Pasco County's population doubled since Ann Hildebrand joined the county commission and this week Hildebrand's political career finally outgrew the District 3 commission seat she has held for 27 years.
Without acknowledging a desire to run for a specific office, Hildebrand announced the next 12 months will be her final year on the commission dais. The county has been well-served by this progressive Republican whose political opposition often came from within her own party.
She is not leaving public life. Voters can anticipate the strong likelihood of seeing Hildebrand's name on the 2012 ballot, perhaps in a state legislative race after redistricting is complete. In the meantime, it is fair to reflect on her lengthy list of accomplishments that modernized the county's infrastructure, protected its environment, advocated for its needy and tried to reshape its construction- and services-oriented economy.
Think of Pasco County in 1984 when its population was less than 235,000 people and Hildebrand's own commission district was a compact piece of west Pasco filled with northern retirees.
What libraries existed were largely holes in the wall with few periodicals. Youth football, baseball and soccer teams all competed for time on the same spits of turf. There was no Trinity or Meadow Pointe. The county buried its garbage in a leaky landfill. Bruce B. Downs Boulevard was derisively called the ''road to nowhere'' while elsewhere bumper-to-bumper traffic inched along two-laned roads whenever the snowbirds returned for the winter. People lamented land preservation because it took property off the tax rolls and Pasco was routinely beaten up by its larger neighbors on the regional issues of water and transportation.
Look around today. Growth brought roughly a quarter-million additional residents to new communities across the county, but Pasco is well positioned to serve its population. There are parks for athletes, bicyclists, nature lovers, campers, swimmers, walkers and even dog owners. The local libraries are nationally recognized for their innovative programs. The steam from a trash incinerator is sold for energy. The county pledged a share of its impact fees and sales tax dollars to help the state accelerate construction of a better highway system while simultaneously turning its own narrow roads into multilane parkways.
Meanwhile, Pasco grew to become a significant player in the region, having been instrumental in creating Tampa Bay Water to curb parochial water disputes. Now, it is trying to nudge the region toward better mass transit.
It is a long list and Hildebrand played a key role in all of it. She and other commissioners lobbied aggressively for the 1986 voter referendums to build those parks and libraries. She did so again in 2004, tolerating the scorn from the conservative wing of the GOP, by championing the Penny for Pasco sales tax to add school classrooms, make roads safer, preserve land, and buy public safety equipment. She also represents Pasco on Tampa Bay Water and the TBARTA transit authority since the creation of those agencies.
Most importantly, Hildebrand brings the perspective of a former social worker to a board often dominated by private businessmen. In past years, she persuaded the county to boost allocations to outside charities, brokered a deal to keep obstetric care available to needy women, helped develop the Good Samaritan Health Clinic and lobbied to bring the PACE school for troubled girls to Pasco County.
"It's bitter sweet,'' Hildebrand said Friday, "but I can't let the grass grow under my feet. I have to see what other opportunities are out there.''
Grass growing? Not with a resume of accomplishments like that.
The career opportunities she seeks now won't overshadow the opportunities for an enhanced quality of life she has already delivered to her constituents.