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Tarpon Springs left without planning department

TARPON SPRINGS — This city will be without a Development Services Department come Monday morning.

Director Joseph DiPasqua was forced to resign in May amid months of controversy over proposed Sponge Docks enhancements. Now, principal planner Rodney Chatman and planning director Renea Vincent have filed notice to leave, said City Manager Mark LeCouris.

Chatman already left, and Vincent's last day is Thursday, leaving the city of more than 23,000 with no planning employees. Both are taking planning jobs with Pinellas County.

"They've done great in their jobs here," LeCouris said. "I can see why an agency would want to grab them."

Neither LeCouris nor Mayor David Archie said they knew why Chatman and Vincent left. It is not clear if their departures are related to the failed Sponge Docks project the city spent three years developing and modifying.

"It'd be pure speculation whether it is or not," LeCouris said.

Vincent, who is leaving her job with the city after nearly 12 years, said the timing was right for a new job and the offer was good.

"I'm looking forward to the change and looking forward to working in a different venue," Vincent said.

Chatman did not return a request for comment. DiPasqua declined to comment.

For now, as LeCouris seeks a temporary replacement and advertises the vacant positions, Tarpon Springs will be without a planner.

That's not all that unusual, said Brian Teeple, president of the American Planning Association's Florida chapter. In fact, some cities employ just one planner, so they go stretches without one every time someone leaves.

"I'm sure there are other folks on the city staff who can keep the wheels on the train," he said. "Because of the recession, there are a significant number of planners who are still in the marketplace to find jobs. (The city's) search should be relatively speedy, I'd imagine."

In the meantime, LeCouris hopes to borrow a planner with municipal experience from a private firm one or two days a week. Or, in a pinch, he would reach out to other Pinellas city managers for temporary help from their planning departments.

Approval of some project applications will be slightly delayed, Vincent said.

"It's probably not going to be a crisis for July, but when we get into August there will be some things going up," LeCouris said. "Hopefully we'll have some experienced planners who will be able to come in and get the ball running."

Commissioner David Banther found one upside. It is an ideal time to rethink the planning department's structure, he said. He added that Vincent and Chatman both did great work for the city.

"I think that the only glimmer of blessing in all this is that we might be able, as a commission, to get the public's input, to see what form we need to have for a planning department in general," Banther said.

Contact Julie Kliegman at jkliegman@tampabay.com or (727) 445-4159. Follow @jmkliegman.

Tarpon Springs left without planning department 07/01/14 [Last modified: Tuesday, July 1, 2014 9:58pm]
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