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Code chief exits happy, proud

BROOKSVILLE — After 23 years of enforcing the Hernando County community rule book, Code Enforcement Director Frank McDowell is retiring on Wednesday.

A 30-year government employee who started his career in Pasco County, McDowell, 56, sat down last week to share some thoughts about his career, his accomplishments and what comes next.

Here is a sample of what he had to say:

You have had a "retirement clock" on your desk for nearly four years ticking down the final 1,391 days until your last day, which is Wednesday. When did you decide this was the right time to go?

"I have 30 years in. With the Florida Retirement System, you retire at 62 or when you hit 30 years, and I chose 30 years. My wife (Peggy) has now been retired for 17 months, and she's ready for me to join her. And I'm ready to join her."

How does it feel to be winding down your career?

"My wife, Peg, said she wanted to go to Hawaii this past year, and I said no, I don't really want to go this year. I want to go next year after I retire because I want the feeling when I get there that I'm going to really be able to relax because when I go home, I know I won't have to go back to work.

I wanted that feeling. I always kind of got the Sunday afternoon blues because you had to throw on the work clothes Monday morning early and head on back to the office. I wanted that feeling Sunday afternoon knowing … we can stay up as late as we want, sleep in a little bit if we want.

Life is very precious to me and I want to do as much as I can while I can still walk and think and be active and enjoy the second chapter of my life with my wife."

What was the most memorable case you ever handled?

(One of the interesting ones was L.B. Richards' OK Corral, also known as Hubcap City. Richards owned a property on U.S. 19 north of Weeki Wachee littered with hundreds of hubcaps and other junk and McDowell, his staff, prisoners from Sumter County worked to get the site cleaned up.)

"One of the funny things that happened was that just as quick as we were taking it (the junk) to the landfill and dropping it off, L.B. Richards was in there loading it into his rickety old trailer, and he would bring it back. He's quite a character."

(Richards never made much money from his enterprise.)

"A couple of times I was out there and I saw a customer stop when they saw the hubcaps and would need one. There were thousands of them lying out there on the ground. He would say, 'Hey, I need a hubcap for a '54 Chevy station wagon.'

He (Richards) would walk through that massive amount of hubcaps and pick one out and say, 'I think this is it,' and the guy would say, 'Hey, that's it. How much?' He'd say $50 or $75 and that was always too much, so the person would say, 'I'm not spending that much on a hubcap,' and Richards would take it and fling it back into the pile of hubcaps. I saw him do that twice. Amazing."

(McDowell said he and Richards eventually became friends and he still visits him in a nearby adult living facility.

In his career scrapbook, there is a picture of McDowell with Richards and a life-size cardboard photo of Elvis. The picture was shot at Pine Island.)

What is something special you accomplished?

"Most exciting was building the animal services building several years ago. … We worked in an old building that was built in 1970 down there that was filled with rats and cockroaches and they used to sweep them up when we came in in the morning. There were very few animal cages down there to keep the animals in but they did the best they could with the tools they had."

The new building is "something I'm proud of, something that the staff is proud of."

(Also during his tenure, McDowell helped develop a device that allows officers to lift dogs onto their trucks.)

"The Back-saver device, that's something we invented. … We actually owned the first automatic dog box in the nation, and we won a national award for it."

Who won't be sorry to see you go?

"Some folks we've taken enforcement action against. I can't really name anybody in particular. Nobody likes to get a ticket. No one likes to go before the special magistrate but that's the business I'm in and it's unfortunate.

We try to warn people first and give them a notice of violation, with the exception of water restrictions right now, so people have the opportunity to fix their problem before they get a ticket.

Code enforcement and animal services are just two of those necessary things you need in a community because if you don't have them, things can go backwards pretty quickly. And to try to recover after things have gone downhill its very, very difficult if not impossible unless you have a lot of money to deal with it and, obviously, in this day and age, you don't."

What will you not miss about this job?

"People that are angry. Some people just get very, very angry, and I'm not going to miss that at all. Sometimes its not even in my arena to take care of but I've been called upon by administration to settle a problem or fix a problem. I'm kind of known as the fix-it guy. Stuff that's not my bailiwick, but I've got a way of going out and trying to get something resolved. I've done that for years for them."

What do you take away from your career in government?

"I really appreciate the time I've spent working for government. It's been good to me and my family, and it's had its ups and downs over the years."

McDowell gives much credit to his longtime friend and fishing buddy former county administrator Dick Radacky, for teaching him the ropes. Radacky hired him for his first government job 30 years ago and was best man at his wedding.

"Dick taught me these three rules:

Follow the good book best that you can, follow the rules and regulations.

Two, don't take anything from anyone. Money. Fruit. Candy. Don't take anything from them because then they think they own you.

And three, don't lie, especially to me because if you lie to me, there's the door. You're done.

I've used it for 30 years, every new employee who comes in hears it … and they know if they lie to me, they're toast.

Those three rules have done me well over the years."

Barbara Behrendt can be reached
or (352) 848-1434.

Code chief exits happy, proud 04/28/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, April 30, 2008 9:01pm]
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