Head of Pasco Economic Development Council resigns

LUTZ — As a key player in sensitive business deals, Mary Jane Stanley practiced the art of playing her cards close to her vest.

On Tuesday, she left the county-funded Pasco Economic Development Council the same way she led it.

Discreetly.

Saying she was ready for new challenges after a decade at the helm, Stanley submitted a resignation letter to the council's board, which voted to accept it in a closed, nearly 1 1/2-hour meeting.

The board approved a severance package for Stanley, who made $110,323 a year. Board chairman Stew Gibbons declined to reveal the details.

The board's emergency meeting came amid rumors that some board members were ready to oust Stanley from her job as chief executive officer for reasons that weren't clear. The board's executive committee met late last week, though Gibbons would not say what action it took.

Her tenure had been relatively free of public controversy, and she is credited with playing a role in most of the industry relocations to the county, including the proposed T. Rowe Price project in Land O'Lakes. Last year, the Florida Economic Development Council named her the 2008 Eunice Sullivan Economic Development Professional of the Year.

The most recent criticism of Stanley involved unflattering remarks she made to a business publication about Pasco's permitting process. ("We have a bad reputation," she told the Maddux Business Report. "Trying to get a permit is horrible.")

The EDC gets money from Pasco County — this year, nearly half of its $930,000 budget — to promote the county as a place to do business and to recruit firms with higher paying jobs. Some county officials were miffed that someone in Stanley's position would make such public comments.

On Tuesday Stanley declined to address any criticisms board members may have had. She said that the decision to leave was her own and that she submitted her resignation letter over the weekend.

"I had committed to staying in Pasco for 10 years," she said. "It's time for me to have some different challenges. I feel like I've put it (the organization) in a really good place."

Gibbons declined to provide details about Stanley's departure, saying it was on good terms.

"She's made significant contributions … and we respect her decision to move on at this time," said Gibbons, president of Connerton, a large residential community in central Pasco.

Gibbons would not say whether board members had contemplated firing Stanley, calling the organization a private foundation.

"Part of the underpinnings of a private organization is being able to conduct its affairs in private," he said.

He declined to say whether Stanley's public remarks about the county's permitting office had any role in her departure. He said no one from outside the agency, including the public officials who hold the purse strings, had asked for any leadership changes.

"I don't think there was any pressure to make changes," Gibbons said. "The opinions of the stakeholders are always important, and the county is obviously one of our biggest stakeholders."

He declined to say whether the board's vote Tuesday had been unanimous but said it was a "definite consensus."

John Walsh, the second in command at EDC, will serve as interim CEO and is a candidate for the permanent position, Gibbons said.

Stanley's departure comes at a pivotal moment for the EDC, which is at the beginning of a six-year campaign, called New Pasco, to change the way it does business.

The organization is going after higher-level investors and creating a new governance model that puts a sharper focus on key business advisers who will come up with new, more aggressive ideas for attracting companies to Pasco.

Stanley is also leaving just days after her counterpart at the Pasco Hernando Jobs and Education Partnership, Lee Ellzey, got booted by his board following a state investigation of his agency.

Ellzey served on the EDC board, and Stanley on the partnership board. She initially abstained on voting on his firing, citing legal advice about a conflict of interest, but later voted with the board to dismiss him.

Stanley said she and her husband, Michael, a college instructor, plan to stay in Pasco County, which is about halfway between relatives in Tallahassee and Fort Lauderdale.

Saying she needs a break from 60-hour workweeks, Stanley plans to take a trip to Germany to visit her mother's family. When she comes back, she said she'll start looking for consulting work.

"You get to a point where you just get worn out," she said. "I submitted my resignation knowing it was time."

Jodie Tillman can be reached at jtillman@sptimes.com or (727) 869-6247.

Head of Pasco Economic Development Council resigns 06/30/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, June 30, 2009 9:39pm]

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