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Chamber rehires a sure thing

(ran West edition)

So many people asked the former executive director to take back her old job that she decided to try it.

After five months away, Rita Bott has decided to return as executive director of the Pinellas Park/Mid-County Chamber of Commerce.

"Emotionally, I could not tear myself away," Bott said Tuesday. "When I would go back to some function, I would have this warm feeling. . . . I'm very, very excited."

This time around, Bott's goal is to act as an "explorer" to bring more people from all walks of life into the chamber. Then the chamber can act as a matchmaker to pair those people with city, school and private projects.

"I've actually written a lot of notes, things I want to do, people I want to talk to," she said.

News of Bott's return brought joy, with council members and others gleefully spreading the news.

"We needed her steady hand back at the tiller," Pinellas Park council and chamber member Ed Taylor said. "I'm very pleased to see her return."

Taylor likened Bott to a tightrope walker who makes the job look so easy that it appears anyone could do it. But the truth is that few can, he said. That's why the chamber search committee was unable to find someone to replace her.

"She's a very sweet gal, no doubt about it, (and) very good at what she does," Taylor said. "She did a great job."

Bott had worked at the chamber for 23 years when she left last spring to work with the Academy of Senior Professionals at Eckerd College _ retired professionals who hold discussion groups and other activities and volunteer at the college.

"I have enjoyed it there," said Bott, 54. "It's a very nice thing. I'm so glad I got to find out about that and know about it."

Even though she enjoyed the job and wanted to look to the future rather than the past, Bott said, she missed Pinellas Park and its chummy atmosphere.

Finally, when she walked into a Pinellas Park Rotary Club meeting a few weeks ago and was greeted at the door with, "Oh, Rita, why don't you come back? Just come back" and "Come back, everyone would welcome you with open arms," she decided to consider the possibility.

She met with the search committee and talked about her frustrations with the job, mainly the routine tasks that cut into her time for more important duties such as membership recruitment.

The committee told her, "Come back and do the things you think need to be done."

Bott agreed.

Her vision goes further than recruitment. Bott sees the chamber, an amalgam of business, union and government leaders, acting as a broker for pairing doers with jobs _ ranging from memberships on government and civic committees, to serving as volunteers at schools, to finding people to help dig ditches.

She believes such a thing is possible only because Pinellas Park has such a strong sense of community.

"It is that sense of family," she said. "That's what I want to do, is tie everybody together. . . . I haven't had the luxury of making that my focus. They're telling me I do. So I'm going to come back and take them up on this."

It will take time, Bott said, and a lot of visiting people and businesses. But it's worth it, she said.

"I'm coming," Bott said. "I'm going to be out there. Watch out."