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Swiftmud boss may take new job running South Florida water agency, overseeing Everglades

Published Jul. 11, 2013

Two years ago, Blake Guillory took over as executive director of the Southwest Florida Water Management District and sparked controversy by slashing the staff.

Now he may be leaving to take over the much larger South Florida Water Management District, which would put him in charge of the multibillion-dollar Everglades restoration project.

The board of the South Florida water agency is due to discuss filling its open executive director position today.

Guillory, 52, has been living in Jupiter during his two-year tenure running the agency commonly known as Swiftmud, which oversees water supplies in a 16-county region that includes Pinellas, Pasco, Hillsborough and Hernando counties.

"The commute has been pretty rough," he said Wednesday. "We had seriously considered moving."

However, he said, when the Florida Senate failed to confirm his appointment, he and his wife held off buying a house in the Brooksville area, and he continued commuting from the Atlantic coast every week.

In May, the boss of the South Florida water agency, Melissa Meeker, abruptly resigned after just two years on the job, announcing she was taking a post with an environmental consulting firm in Stuart. During her tenure, she crafted an $880 million plan to clean up pollution in the Everglades aimed at resolving a long legal battle with the federal government.

When Meeker quit, "I just made their board chairman aware that I am available," Guillory said. He makes $165,000 a year, the most possible for that position — and that's the most he can make in the new job, by order of Gov. Rick Scott.

"I'll miss him terribly" if he gets the job, said Carlos Beruff, a Bradenton homebuilder who chairs the Swiftmud board. "He's done a lot of good for the district."

Even before he started at Swiftmud, Guillory had sent two of his deputy executive directors and the agency's longtime attorney packing, and then demoted a third deputy director.

After Scott and the Legislature slashed the budgets of all five of the state's water districts, Guillory oversaw the layoffs of about 150 more employees. He said the agency has about 580 employees, down from 740 when he started, but is hiring again, targeting scientists, engineers and computer modeling experts.

Before Swiftmud, Guillory had no government experience. He was vice president of the engineering firm Brown & Caldwell, which he said worked on a number of Everglades-related projects so he's familiar with the restoration program. He has master's degrees in business and engineering from the University of South Florida.


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