GOWERS CORNER — Pat Mulieri got her first taste of politics as a community activist who led the fight against plans for a medical waste incinerator in her neighborhood.
She was the gadfly who fought Goliath in what seemed like an impossible task. Little did she know then that she would spend the next two decades shaping policy on the Board of County Commissioners.
The first year was difficult and not always pleasant, she said. She found the transition from English professor to politician disconcerting — especially adjusting to Florida’s strict Sunshine laws.
“I would be talking to Ann (Hildebrand), and she would have to stop me and say we can’t talk about that because we might vote on it,” Mulieri said. “It was a sharp learning curve. I can see the importance of it now. We’re hired by the public.”
Now that she’s entering her 20th and final year on the board, Mulieri took a few minutes to reflect on her time and goals.
“I’m not sad,” she said. “For everything, there’s a season.”
As the commissioner for central Pasco, Mulieri was heavily involved in the negotiations for The Shops at Wiregrass. For three years, commissioners debated how much money to contribute toward transportation improvements for the Wiregrass project. They ultimately settled on $42 million — but it almost didn’t pass.
“The Shops at Wiregrass was very iffy,” Mulieri recalls. “It was a 3-2 vote. That was a really difficult project, and look at how wonderful it turned out. The mall has done so much and served as a nucleus for the area.”
It was that negotiation in 2007 that led Mulieri to fight so hard for Michele Baker as the next county administrator. Without Baker’s involvement, the mall deal could have fallen apart, she said.
“I wanted Michele to have a chance to spread her wings,” she said. “I thought it was important. We were in flux — we had so many changes, and I felt like we needed a bridge.”
She has been a voice for Pasco’s homeless population, an issue that reached epidemic proportions in 2011 when the county had the highest per capita homeless population in the state. Working with public defender Bob Dillenger, she helped bring the first mobile medical unit to serve Pasco’s poor and homeless. The county still lacks transitional housing and other services for the homeless.
“I was very disappointed that Gov. (Rick) Scott vetoed the money for Metropolitan Ministries,” she said.
Mulieri’s latest cause is the county’s Animal Services division. Over the last few years, she has become a frequent volunteer at the county’s animal shelter and helped raise the profile of its adoption program by fostering shelter animals.
“I wish I’d gotten active with Animal Services sooner,” she said.
Mulieri hopes in her last year to see construction resume on Cypress Creek Town Center. Another unfinished goal: to see the county win approval for the Ridge Road extension.
“I used to think we were just throwing money down a black hole,” she said. “If you want to move people and services, you have to be able to move people. We have to have good infrastructure.”