Schools sign Mittiga-tor

Orange County Public Schools Superintendent Dennis Smith wasn’t about to apologize for snatching away Mayor Glenda Hood’s spinmaster. In fact, asked if he considered the consequences of ruffling Hood’s feathers by wooing away her public-information Joe Mittiga, Smith replied, "Are you kidding?";;For Hood, the loss of Mittiga expands a staffing void opened by the retirement of chief-of-staff Randall James. The loss of these two senior staff members, plus long-time scheduling secretary Sandra Groover, leaves the mayor with some major holes to fill. But Mittiga’s hiring fills a major void for Smith, the new boss of a school district desperate to spiff up its public image.;;Smith emphasized his overriding concern was "to bring on the very best people we possibly can." Making friends with powerful people apparently ranks lower on the new superintendent’s to-do list.;;In town little more than a month, Smith was well along with a national search for a community-relations director. The job had been vacant since October 1996. Mittiga sat on a panel of interviewers brought in to grill candidates. But Smith was less impressed with the applicants than Mittiga, a former aide to Mayor Bill Frederick who was in his second term of service under Hood.;;"As I went through that process, I got to know Joe a little better," said Smith, former superintendent in Irvine, Cal. "We tend to hit it off quite well.";;According to Orlando Chief Administrative Officer Howard Tipton, Smith asked Mittiga to name his price and then convinced the school board of the value of adding this veteran of almost two decades of Orlando politics. On July 29, the school board agreed to hire Mittiga, effective Sept. 1. He will earn about $85,000 a year and direct a staff of 10. He leaves a job paying about $69,600.;;With James’ retirement, it seems Mittiga might have wound up directing the mayor’s staff. Whether he pursued that job is unclear; colleagues simply insist that Mittiga, 47, was ready for a new challenge and a better job.;;In 1979, Mittiga came to Orlando from New York, where he had worked as a radio and television journalist. He had been working as the assistant news director of WCPX-TV, before he switched to municipal government in 1983 as an assistant to Frederick. He stayed on under Hood until February 1994 and was rehired by Hood in November 1994, after a short stint with the Orlando/ Orange County Convention and Visitors Bureau.;;After announcing his resignation last week, Mittiga went on vacation and could not be reached for comment. "I teased him and said, ‘Are you trying to get out of town and not have to talk with the press?" said Ronald Blocker, deputy superintendent for administrative services for the school district.;; Hood had not responded to a request for an interview by presstime Tuesday. But other city officials attested to Mittiga’s importance to the smooth operation of Hood’s office. Everything from public notices to Hood’s speeches came under his hand. Left unfinished is a comprehensive communications plan. Someone else will have to write the stories for Hood’s personal newsapaper, The O-Town News. ;;But it was in dealings with the media that Mittiga was most valued. "He managed our media affairs in every way," said Tipton. "He was our clearinghouse for the handling of the media. We could always go to Joe for how to handle it." Now school officials will be able to rely on his touch.
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