On the first work day of the year, there are a number of people in Pasco County who will have a major impact on public policy and the success of our communities. Here are six people to watch in 2013:
Schrader, beginning his 13th year as Pasco commissioner, will wield significant influence as the board picks a new appointed leader for county government for the first time in 31 years. As a reminder of Schrader's authority and skills of persuasion, think back five years ago to the selection of the current county attorney, Jeffrey Steinsnyder. A unanimous commission hired the dark horse candidate in 2007 over a pair of high-profile local contenders after Schrader was the only commissioner to put Steinsnyder on his short list of preferred applicants. Besides picking the overseer of the county administration, Schrader also assumes the role of the county's senior voice on water issues following the retirement of Commissioner Ann Hildebrand.
The Dade City mayor moves from ostracized city commissioner operating from the fringe to a prime role as policy setter for the city. Hernandez was the leading impetus to move a controversial reclaimed water tank project out of the Mickens-Harper neighborhood. She later advocated for the city to consider ending its own police dispatching services, a cost-saving suggestion that likely will be revisited as the Pasco Sheriff's Office studies a similar plan with county firefighters and other cities' public safety departments.
The New Port Richey Council member returned to public office in April and it became apparent that the status quo would be changing. New Port Richey is now looking for a new city manager, after the resignation of John Schneiger in the fall, and for a new vision to jump-start the stalled redevelopment of the Hacienda Hotel building. Phillips, the newest council member, is clearly one of the leaders, along with Deputy Mayor Rob Marlowe, of a board that must find a government manager to guide the city through its continued budget troubles while again trying to lure private investment in the city's downtown.
Amelia Van Name Larson
An education bureaucrat largely unknown to the public, Van Name Larson became a central figure in the 2012 school superintendent's race when she resigned as a district supervisor and her departure resonated as the kind of payback other school administrators feared for perceived political disloyalty. Van Name Larson, however, returned in December as new superintendent Kurt Browning's top assistant for student achievement. It was a significant career leap as Van Name Larson moved from the equivalent of the No. 2 administrator at a school to the No. 2 administrator for the entire district. She and Browning will be the people scrutinized when standardized test scores, school grades and other measures of student performance roll in to the district in the 2013-14 school year.
The president and chief executive officer of the Pasco Economic Development Council is sitting in the catbird's seat. His agency broadened its reach by landing a contract to promote New Port Richey's economic opportunities; the County Commission rewrote its development rules to encourage job growth and voters approved the Penny for Pasco sales tax extension. Beginning in 2015, that tax revenue provides Hagen and other business recruiters with a 10-year, $45 million pot for economic incentives to bring jobs to the county. It will be the role of Hagen and others to match the new resources with growing economic expectations for Pasco County.
The city of Port Richey is attempting to remake its waterfront district and the hands-on leader is City Manager Tom O'Neill. He joined the local government in late 2011 after a successful career in neighboring New Port Richey. O'Neill and the Council recently oversaw the demolition of a dilapidated mobile home park. They now are entertaining changes to outdated parking rules to accommodate proposed commercial development. O'Neill hasn't displayed an interest in empire building or the political machinations that proved to be the undoing of some of his City Hall predecessors. He spent most of his career in public works and is used to accomplishing tasks. The city is the beneficiary of that can-do attitude.