Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

New boss cleans house at Southwest Florida Water Management District

The new executive director for the Southwest Florida Water Management District started work on Tuesday. But before he even set foot in the building, he'd already ousted most of his top assistants.

Blake Guillory has already sent two of his deputy executive directors and the agency's longtime attorney packing, and then demoted a third deputy director.

"I've never seen anything like this," said Emilio "Sonny" Vergara, who previously served as executive director of both the Southwest Florida and the St. Johns River water districts. "Nothing like this where the new guy comes in and cleans house."

Guillory, in an interview Wednesday, denied accusations by Vergara and others that his house-cleaning was done at the behest of Gov. Rick Scott and Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Herschel Vinyard, who recently promised to put a tighter leash on the state's five water district agencies.

Although he said the five district directors now have weekly conference calls with DEP officials to coordinate policy and look for spending cuts, he said, "I haven't been on one yet."

He depicted the ousters of so many senior employees as a combination of streamlining a bureaucracy and dealing with potential personality clashes.

"I just told them that they didn't fit on my senior executive team," he said of the two deputies he fired. As for the attorney, "Maybe it's just chemistry. I just felt like I needed to bring in my own general counsel."

Guillory said he met with the two deputy directors to fire them prior to his first day on the job "out of respect for them. … I just felt it was good for us to talk outside the office, to talk as friends."

The house-cleaning came as a surprise to the governing board members who recently hired Guillory, an engineer with no prior experience running a government entity.

Hugh Gramling, vice chairman of the agency commonly known as Swiftmud, said when he met with Guillory last week, Guillory made no mention of getting rid of the agency's top management.

"He told me he was going to take his time and make sure he got things right," Gramling said.

Days later, Guillory was telling one of the deputy directors, Richard Owen, he was out of a job after 30 years with Swiftmud. He did the same to deputy director Bruce Wirth, then demoted deputy director Lou Kavouras and ousted general counsel Bill Bilenky.

Although the board does not vote on who holds those positions, "I really wish he would have given me a heads-up," Gramling said.

Chairman Paul Senft said he was "aware of some of the things he was considering," but did not realize how quickly Guillory would move or who would get the ax. He only knew that Guillory "was evaluating them, and it was a question of which ones would stay and which ones would go," he said.

"Yeah, maybe I may have stumbled a bit in that respect," Guillory said.

The news of the Swiftmud shakeup has left the board members in something of a quandary, said Todd Pressman, who represents Pinellas County on Swiftmud. On the one hand, Pressman said, "we have a new executive director and we need to support him." On the other hand, he said, "the people we're talking about are exemplary employees, outstanding employees."

He singled out Bilenky's dismissal in particular as a shock, since the attorney, who had served for 10 years, filled in as Swiftmud's interim executive director for four months prior to Guillory's hiring.

During that time Bilenky "acted in just an incredible fashion," Pressman said. "His leadership was nothing short of phenomenal."

The man Guillory replaced, Dave Moore, praised all of the ousted employees but would not criticize his successor for clearing the decks before even boarding the ship.

"Any time a new CEO comes into an organization, it's very common for all the senior managers to be evaluated," he said. Asked if Guillory should have notified the board first, Moore would not comment.

Craig Pittman can be reached at craig@sptimes.com.

New boss cleans house at Southwest Florida Water Management District 10/05/11 [Last modified: Thursday, October 6, 2011 3:30pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. This 'SNL' writer is cracking up Twitter with his replies to President Donald Trump's tweets

    National

    Josh Patten is a writer for Saturday Night Live. Earlier this month, he began responding to President Donald Trump's tweets as if they were private texts to Patten.

  2. Snooty the manatee's death prompts outpouring of support, petition to move Confederate monument

    Wildlife

    BRADENTON — The South Florida Museum aquarium remains closed Monday and tributes continue to pour in following the shocking death of Snooty, the beloved manatee who captured the hearts of …

    Four-year-old Katie Blair pays her respects to Snooty at a makeshift memorial in front of the museum on Sunday. Katie and her family has visited the aquarium to see Snooty four times this year. 
Snooty was the world's oldest living manatee in captivity and celebrated his 69th birthday Friday at the aquarium. Aquarium officials described Snooty's death as a tragic accident and is being investigated. [LUIS SANTANA   |   Times]

  3. What to watch this week: 'Midnight, Texas,' Shark Week specials

    Blogs

    It's that time of year again. No, not back-to-school month or geek convention season - it's Shark Week.

    Midnight, Texas, a new supernatural series on NBC, premieres at 10 p.m. Monday.
  4. Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner: 'I did not collude with Russia' (w/video)

    National

    WASHINGTON — Jared Kushner, President Donald Trump's senior adviser and son-in-law, spent about two hours Monday answering questions from Senate investigators about his contacts with Russian officials, insisting he had not colluded with foreign agents before or after the 2016 presidential campaign.

    Trump senior adviser Jared Kushner speaks to reporters outside the White House on Monday after meeting on Capitol Hill behind closed doors with the Senate Intelligence Committee on the investigation into possible collusion between Russian officials and the Trump campaign. [Pablo Martinez Monsivais | Associated Press]
  5. Polk County officials urge owner to remove pet buried at public park

    Human Interest

    Lake Wales city officials are looking for the owner who buried their dead dog in a public park.

    Lake Wales city officials are looking for the owner who buried their dead dog in a public park. [Facebook]