Honest, straight-shooter at helm
By JEFFREY S. SOLOCHEK, Times Staff Writer
BROOKSVILLE -- Karen Radacky could see the turmoil at the top of Hernando County government taking its toll on her husband, Richard.
Richard Radacky, then the deputy county administrator, liked County Administrator Paul McIntosh, Mrs. Radacky said. But he also saw how some of McIntosh's actions were tearing apart the fabric of the system Radacky had served for 17 years.
The allegations of gift-taking bothered Radacky most of all, his wife of 22 years recalled.
"That's one thing the county will never have to worry about" with Radacky at the helm, Mrs. Radacky said. "Because he's never taken squat. Never has, never will."
In choosing McIntosh's permanent replacement, commissioners looked no further than Radacky last week. They said he, more than anyone, had the integrity, loyalty and knowledge to heal the reeling government.
Unlike 21/2 years ago, when he refused to take over after administrator Bonnie Dyga quit, Radacky grabbed the chance, despite his scheduled retirement on June 30, 2004.
"I think it's an opportunity for me to give something back to Hernando County, and I think it's a good way to retire," he explained during an interview a day after accepting the job.
"I want to protect the water resources, and I want to protect and encourage people to respect and enjoy the Nature Coast," said Radacky, 57, an avid hunter and fisherman who served as Pasco County's chief environmental control official from 1974 to 1982. "I'd like to expand our parks. . . . If I had just a wish that I could get, I'd like to see all the utilities under one utility system."
He pledged to get the job done through good communication with commissioners, hands-on leadership in the field with workers, and a simple set of guidelines -- tell the truth, go by the book and take nothing.
"Those are my rules, and it sums it up pretty quick," Radacky said.
Still a country boy
Radacky grew up in rural Levy County, where his grandfather was a blacksmith and his father ran a welding and machine shop.
He remembers with fondness spending time on the springs and rivers, swimming and fishing and catching turtles, and still considers himself a "country boy" at heart. He still returns to Levy County to hunt, fish and, perhaps most important, visit friends and family.
"Family is at the top of the list," Radacky said. "I'm a very, very close family person. I'm proud of my roots, and I've just got a wonderful family."
After graduating from college in 1968, though, jobs were scarce at home, he recalled. So he headed to Tavares, where he became a sanitarian for the Lake County Health Department. He spent three years there, including a six-month stint in the U.S. Army at Fort Polk, La., and Fort Sam Houston, Texas.
"My dad told me when I was searching for careers, "I don't care what you do, don't get into politics,' " Radacky said. "Obviously, I ignored him."
From Tavares, Radacky moved to the Pasco County Health Department, and joined county government as environmental control manager in 1974.
His career in Pasco was bumpy. He met with initial successes cleaning up the county's landfills, putting some controls on the garbage hauling industry and instituting an aquatic weed control program.
But when Radacky tried to convince commissioners that some of the private utilities they wanted to buy were not as valuable as they believed, he ruffled the wrong feathers, he said.
After a government scandal that did not implicate Radacky shook the county, Administrator John Gallagher reorganized the bureaucracy, and the Environmental Control Department was abolished. Gallagher assigned Radacky to organize an East Pasco road and bridge crew.
"Gallagher said, "You were clean. You were honest. You just were the one that got caught up in the whirlwind,' " Radacky said.
Gallagher could not be reached for comment last week.
About a year later, Gallagher brought Radacky back to Port Richey as code enforcement manager. Radacky spent a year in that job before deciding he wanted a "fresh start."
His direct supervisor, James Pillon, had given Radacky nothing but positive reviews, calling Radacky "one of Pasco County's better employees" and "a definite asset to Pasco County." Pillon accepted Radacky's resignation "with regret."
After a year working for the state Department of Environmental Regulation, Radacky came to Hernando County as utilities director.
Jesse Goodwin, currently operations manager for the water and wastewater system, said Radacky immediately proposed changes to reorganize the disorganized department. One of Radacky's most important moves, he said, was to create a subregional system that linked most of the county's wastewater treatment plants.
"He was the first one to come in and add some professionalism," Goodwin said.
Some of Radacky's ideas did not initially sit well with Goodwin. He found them not in his own best interest.
