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Pasco Economic Development Council enters awkward age

The people investing in Pasco County's economic future decided this week to tweak the very first initiative of their new strategic plan: providing leadership. By forcing out Mary Jane Stanley, the 10-year president and chief executive officer of the Pasco Economic Development Council, the group's directors signaled the status quo no longer is acceptable.

The timing certainly is odd, coming just a day before T. Rowe Price closed on 94 acres off State Road 54 for what is envisioned as a multibuilding campus to employ up to 1,600 workers over the next decade. Government and business leaders hope the company's relocation is the first significant step toward keeping more of Pasco's commuting work force closer to their residences.

And Stanley's recent candor with a business magazine reporter who quoted her making disparaging remarks about the county's permitting process shouldn't be held against her. Development council directors and other business representatives have made similar statements for years, and the county and economic group split the cost of an Urban Land Institute Study in 2008 that validated much of the criticism about government inefficiency.

More to the point, Stanley's departure is part of the growing pains associated with the pending reorganization of the development council, which plans to move from oversight by an elected board to being directed by its largest investors contributing at least $10,000 a year. Asking the private sector to bring more cash to the table is accompanied by expectations that those same executives will want a bigger say over exactly who is running the show. That person apparently is somebody else.

Little is being said officially about Stanley's forced resignation, which came with no notice, but includes a severance package — the terms of which are not being revealed. That is unfortunate. By accepting an annual $430,500 subsidy of county taxpayers' money, the council has a duty to provide a better accounting to the public of its personnel and financial decisions regardless of its legal status as a private, nonprofit group.

This is not uncharted territory for the council. Its predecessor, the Committee of 100, also parted ways with its executive director when it recast itself in the mid 1990s. Installing new leadership is a common trait in any business reorganization.

Two challenges await. For starters, the development council must find a replacement for Stanley to lead the group in a more aggressive effort to lure high-value jobs within Pasco's borders. Also, financial contributions from the private sector must be more in line with the public donations as Pasco County government confronts a nearly $36 million budget shortfall. The council's goal is to increase its private sector buy-in from $218,000 to $536,000 over the next 15 months.

It is understood a recession is a difficult time to push a fundraising initiative. But, the business interests advocating a change in command at the staff level should be willing to demonstrate their own financial leadership as well.

Pasco Economic Development Council enters awkward age 07/01/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, July 1, 2009 8:39pm]
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