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DEVELOPMENT BOARD CULLING CEO FINALISTS

The council plans to name a new leader for the semiprivate group in October.

Officials with the Pasco Economic Development Council say they hope to choose a new chief executive officer from six finalists by next month.

"We have a great opportunity with all the different things going on with the county rewriting the land development code and with additional funds to bring in another large scale business," said Wilton Simpson, an east Pasco egg farmer and chairman of the six-member search committee, as well as incoming chairman of the public-private partnership's board. "We don't want to miss this opportunity."

Simpson declined to name the finalists but said the group received 68 resumes after the job was advertised on five trade-related Web sites. Five were interviewed in August, and the committee expects to do additional interviews this month before naming a CEO in October.

John Walsh, the board's interim CEO, confirmed he has been interviewed and invited back for a second interview. Former Pasco schools assistant superintendent Ray Gadd, considered by some high-ranking officials to be a strong contender, said he received an e-mail inviting him to an interview in October.

The group has been without a permanent leader since July, when it parted ways with Mary Jane Stanley after 10 years. Her resignation came at a time when the county was working to lure financial giant T. Rowe Price and as it was beginning to wean itself off government money in favor of private donations. The council gets nearly half its $930,000 budget from Pasco County taxpayers.

Simpson said members wanted to update the public on the search for Stanley's replacement because the job is such an important one.

"There have been a lot of people asking about the process and when it's going to be over," he said. "A lot people are anxious to know the winner and get the new person on board."

Simpson said that though the group is shooting for October, it does not have a hard and fast deadline.

"We're on the right path, and we're trying to get the right candidate," he said.

Whoever lands the job will work with a restructured agency. The new group will be steered by a policy council of members who invest at least $25,000 in the agency. A board of directors will include investors of $10,000 to $25,000.

Four of those policy council members were announced Tuesday at the council's annual banquet.

They are Arthur Kirk, president of Saint Leo University; John Couris, administrator and chief operating officer of Morton Plant North Bay Hospital in New Port Richey; John Harding, president and chief executive officer of Florida Hospital Zephyrhills; and Dewey Mitchell, real estate agent and member of the pioneer Mitchell family.

Lisa Buie can be reached at buie@sptimes.com or (813) 909-4604.

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