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John Gallagher leaves Pasco a gift of good memories

John Gallagher will retire in a few months after 31 years as Pasco administrator, an office he transformed with his integrity.

DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times

John Gallagher will retire in a few months after 31 years as Pasco administrator, an office he transformed with his integrity.

The recent announcement that Pasco County Administrator John Gallagher is getting ready to retire in a few months brought a flood of memories. (Well, what counts as a flood on the parched fields of what used to be my mind.)

When I was new to covering county government in Pasco County, the then-county administrator, Gallagher's predecessor several times removed, invited me into his office to tell me how he had not gotten along with any other reporters who covered him, and how he looked forward to a new era of trust and cooperation with my arrival.

He went on for awhile. About how editors and reporters hated him. All I could respond was that it was my second day on the job and nobody had said anything to me about him.

A few minutes later, when he had left the office, I heard a squeaking sound and looked on the floor where a running tape recorder was hidden behind a desk leg. When I called his attention to it, he explained that he had been using it earlier in the day and had just forgotten to turn it off.

Trust and cooperation had to wait a few more years.

Fast forward to last December, when I was asked to speak to a group of civic leaders about the bad old days in Pasco, and had a high old time talking about the County Commission chairman going to prison for accepting bribes, developers fighting tooth and nail against zoning and tree protection ordinances and the county's purchase of a sewer plant with an illegal pipeline that dumped raw sewage into the Gulf of Mexico.

I waxed nostalgic about a developer who would back a refrigerated truck up to the county building so that the people who regulated his department could help themselves to free turkey and bottles of Cold Duck.

Suddenly I realized that the man largely responsible for ending that all-you-can-eat buffet of bad news and corruption was sitting at a table near the front of the room.

Gallagher.

I am late in reacting (once-a-month columns will do that to you) but let me add to the accolades already heaped on the county's — indeed the state's — longest serving administrator, who is leaving office after 31 years.

He impressed me as smart when I met him in 1973 serving as a young New Port Richey City Council member. I had just come from working in a very conservative part of the country and he was the first public official I ever covered who had hair longer than mine. When, sans the long hair, he became the New Port Richey city manager, I saluted that move.

And after watching four administrators (although, to be fair, one was only designated as interim administrator) bite the dust during the previous eight years, I wanted to see how long it would take the beast to swallow him so the natural order of things would return and reporters could resume covering county government from the hallways outside grand jury rooms.

Thirty one years, it turns out, and still counting.

Gallagher will be the first to tell you he didn't do it alone … so, good, I don't have to. Nobody can stay in that kind of office that long without attracting criticism. But a colleague of mine used to say, "What do you want, good government or good stories?"

I don't think anyone can argue that John Gallagher has brought us much more of the former and a dearth of the latter.

Another passing caught my eye this month: the incipient rebuilding of the playground at Sims Park.

The effort to build the park 20 years ago was a community effort spearheaded by Roxann Mayros and it was built entirely by volunteers, including in a very small way, me.

We volunteers were broken up into teams with one or two persons who knew what they were doing and the rest of us who were there for heavy lifting, errand running and staying out of the way. Those who know me, and who know that my wife has hidden all of the tools in our house to keep me from trying to use them, know where I fit in.

I remember a couple of things about that day.

Mostly I remember that I worked on a team consisting of me; my then-editor Bill Stevens; a murderer whose trial I had covered who had undergone what I believe was a sincere religious conversion before his parole; a minister; and a gruff-looking but friendly biker. The biker and the murderer were pretty much the brains of the operation.

The biker died of liver disease few days later. I think he knew he was working on a project he would never see but wanted to leave something of himself behind.

Whatever we left behind, we all took away memories. And the memories may be similar to a recent description of the park: rusted parts, planks splintered by wear and tear.

But still pretty darned good ones.

John Gallagher leaves Pasco a gift of good memories 12/08/12 [Last modified: Saturday, December 8, 2012 12:56pm]
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