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Fired Pasco schools administrator is vying to become CEO of Economic Development Council

Longtime Pasco school district administrator Ray Gadd, who recently was fired from his job after his boss said she wanted "to go in a new direction," is now a candidate to lead another organization reinventing itself, the Pasco Economic Development Council.

Gadd, 52, is among 30 to 40 people vying to become the new CEO of the private, nonprofit group, which forced out 10-year chief Mary Jane Stanley last month without public comment.

Board members have formed a search committee, which has met a few times, primarily to set up the hiring process. The deadline for applications is Aug. 14. Committee members then expect to interview no more than 10 finalists.

EDC top brass wouldn't reveal names of candidates and declined a request from the St. Petersburg Times to review the applications. However they have said previously that EDC vice president John Walsh, who is serving as the agency's interim president, is a candidate for the top job.

"We're a private organization," said Wilton Simpson, who heads the search committee for the board, which gets $430,500 — nearly half of its $930,000 budget — from county taxpayers. "There's a lot of personal information in resumes, and less people would apply if their personal information was strewn all over the newspaper."

However, Gadd confirmed he had applied for the position, which paid Stanley $110,323 a year.

"I'm not going to lie," he said. "I figured it would be news as soon as anyone knew I applied."

Gadd said he had heard nothing so far from the search committee.

"I'm still working on my wife's 'Honey do' list," he said.

Those who have worked with Gadd say he would be a strong contender for the job.

"If I were in a position to cast a vote on that, I'd cast it for Ray," said County Commissioner Michael Cox, a former EDC board member. "He's a professional. He has a drive you don't see in a lot of people. And he's got Pasco County right in the center of his heart."

Cox acknowledged Gadd's lack of formal economic development experience but said that shouldn't be a liability.

"He may not have (an economic development) title, but my sense tells me he's done everything but have the title," he said.

Gadd, who holds bachelor's and master's degrees from the University of South Florida, served in a variety of positions during his 28-year career with the Pasco County School District.

He began in 1981 as a school psychologist and then was promoted to student services supervisor.

He also was picked by then-Superintendent John Long to spearhead Penny for Pasco, a campaign that raised the sales tax by 1 cent on the dollar, with the proceeds going to build and renovate schools, as well as toward county and city projects.

Voters approved the measure in 2004.

Gadd also served as the district liaison to the committee charged with providing oversight on how the money was spent.

Most recently, he oversaw the buying of land for new schools and their construction, along with county regulations regarding school building, a job that made him the mediator between his then-boss, Superintendent Heather Fiorentino, and County Administrator John Gallagher.

"That's not an easy position to be in," Cox said.

Former School Board member Marge Whaley said Gadd's ability to gain the confidence of diverse groups and arrange compromises would serve him well as head of a group that tries to lure new business and attract private investors. The organization also is in the midst of a plan to restructure its board and raise more money from the private sector.

"One of the things I noticed as a School Board member was his ability to go in and work with people who came in with their arms folded over their chests and negative vibes all over them and come out with a win-win situation," she said.

Gadd has plenty of allies on the EDC search committee. It includes Trey Starkey, husband of School Board member Kathryn Starkey, who expressed her disapproval of Fiorentino's decision to get rid of Gadd. And Land O'Lakes attorney Tim Hayes, who sits on the EDC board, wrote a letter to the editor supporting Gadd. Gadd's dismissal also drew comments from Stew Gibbons, president of Connerton development and EDC chairman.

"He's a vital member of the business community as well as the education community," Gibbons told the Times in June. "I am confident, with Ray's dedication to the community, he'll be back and involved in improving the quality of life here."

He also has a powerful friend at the state level. Florida Secretary of State Kurt Browning, who served as Pasco's elections chief during the Penny for Pasco referendum, sent a personal e-mail to Fiorentino asking her to reconsider dropping Gadd.

Gibbons wouldn't talk specifically about Gadd's application this week but called him "a terrific human being." He said the search has drawn candidates from as far as Phoenix and Delaware.

"These are people with existing jobs," he said. "They're well qualified and see this as an opportunity."

Simpson wouldn't address Gadd's chances.

"We're going to treat Ray no differently than anybody else," he said.

Lisa Buie can be reached at buie@sptimes.com or (813) 909-4604.

Fired Pasco schools administrator is vying to become CEO of Economic Development Council 08/05/09 [Last modified: Thursday, August 6, 2009 5:44pm]

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