"I said, "Let me think about it.' He said, "You can think about it all you want, but let me know what you're going to do before you leave the room,' " Goodwin recalled.
From that point forward, Goodwin said, his respect for Radacky grew. Radacky was someone with whom you could argue passionately, reach a conclusion and move forward, he said.
"The first thing I think about when I think about Dick is his integrity," Goodwin said. "He's no-nonsense, but he still knows how to deal with the troops in the field. . . . He's not perfect. He's got a temper. But I can't recall him ever disrespecting anyone."
Dyga named Radacky her deputy in 1998. He became administrator last week. All of his performance evaluations have been stellar.
The only problem with Radacky being county administrator, Goodwin said, is that he has only two years before retirement. "He should have had the job a long time ago."
Craig Kitchens, Radacky's commander for six of his 30 years in the Army Reserve, agreed that Radacky deserved the job. In 1980, Kitchens said, he agreed to take over the 301st Field Hospital in St. Petersburg only if Radacky would be his executive officer.
The reason, he said, was simple: Radacky's skills made his job easier.
"He's not just a leader. He's an organizer and a recruiter," Kitchens said. "He's nobody's yes man. Although he served me admirably as my (executive officer) for six years, just because I was his boss didn't mean he would agree with everything I said."
Radacky's different point of view got Kitchens out of potential binds on more than one occasion, he said.
"What he does the best is he shuts up and listens," Kitchens said. "I have seen him lay low in adversarial situations, just sit there and look as dumb as a post for the longest time, letting them hang themselves and then just ask one question that just crumbles them."
The biggest mistake, he said, is to underestimate Radacky.
No time to celebrate
Since taking the top job, Radacky has remained on the run.
He has had no time to update the to-do list on his wall or respond to the dozens of e-mails in his computer.
He has not moved from his small, cramped office into the more spacious administrator's office next door. He didn't even get to have a celebration lunch after his selection Tuesday, because the Legal Department called him back for a meeting.
But handling the daily operations is what Radacky loves best about his job. It basically was his job under McIntosh, while McIntosh handled the big-picture issues.
"One thing that I really want to do is take care of our employees," he said. "We've got a lot of hardworking, dedicated people working here. I want to make sure they've got the tools to do a good job. I intend to go out into the field, watch them work and speak to them. I think that's very much needed."
Radacky acknowledges that finances are his weak spot, but said he doesn't worry because of his faith in budget manager George Zoettlein and finance director Amy Gillis. He admits to not being a planner, but expects planning director Larry Jennings to get the job done.
Reflecting his preferences, Radacky said he would prioritize services such as parks and fire-rescue in his budget recommendations this year.
"If we've got to cut something," he said, "let's look at support or administration. . . . I want to stay lean, mean and a fighting machine."
He promised to learn from his predecessors' mistakes, keeping commissioners in the information loop and assuring employees of their stability in the organization.
And when retirement comes, Radacky said, he will welcome it. He would like to host a television show on hunting and fishing in north-central Florida.
Karen Radacky looks forward to that day, too.
"I support him in everything he does," she said. "He may have a few more late nights, more paperwork to do at home on weekends (as administrator). But we'll get through it, and we'll start fishing and hunting in two years and three months."
-- Information from Times files was used in this report. Jeffrey S. Solochek covers Hernando County government and can be reached at 754-6115. Send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Richard W. Radacky (pronounced ruh-DAS-kee)
Age: 57 Family: Married 22 years. Wife, Karen, is a real estate associate; son Wesley attends Pasco-Hernando Community College; grandson Brandon is about a month old.
Hernando County: deputy administrator, 1998-2002; utilities director, 1986-1998.
Florida Department of Environmental Regulation: environmental administrator, 1984-1985.
Pasco County: code enforcement manager, 1983-1984; public works supervisor, 1982-1983; environmental control manager, 1974-1982.
Also worked for Pasco County Health Department and Lake County Health Department.
Active duty, U.S. Army, 1968-1969; U.S. Army Reserve, retired lieutenant colonel.
Spring Hill, near Veterans Memorial Park, since 1988.
Bachelor's degree (preveterinary curriculum), University of Florida, 1968; associate of arts, Central Florida Junior College, 1965.
© 2006 • All Rights Reserved • Tampa Bay Times
490 First Avenue South St. Petersburg, FL 33701 727-893-8111