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Bowen: Pasco administrator sets out to do the impossible — for fun

Pasco County Administrator Dan Biles, right, speaks with his predecessor Michele Baker during a May 2 budget workshop.
Pasco County Administrator Dan Biles, right, speaks with his predecessor Michele Baker during a May 2 budget workshop.
Published May 17, 2017

Dan Biles draws inspiration from Walt Disney.

''It's kind of fun to do the impossible.''

The quotation is on a placard sitting on a shelf in Biles' office. It was a gift from colleagues during his time as public works director in Corpus Christi, Texas.

"I love that quote,'' Biles said, "and it is fun to do something that nobody thinks you can do.''

Disney isn't his only motivation. Biles' Twitter account shows frequent posts about leadership and performance.

That's basically the reason for his new role. Being a leader and getting things done — whether impossible or not — are why he is now Pasco County administrator, managing a 2,300-employee, billion-dollar enterprise delivering services to the public.

Biles' background in building infrastructure, private development and his command positions with the Air Force led county commissioners to hire him away from Jefferson County, Ala., eight weeks ago. This is his third week on the job and his first going solo after the departure last week of retiring administrator Michele Baker.

Most of his time has been spent building a budget to present to commissioners in July. It means matching the demand for services with available resources, even when you don't yet know what those resources will be. The preliminary tax roll from Property Appraiser Gary Joiner isn't due until the end of the month.

After the number crunching come more numbers.

Biles wants to see every fire station. There are 26 of them, counting a few staffed by volunteers. Biles figures it will take 18 to 24 months to visit them all and chat with the rank and file. Then he'll start again.

He plans to tour every park. He's anxious to view the cool stuff going on inside the library branches. He looks forward to talking to the front-line employees and the residents who are the county's customers.

What he doesn't want to do is be handcuffed to the desk in his third-floor corner office of the West Pasco Government Center. Even if the office trappings include the Disney motivator; a 12th man commemorative from his alma mater, Texas A&M University and a coin collection that includes a bottle cap from a Texas-brewed black lager that isn't available outside the Lone Star State.

Biles said he was drawn to the administrator's job by Pasco County's current operations, the municipal services it provides to nearly half a million people, and — let's not kid ourselves here — the warm weather. (He had some familiarity with Florida because of his late father's roots in Fort Pierce.)

Departing isn't in the plans, as attested to by the message he tweeted after five days on the job.

"Week one of 1,040 down (God, family & BoCC willing); and a good week it was here in #pascocounty.''

Do the math and you figure Biles, 49, is planning a 20-year career here if current and future commissioners agree.

"I don't see myself retiring to the golf course and the house until, you know, 69 or 70 or longer,'' he said.

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He commended Baker's leadership legacy — the people she put in key roles and the strategic plan developed by commissioners and administrators to set goals and measure the successes at achieving them.

"They've done a lot of innovative stuff that you generally don't see when you look at the majority of local governments out there,'' Biles said.

In other words, the county has set itself up for success, and that made Pasco County attractive to Biles.

Biles also has to pick some leaders of his own.

Two of the five assistant county administrators currently have "interim'' in their title. Strategic policy administrator Richard Gehring, the county's big picture guy, retires this summer, and Pasco again is searching for a tourism director after recently hired Doug Traub departed after just three months.

The biggest challenge ahead is handling growth, Biles said, particularly in an area that had an estimated 15,000 new residents move in during the past few years.

"How do you do that and accommodate them in our parks, in our libraries and in our other services?''

Indeed. It is a question that gets asked frequently, but rarely is answered adequately.

He is getting accustomed to the place. He mispronounced Lutz, rhyming it with "nuts" instead of "boots." No big deal, really. Gov. Rick Scott did the same thing during his fifth year in office.

Biles also is going to have to figure out what to do for fun, besides the impossible. He gave up golf, but he does own two kayaks. Camping, bicycling and hiking trips got pushed aside years ago because he and his wife, Mandy, spent more than a decade of weekends at soccer pitches, ball fields and track meets watching their four children compete. The youngest graduates high school next week and then will enroll at Auburn University.

So, Biles has to decide how to fill his spare time. If he has any. He spent his initial weekends at brush fires.

It's not the way he imagined getting to know the Starkey Wilderness Park.

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