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City finance administrator plans to head for the hills

One of Mayor David Fischer's top administrators is trading his job as the city's financial guru to build a mountain home and spend time with his family.

John F. Habgood, 55, will retire May 29 as the city's fiscal administrator after 26 years working his way through the ranks of St. Petersburg City Hall. Habgood shared the news with his staff earlier this week, saying the city is in sound financial shape and that his colleagues are prepared to take over his responsibilities.

"I've been gearing up for this for some time," he said Friday. "I'm going to enjoy having some time off."

City Administrator Darrel Stephens said it would be early next week before he and the mayor are prepared to answer questions about who will replace Habgood, who earns $99,597 annually.

Stephens and other city officials praised Habgood's expertise, saying he played a key role in the financing plan for Tropicana Field and other major downtown development projects.

Habgood's colleagues describe him as a hands-on manager who doesn't hesitate to get involved.

"I was just hoping he would be around a few more years," said budget director Tish Elston, who works for Habgood. "He's just got a wealth of information about things that have been done in the city in the past."

Habgood got a bachelor's degree in forestry from the University of Florida in 1966 and a master's degree in business in 1972. That May, he started as a city planner, moving up through the economic development department and into fiscal planning about 10 years ago.

"We probably won't ever have another city fiscal guy who is a forest ranger," said Andy Houston, the city's employee relations director. "He's a good, solid city person."

Habgood lists among his accomplishments helping to resolve zoning disputes in what is now Isla Del Sol, working to land the Salvador Dali Museum and annexing the Carillon area. He said he was happy to have been part of the city's transformation "into a city on the move."

For the next few months, Habgood will spend time with his wife, play the stock market and get started building a house in Cashiers, N.C. After about a year, he said, he will reevaluate whether he can afford to stay retired.

"I don't think I'll miss some of the pressure and the deadlines," he said. "I am kind of looking forward to doing some things on my own schedule. I can play now."

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