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Growth czar out after 4 years

When Gov. Jeb Bush asked his top staffers to think about whether they wanted to work for him for a second term, Steve Seibert did. And he decided his answer was no.

On Friday, the growth management czar became the first high-ranking state official to announce his plans to part company with Bush. Seibert, a former Pinellas County commissioner, has served as Department of Community Affairs secretary for four years.

Seibert's decision came days after Bush asked for the resignations of all his top staffers as he prepares the transition to his second term.

But Seibert said the choice was his own and was inspired by his desire to try something new.

"If I stay on through the transition, I will be tied for second for the longest-serving secretary," said Seibert, 47, who has no specific plans for what to do next.

Bush said Saturday that Seibert's departure came as a surprise.

"Steve did a fine job as secretary of DCA. He improved our relationships with local government by assisting more and dictating less," Bush said.

"We improved an already good emergency operations center, and he implemented the Front Porch program," Bush added, referring to a state program to revitalize cities' urban cores.

Seibert said he does not plan to return to Pinellas County, but instead stay in Tallahassee, where he has children in school. He hopes to remain involved in growth management issues, particularly water.

"I would love to teach," said Seibert, a former adjunct professor of land use law at Stetson University.

Seibert was as surprised as anyone when Bush tapped him to lead the state's growth management agency in 1999. He was a sitting county commissioner from the state's most overbuilt and crowded county.

And before that, he made his money as a lawyer for developers seeking to build shopping centers and new homes on what little green space was left in Pinellas.

But it didn't hurt that he was twice endorsed by the local Sierra Club and played a key role in forging the landmark regional water agreement, which ended the decades-old Tampa Bay water wars. Seibert was often praised as one of the people who kept the deal from disintegrating.

He took over an agency that had been criticized as ineffective and overly bureaucratic, and became known for building consensus rather than carrying a big stick.

Bush's priorities for the first term were to revamp the state's growth management plan and revitalize the urban cores of Florida's cities long beaten down by crime and drugs, inferior schools and general neglect.

Earlier this year, the Legislature passed Florida's first growth management revamp in years. Under the new law, commissioners in Florida's 67 counties are required to plan growth with their local school districts, and local governments have to ensure there will be enough drinking water for any approved growth.

Critics say the growth law does not require local governments to deny development permits if there are not enough classrooms or water available.

But Seibert has said it's an important step in getting local governments to work with one another.

"Most decisions that matter to people are made at the local or community level, and it's in our collective best interest to make those the wisest decisions possible" with the state's help, Seibert said.

_ Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.