through three administrators in a short period and Hamilton told the board he was willing to commit to five years.

RENEE RICHARDSON may be reached at or 855-5852.