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Swiftmud boss going to South Florida, will head up agency overseeing Everglades fix

The South Florida Water Management District board voted 7-2 Thursday to hire as its new executive director Blake Guillory, an engineer who for the past two years has been executive director of the Brooksville-based Southwest Florida Water Management District.

Guillory said he was "very honored" to be picked to run the largest of the state's five water management districts and the one in charge of the multi-billion-dollar Everglades restoration program. He and that board must still negotiate the terms of his new contract, including the salary and when he would start.

Guillory, 52, has been living in Jupiter during his two-year tenure running the agency commonly known as Swiftmud, which oversees water supplies in a 16-county region that includes Pinellas, Pasco, Hillsborough and Hernando counties, and commuting every week.

The West Palm Beach-based South Florida agency would be far closer for him. It's also far larger — 1,600 employees versus 580.

In May, the boss of the South Florida water agency, Melissa Meeker, abruptly resigned after just two years on the job, announcing she was taking a post with an environmental consulting firm in Stuart. At that point, Guillory contacted the South Florida water agency's chairman to say he'd like to take the job. Both he and Meeker were making $165,000, the top salary allowed by Gov. Rick Scott.

Guillory said there was one other contender to replace Meeker: Ernie Barnett, an assistant executive director who for the past eight years has overseen the Everglades project for the South Florida agency. He said he watched the South Florida board vote to pick him via an online video.

Before he took charge of Swiftmud, Guillory had no government experience. He was vice president of the engineering firm Brown & Caldwell, which he said worked on a number of Everglades-related projects so he's familiar with the restoration program. He has master's degrees in business and engineering from the University of South Florida.

After he was hired by the Swiftmud board, he sent two of his deputy executive directors and the agency's longtime attorney packing, demoted a third deputy director, then oversaw the layoffs of about 150 other employees.

"He's done a great job here," said Todd Pressman, who has been on the Swiftmud board since 2005. "He's going to be great in South Florida."

Pressman said the Swiftmud board will discuss replacing Guillory at its July 30 meeting, and most likely will elevate Assistant Executive Director Robert Beltran to acting executive director in the interim.

Craig Pittman can be reached at craig@tampabay.com

Swiftmud boss going to South Florida, will head up agency overseeing Everglades fix 07/11/13 [Last modified: Thursday, July 11, 2013 5:12pm]
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