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A rap of a gavel and County Commission's only Democrat departs

DADE CITY — If Tuesday's elections had gone his way, County Commissioner Michael Cox would have awakened Wednesday with his job and the promise of a promotion to chairman.

But politics promises nothing. On Tuesday night, Cox — the board's only Democrat — was swept out of office by a strong GOP turnout that replaced him with political newcomer Henry Wilson.

So on Wednesday morning, a sleepless Cox found himself at his last commission meeting.

He tried to analyze what happened — it had all the signs of the 1994 Republican take-over of Congress — and could only surmise that his biggest sin was the "Democrat" that ran beside his name. He said he wasn't sure what comes next. At the moment, he could not imagine it being in politics.

Cox would have taken his usual seat at the dais, but Chairwoman Pat Mulieri grabbed him before the meeting.

Her throat was sore. Did he mind acting as chairman and running the meeting?

So for the first and last time, Cox took the gavel. He posed for a photograph with a 20-year library employee who received a resolution from the commission.

"You've made a heck of a difference," he told her.

Then came National Hospice Month; the Zephyrhills Woman's Club; a vote on a new interest rate of 4.25 percent for paving assessments.

Later came a request from Animal Services to reduce by half the adoption fees for dogs and cats. The temporary discount is to celebrate the grand opening of the long-awaited $4.2 million animal adoption center in Land O'Lakes.

Cox and his wife, Abbey, are dog lovers who founded Pasco Friends of Animal Services — something Mulieri noted during the discussion.

"I have to commend Michael ... because of what he's done," she said.

"He's been our cheerleader," said Commissioner Ann Hildebrand.

Financial firm T. Rowe Price ended up on the agenda, too. Cox had centered his re-election platform around his role in helping bring the firm to Pasco.

County officials needed to change a few items in their agreements with T. Rowe to account for schedule delays and road construction changes.

"T. Rowe is very much committed to Pasco," said Barbara Wilhite, a lawyer for the firm. She thanked officials and added, "Commissioner Cox, T. Rowe especially wanted to thank you for your service."

His colleagues thanked him, too. Commissioner Jack Mariano acknowledged they'd had many differences over the years.

"I do know you were trying to do what was right every step of the way," said Mariano, who offered "condolences."

Cox told Mariano he didn't know if condolences was the right word. Elected positions are fleeting, he said, noting he'd lost his first commission bid in 1994.

He has called that "the best thing that ever happened to me" because that was when he realized he didn't need to build his life around politics. He worked on his private life.

"These jobs," he said, "they're nice when you have them."

He told his colleagues to stick to their strategic plan. He said he planned to attend the groundbreaking ceremony for a new sports complex, a project he pushed from the start.

"In two weeks, I'll be private citizen Cox," he said. "And I just want to remind you, I pay all your salaries."

Toward the end of the meeting, Cox wasn't finished with his pet issue, animal services. The new shelter is expected to come in about $150,000 under budget. Could that money be socked away to help the department's budget next year?

"If the money gets swept away," he said, "it never comes back."

He lost the vote, 3 to 2, after the majority said they were apprehensive about earmarking the funds. But they said they'd try to keep the proposal in mind come next budget season.

"That's all right," said Cox. "I have a lot of faith in the four of you. I'll be at the podium."

After the meeting, a reporter told Mulieri her voice didn't sound all that bad. Mulieri touched her throat, smiled and shrugged.

"I think he would've made a great chairman," she said.

Reach Jodie Tillman at jtillman@sptimes.com or (727) 869-6247.

A rap of a gavel and County Commission's only Democrat departs 11/03/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, November 3, 2010 9:07pm]
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