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Retirements mark end of an era for county

NEW PORT RICHEY - Editor's note: This is the second in a series on the top stories in Pasco County during 2012 as selected by The Pasco Tribune staff. For much of the past 30 years, Pasco County government has been the very definition of stability. John Gallagher is the state's longest-serving county administrator, and many of his top lieutenants had been with him since he came to Pasco 30 years ago. But that all changed in 2012 as, one by one, key members of Gallagher's leadership team retired. "Just about everybody I hired in 1982 stayed with us for 30 years," Gallagher told the commissioners as they discussed his impending retirement in April.
"We started out kind of inexperienced, and it's OK if you're inexperienced, because if you care you'll end up with the right solution," he said. The departures weren't limited to staff. In November, Commission Chairwoman Ann Hildebrand said goodbye. She chose not to seek re-election after 28 years on the board of commissioners. Hildebrand said she felt privileged to be involved in transforming county government, but she was ready to start a new chapter. "It was a great run," she said. "When I got elected, we were a small county. Now we're a major player in the Tampa Bay area." Commissioners started planning for the brain drain in January, voting to reorganize the top level staff to prepare for the loss of the two men who put together every county budget since 1982. Mike Nurrenbrock, director of the office of management and budget, and budget director Mike Clark both retired this year. Nurrenbrock was recruited by the newly hired Gallagher. They had worked together in New Port Richey and shared the same philosophy about local government. "He cared about public money," Gallagher said. "He watched that very carefully and made sure we always had what we needed." Fire Chief Tony Lopinto retired in July after a 35-year career. When he started as a volunteer firefighter in Hudson at age 17, Lopinto's bunker gear consisted of a rubber raincoat, a helmet and a pair of boots. Lopinto rose through the ranks, beginning as a dispatcher, until he was named chief in 2000. "I made a career out of this job because I think it's the best career in the world," he told the Tribune. Assistant County Administrator Dan Johnson, one of the few staffers who predated Gallagher, was the next to go. He retired in October with 34 years of service to Pasco. "Dan Johnson made public service a proud word to say," Gallagher said. In three months, Community Services Director Adelaida Reyes will retire after 34 years with the county. Gallagher's last day will be April 30. If you're counting, that's 194 years of administrative experience leaving in a 12-month period. Throughout the year, Gallagher and his chief assistant, Michele Baker, have hired a half-dozen new administrators. Some, like Internal Services Director Heather Grimes and Fire Chief Scott Casson, were promoted from within. Others, such as Public Services Director Suzanne Salichs and Budget Director Chris Dorsey, are new to the county. "It's been pretty exciting to interview new people and see if they would buy into our new management style," Gallagher said. It was important to him to choose people who wouldn't use their positions in Pasco County as a "resume builder." "I believe the staff that Michele and I have picked will stay for the next 30 years," he told the commissioners. "I think I'm leaving in good hands."

lkinsler@tampatrib.com (813)371-1852 Twitter: @lkinslerTBO
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