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Pasco officials give fond farewell to Commissioner Ann Hildebrand

DADE CITY – When county Administrator John Gallagher offered to organize a blowout retirement party at Saddlebrook Resort, Ann Hildebrand shot down the idea with a stare.

Two years ago, she was the honored guest at a roast to celebrate seven terms on the County Commission. "I figured that was enough," she said.

Her colleagues disagreed.

"I know you didn't want us to make a fuss," said Commissioner Ted Schrader. "But too bad."

Instead of swanky Saddlebrook, Wednesday's party was more modest: grocery store sandwiches, cake and iced tea in a small conference room in the historic Pasco courthouse.

The celebration was muted, but Hildebrand's last commission meeting after 28 years in office was no less nostalgic.

In a county now used to honoring longtime officials who are retiring, Hildebrand's send-off felt palpably different. As she stood blushing, a packed crowd showered her with sustained applause and a few congratulatory whistles.

The meeting attracted some of Pasco's biggest public figures, including Property Appraiser Mike Wells, who brought a picture of his friend smiling as they were sworn in as commissioners on the same day in 1984.

Wells and Hildebrand were key cheerleaders of a bond issue two years later to build parks and libraries. They brought a cartoon raccoon mascot "to every civic association that would let us in the door," Hildebrand recalls.

"When that issue passed, that changed the face of Pasco," Gallagher said. "To me, that was a major turning point in this county, where people started to consider it home instead of being from someplace else."

Wells recalled heated battles over the county's first impact fee on development, building a water and sewer system from scratch and the decision to locate the county landfill in Shady Hills.

"Realize, it was almost medieval times in those days," said Wells, who served two terms on the commission. "There was literally no money to do anything except to make payroll and keep the doors open."

A moderate Republican, Hildebrand has long focused on social services. She serves on boards of several organizations, including the Good Samaritan health clinic and the PACE Center for Girls.

She wants to be remembered for her work to include Pasco into the overall region through groups such as Tampa Bay Water and a relatively new regional transportation agency.

State Sen. Jack Latvala, a longtime friend who ran each of her campaigns, said her biggest legacy is the regional water authority that helped calm the "water wars" of the 1980s. She was a founding member of the group's board in 1998.

"Pasco and Pinellas were in court against each other," he said. "Pinellas was pumping the heck out of lakes up there.

"A lot of the accomplishments on water policy for the Tampa Bay area were a result of her," he said.

Hildebrand, 74, recently bought a home near Auburn, Ala., near a vacation cabin she's owned for years. A new buyer closes on her Gulf Harbors home soon. The move will allow her to be closer to her two sons, Lance and Clay.

In a few months, she plans to buy a small condo where she can spend a few months each year in Pasco when the weather is nice.

"I think I'll just become a snowbird," she said.

Her last meeting included discussions about several weighty issues, including the long-stalled Ridge Road Extension, a push to create a tourist sports park with hotel taxes and an idea to build an elevated toll road on State Road 54.

During a lighter moment, she posed for a picture with her fellow commissioners. Someone said something that made her laugh.

When she sat down, she wiped away tears with both hands.

"The county is going to be at a loss when she leaves.

My hunch is Ann will be involved in the county some way."

Property Appraiser Mike Wells, who served two terms on the commission alongside Hildebrand

More accolades for Hildebrand

Officials gathered at Ann Hildebrand's party Wednesday reflected on her contributions to Pasco County during her 28 years in office.

"If you look up the Webster's definition of 'public servant,' Ann Hildebrand's name would be first and foremost."

Commissioner Ted Schrader

"She has looked out for those who can't look out for themselves."

Commissioner Pat Mulieri

"There were a lot of tough times during those early years. There were a lot of struggles to improve the quality of life in Pasco,"

County Administrator John Gallagher, who was hired two years before Hildebrand's first election in 1984.

"There are certain commissioners who are statesmen. I've had the pleasure of serving with two, Patricia Glass in Manatee and Ann Hildebrand. You both have the same sort of consensus building, regional approach to local government."

County Attorney Jeff Steinsnyder

"One of the honors of my life has been to serve with Ann. I always wanted to do that because I always thought Ann was a class act."

Former Commissioner Michael Cox

"She's one of the most wonderful people who ever served in elected office, anywhere. She's a true public servant that tries to look out for the people that elect her."

State Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater

"You are a great friend and mentor and inspiration. I ran (for public office) because you were successful, and I appreciate that."

Clerk of Courts Paula O'Neil

"You've always had kind and gracious words to say to me even when we didn't agree."

Commissioner Henry Wilson

"When I think about my girls and how I want them to grow up, I want them to be just like Ann Hildebrand. You're the type of person who brings people together."

Commissioner Jack Mariano

"It was nice to know you could count on Ann to do the right thing."

Former Supervisor of Elections Kurt Browning, reflecting on her work on the elections canvassing board during the contentious 2000 election.

"Mr. Gallagher says that when Commissioner Hildebrand asks you for something, you better do it because she doesn't ask for much."

David Goldstein, chief assistant county attorney

"You've made this a better place. Because of your efforts to make this place home, I chose to stay here, to raise my family, to work here."

Barbara Wilhite, land use lawyer and former assistant county attorney who has known Hildebrand since her childhood.

Pasco officials give fond farewell to Commissioner Ann Hildebrand 11/07/12 [Last modified: Wednesday, November 7, 2012 8:36pm]
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