Ray Gadd's handiwork was all over the Pasco County Commission chambers Tuesday morning in Dade City — 18 hours after he found out he was unemployed.
Gadd, a Pasco School District assistant superintendent, wasn't at the meeting, but two of his notable efforts merited attention from the commission — an ordinance tying new home construction to available classroom space and a discussion of co-location of county parks and school sites as is proposed for the Connerton development in Land O'Lakes.
Certainly Gadd did not work alone on these matters but his leadership, energy and behind-the-scenes cajoling helped turn them into realities. Nor did he labor alone on the successful campaign for the Penny for Pasco sales tax increase in 2004 that brought an influx of new money for roads, schools, public safety and preservation of environmentally sensitive land. He just headed up the fundraising and political campaign on behalf of the School District and then absorbed public criticism for doing so.
He did not work solo in acquiring land and overseeing construction of 20 news schools over the past half-dozen years to ease classroom crowding and to bank space for future school sites. It was a team effort, but Gadd was at the head of the team. He is a policy wonk with technical expertise in school planning and became the guy designated to butt heads with county attorneys, administrators and private lawyers over school sites, nearby road improvements and other thorny issues.
He was keen on involving the community on the front end to head off potential critical backlash on such things as new school boundaries, impact fees or building a new school in an established urban area.
He was so good at these responsibilities, it cost him his job. Superintendent Heather Fiorentino declined to renew his contract this week. The termination comes seven months after her re-election and her post campaign statement that "There's not going to be a paradigm shift here. It's going to be continuing on the steady course and working together so we can continue to make our School District one of the best in Florida for our students.''
They are hollow words. Her decision, likely motivated to remove a perceived political threat, has damaged her own standing within the community and with a majority of the Pasco School Board.
It's worth noting Fiorentino, in dismissing Gadd, repeated the same vernacular "going in a new direction'' that Pasco Sheriff Bob White used in his post-election decision to remove hold-overs from a past administration in favor of patronage appointments. We're curious to see the superintendent's definition of a new direction because the universal perception is backward.
"Everything that falls under his job description is done well, done effectively and done without out a lot of controversy because he knows how to involve people,'' said School Board member Joanne Hurley, Gadd's neighbor and fellow Penny for Pasco campaigner. "I'm shocked at Heather.''
There is no rationalization for this pink slip after 28 years of public service, but Hurley's comment illustrates Fiorentino's shortcomings contrasted to Gadd's strengths. He cultivates relationships — even across party lines — and puts them to use for the good of the district. He supports Democratic candidates for statewide office, but he played host to a fundraiser for then-Republican Supervisor of Elections Kurt Browning. He also owns one of the special deputy badges distributed to the supporters of White, Pasco's Republican sheriff. Four of the five board members have strong bonds to Gadd, while Fiorentino's only true loyalist on the board is longtime pal Frank Parker.
"I don't feel any embarrassment,'' Gadd said of his expired contract. "I think it is political. I'll let my record stand. I'm very proud of what we've been able to accomplish.''
And the suggestion he will run for superintendent in 2012?
"I honestly wasn't planning on it. In three years, I'll be 55 years old. I don't know if I want to start a career as superintendent when other superintendents at that age are getting out of the business.''
The public is the loser in this. Fiorentino's poor judgment, clouded by political paranoia, has cost the Pasco School District a dedicated public servant whose broad job description can be boiled down to this: Improving the quality of life for Pasco's parents and school children.