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Wednesday, Jun 20, 2018
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Jackson: Mike Olson excelled at his job

October may not mean much in the march of seasons hereabouts, but our steady cadence through the calendar could not deny the sense of change that perfumed the air ahead of the most recent Election Day. John Gallagher, the Gibraltar of Citizen Drive, was charging to the finish of his retirement marathon (with countless assistants lined up in a gun-lap draft). Mike Wells, the venerable property assessor, was in his final re-election campaign. Commissioner Ann Hildebrand, the consummate short-timer, already had one happy foot in Alabama. And Hildebrand's colleagues Pat Mulieri and Ted Schrader already had announced they would not seek additional terms. Given all that, plus his similarly extended service to Pasco County and perpetual confusion with his assessor's office counterpart, it was hardly unexpected that Olson's name would wind up in the pool of pending retirees.
v vA solitary figure in the rear of one more look-alike clubhouse, his gray suit pressed and his hands clasped at his back as he waited out his turn during an all-comers candidates forum, Olson, 68 and the only tax collector most Pasco residents have known, scowled only a moment when he was asked (for the umpteenth time, apparently), whether he was interested in making news about his future plans. Those baccalaureate roasts don't plan themselves, after all. Composing himself, Olson peered down from his small forward's height and, in a voice just above a whisper, settled the matter: "I don't know where those rumors get started, but I'm not planning to go anywhere. "There's still a lot I want to get accomplished. We still have plans we need to implement." Those plans, especially the construction of new satellite offices, were central to the 2012 campaign, but so was this: "Besides, I still have lots of energy. I like doing this job, and the people of Pasco County like how I do it." v vElection Day reaffirmed Olson's gauge of his constituents' sympathies, voters resoundingly returning him to office for the ninth time over the challenge of Republican Ed Blommel, a likable and accomplished retired TECO executive. But life is by turns rhapsodic and cruel, as we'd recently seen in the untimely death of longtime Land O' Lakes High football coach John Benedetto. Two weeks ago, Olson joined the ranks of the gone-too-soon, claimed, like Benedetto, by a stroke. So change comes with a forceful reminder that we are not always in charge of our fate. Olson was the last of a breed, an unrepentant Democrat in a county that had shifted from blue to red. Despite this rolling earthquake, the man once regarded as the godfather of Pasco politics survived for a variety of reasons. Yes, he was an astute and studious politician, but so was his west Pasco protégé, former Pasco County Commissioner Michael Cox. But Cox, a wonk's wonk, loves to wage war in the arena of public philosophy, where the winds of opinion blow strongest, explaining Cox's electoral status. Olson pitched his tent on unsexy territory that rewards proficiency, stewardship and client service. On those fronts, Olson was unassailable, as Mrs. Jackson, an efficiency expert herself, would readily attest. Despite a New Tampa address, when her activities required a tax collector's expertise - they dispense identity cards for juveniles; did you know that? - she beat it across the county line, where her gas and travel time were richly rewarded. Oh, odd challengers could haul out the occasional disgruntled ex-employee to take shots at the tax collector's magisterial demeanor, but where the rubber met the road - or more to the point, the pen met the signature line on a check - Olson was the one competent guy in public office you didn't change. Never mind that he oversaw the least gratifying aspect of government's interaction with the governed. The folks who populate Olson's offices have for more than a generation made the task tolerable, if not downright satisfying. In this, Olson's employees rendered a flattering reflection on their boss. That said, at such times we are reminded about the adage linking cemeteries and the indispensable. We have lost Olson, but because the man understood the blessings of momentum, somehow Pasco County can be counted on to sort out the business of carrying on his work. Olson's proper legacy, then, will be that his office continues to do it well, no matter who winds up in the role of successor. [email protected] (813) 371-1851 www.Facebook.com/TomJackson Tribune Twitter: @tjacksonTBO
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