Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Humor, ethics accompanied Gallagher's stability

John Gallagher likes to build stuff. Lately, his county administrator's position has been more about planning stuff. As he prepares to depart county government next spring after 31 years as administrator, the duel focus of his career leaves Pasco well-positioned to replace its prevailing status as bedroom community with that of regional economic player.

Two weeks ago, Gallagher, 65, confirmed his planned departure — likely in April — and the commission now will be searching for a top administrator for the first time since 1982. His steady leadership and drive to get the best deal possible for the public are well-known traits. Ask anybody who sat across from him at the negotiating table or stood at the podium during a Development Review Committee meeting.

More important than extracting concessions from developers, however, was extracting a change in behavior. Gallagher demanded higher ethical standards, ending the deals and favors that brought grand jury scrutiny and arrest of the commission chairman the same year Gallagher was hired.

Paula O'Neil, clerk of the circuit court and county comptroller, recently volunteered that she once tried to brief Gallagher on planned audits of county departments. Gallagher cut her off. Don't tell us, he said. How are you going to find out if something's wrong if they know you're coming?

Gallagher followed rebuilding public faith in government with building the county infrastructure, a task that dominated his early tenure when Pasco Country was a two-laned rural/retirement community.

After voters and commissioners approved higher taxes, Pasco built a network of parks and libraries to greatly enhance the quality of life here. It modernized its utility system, closed a landfill and opened a state-of-the-art incinerator that turned trash into energy. It widened highways. Gallagher was one of the earliest cheerleaders for a proposed toll road to parallel U.S. 19. That route eventually moved slightly east, became the Suncoast Parkway and brought unbridled housing growth after its opening in 2001.

With the boom, though, came legitimate complaints that Pasco ignored its own environmental rules and had become home to the 1,599-home special — housing developments that just skated under the 1,600-unit threshold that triggered greater state scrutiny. Later, push back came from the development community via a 2008 Urban Land Institute study. It criticized county government as a hard-to-deal-with bureaucracy with overbearing regulations that stymied economic expansion. Gallagher admits he didn't expect the outside critique to be so severe.

Internally, the county government moved toward greater accountability on strategic planning, time management and budgeting via an organizational change dubbed LEAP — Lean, Efficient, Accountable Pasco. Then spending constraints forced by the Legislature, voter-approved tax exemptions and falling property values switched the outside focus from building to planning. That ULI study became the impetus for reconsidering how to develop the State Road 54/56 corridor, redevelop the U.S. 19 area and finance future transportation needs.

In that respect, Gallagher is correct in his assessment that he guided Pasco through its adolescence and the county is now ready to blossom.

"It's a new organization and it's time for the new organization to stand on its own,'' he said.

How long has Gallagher been at the top of that administrative flow chart? He has served with 11 different boards and 19 elected commissioners. He has outlived three former county attorneys with whom he worked. He negotiated law enforcement spending with six separate sheriffs.

But, even after 31 years, he has been unable to cross off every item on the to-do list. Ridge Road has not been extended eastward despite nearly two decades of trying. A planned waterfront county park in northwest Pasco faces an uncertain fate because of environmental concerns from a proposed channel dredging. Twenty-one years worth of hotel tax collections remain unspent as commissioners chased evolving and elusive tourist attractions. And the Trinity/Odessa area is without a regional park and library branch despite prior intentions of providing both. Though there has been progress on those last two items, there is still plenty for the next person to do.

Gallagher says his sense of humor aided his career. That, and he knew when to speak to contradict commissioners (privately) and when not to (in the board room).

"People say I don't talk a lot in commission meetings,'' Gallagher said, pausing before delivering the one-word punch line that doubles as his most impressive attribute.


Editorial: Tighten substitute teacher rules in Hillsborough

Editorial: Tighten substitute teacher rules in Hillsborough

A substitute teacher at a Plant City elementary school berated a class of fourth graders — and then the school principal. Another compared a student to a stripper. Others were caught napping, hitting children, making sexual remarks, giving students b...
Updated: 10 hours ago
Editorial: Balancing the playing field for workers’ compensation

Editorial: Balancing the playing field for workers’ compensation

For the longest time, injured workers in Florida were basically at the mercy of the whims of employers to treat them fairly. A 2003 law aimed at reducing the cost of workers’ compensation coverage for businesses had the desired impact, but it also di...
Published: 01/16/18

Another voice: Why just Florida?

Cynicism has always been a part of politics, but rarely are politicians so brazen and self-serving as President Donald Trump and his interior secretary, Ryan Zinke, have been over the past week. First they announced a new offshore drilling plan that ...
Published: 01/16/18
Editorial: King’s legacy still relevant in digital age

Editorial: King’s legacy still relevant in digital age

Today’s holiday honoring the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. couldn’t be more timely. At a moment when the nation’s civic dialogue is choking on personal and political division, it is hard to remember an earlier time when role models were role m...
Published: 01/15/18

Another voice: 38 minutes of fear in Hawaii

In 1938, Orson Welles panicked the nation with a false alarm about a Martian invasion in the radio broadcast The War of the Worlds. That was farfetched, of course. But what happened on Saturday, sadly, was not so hard to imagine — or believe.Authorit...
Updated: 11 hours ago
Editorial: Florida’s chance to make it easier to restore civil rights

Editorial: Florida’s chance to make it easier to restore civil rights

As it has for decades, Florida stubbornly clings to an inhumane, inefficient and indefensible system of justice that permanently sentences more than 1.5 million residents to second-class citizenship. This state automatically revokes the right to vote...
Published: 01/13/18
Editorial: Speak out against Trump’s vulgar remarks

Editorial: Speak out against Trump’s vulgar remarks

President Donald Trump’s vulgar outbursts during a White House meeting on immigration are racist and indefensible no matter how he parses them. They are not presidential, they undermine U.S. foreign relations and they do not reflect America’s values....
Published: 01/12/18

Editorial: Pinellas commission stands up for accountability

The Pinellas County Commission has gotten the message that it should not be a rubber stamp. Commissioners sent a clear signal this week they will demand more accountability of local agencies by refusing to approve nominees for the board for CareerSou...
Published: 01/11/18
Updated: 01/12/18

Editorial: Progress on Tampa Bay graduation rates

Tampa Bay’s four school districts all reached a significant milestone last school year: achieving graduation rates over 80 percent. It’s believed to be the first time Pinellas, Hillsborough, Pasco and Hernando counties all surpassed that threshold, a...
Published: 01/11/18
Updated: 01/12/18

Take deal; build wall

President Donald Trump says he is optimistic a deal can be struck to shield "Dreamers," the young undocumented immigrants whose lives he put in jeopardy by stripping them of work permits and deportation protection, beginning March 5. His price, and t...
Published: 01/10/18
Updated: 01/11/18