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Background of county's new No. 2 a varied one

The incoming assistant county administrator will draw on extensive engineering and military experience.

By WILL VAN SANT
© St. Petersburg Times
published December 22, 2002


Eagle County, Colo., has the Rocky Mountains. Hernando County has the Brooksville Ridge.

Eagle County has the world renowned Vail ski resort. Hernando County has Weeki Wachee Springs.

Eagle County has George Roussos as an assistant county administrator. Hernando County will, too -- soon.

On Jan. 14, Roussos, 55, will put Colorado behind him to become Hernando County's deputy administrator.

In Eagle County on Friday, Roussos was packing up after eight years of service. As a reporter spoke with Roussos on the phone, co-workers stopped by to offer farewell gifts -- a piece of Colorado marble for his rock collection, a poinsettia.

"I didn't think they got that big," Roussos said of the plant, before noting that the goodbyes left him somewhat emotional.

"A lot of people are really happy for me," he said. "They don't want me to leave."

Helen Migchelbrink is Eagle County's engineer, a job held by Roussos until 2000, when he stepped into the assistant administrator role. Migchelbrink said Roussos supported her bid to land the job, and now she's one of only a handful of female county engineers in the country.

"He is probably the most fair and unbiased person I have ever known," she said. "Once he knows that a person can do the job, he backs them all the way."

Though Eagle County seems to have the edge when it comes to mountains and resorts, Roussos, a practicing Greek Orthodox his entire life, says the Tampa Bay area has something else: a niece in Clearwater, a godchild in Dunedin and a large Greek Orthodox community boasting numerous places of worship.

"He is a very spiritual person," Migchelbrink said. "And he is very dedicated to his Greek lineage."

Haitho Georgatos, Roussos' niece, said Eagle County was somewhat isolated. Roussos has to drive quite a ways to church, and it takes three hours to drive to Denver, the closest metropolitan center. Georgatos said she has teased him about coming to Florida, or "paradise," as she calls it when talking to her uncle.

"We are thrilled to have him," Georgatos said. "But then, I'm prejudiced. He's my favorite."

Keen attention has been paid to the vacant deputy post in Hernando. Many observers of local government have speculated that whoever landed the job would have the inside track to succeed Richard Radacky as county administrator when Radacky retires, as expected, in 2004.

Roussos beat three other finalists for the job. County development services director Grant Tolbert was among them. On Tuesday, Commissioner Diane Rowden, who backed Tolbert, was the lone board member to vote against ratifying Radacky's choice of Roussos for the job, which will pay $88,000 a year.

Radacky defended his selection by pointing to the broad sweep of Roussos' experience. And while Rowden did not bend, even she has said his background was impressive.

Roussos grew up on New York's Upper West Side. He left the city at age 17 to study engineering at Georgia Tech.

With Vietnam heating up, the 22-year-old Roussos joined the Navy. He spent 20 years in the Navy's Civil Engineer Corps, serving in assignments across the globe and rising to the rank of commander.

His time in the military included a three-year stint with the State Department. During that period, Roussos directed a naval unit responsible for doing construction work in sensitive areas of American embassies worldwide.

After leaving the Navy, Roussos pursued a doctorate in water resources engineering at the University of Texas at Austin. The degree has not been awarded, and Roussos said he is unlikely to complete it.

A series of engineering posts in the private sector followed, culminating with a job as head of engineering planning for the Navajo Nation. In that position, which he held from 1993 to 1995, Roussos focused on water resources, directing pipeline, flood control and drought planning projects.

"The Navajo assignment was real interesting," Roussos said. "Nothing I could ever do could make me Navajo. You had to build their trust."

Roussos came to Eagle County to become its engineer in 1995. Some of his family had moved to the area from Tampa in the early 1980s to work in the oil business.

Of the assignments he has had in Colorado, a 33-mile rail corridor project linking the town of Glenwood Springs with Aspen is the venture Roussos says makes him proudest.

Roussos was chairman of the multigovernmental agency that brought the rail line into public ownership and planned its various transportation and recreational uses.

"It was just awesome pulling that all together and seeing it fall into place," he said.

Growth in once-sleepy Eagle County has exploded during his time there, Roussos said, and many of the transportation and development pressures he has encountered on the job are also facing Hernando County.

Becoming familiar with his new position and getting settled with his family, which includes Betty, his wife of 18 years; a son, James, 17, and a daughter, Eleni, 16, should occupy Roussos for his first several months in Florida. He declined to say whether he intended to shoot for Radacky's post.

"That's a decision for the Board of County Commissioners to make," he said.

But, Roussos added, "I hope to make it easy for them."

-- Will Van Sant covers Hernando County government and can be reached at 754-6127. Send e-mail to vansant@sptimes.com .

George J. Roussos

BORN: May 31, 1947, in New York

EDUCATION: Roussos received a bachelor's degree in civil engineering from the Georgia Institute of Technology and a master's degree from the University of Colorado.

MILITARY: He served in the U.S. Navy from 1968 to 1989.

WORK EXPERIENCE: He has held a host of engineering posts in the private sector. Since August 1999, he has been assistant county administrator in Eagle County, Colo.

FAMILY: Roussos has been married to his wife, Betty, for 18 years. They have two children: a son, James, 17, and a daughter, Eleni, 16.

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