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Todd, advocate of nature, bows out

Barbara Sheen Todd acquired a reputation as a calm, steadfast voice for the environment on the County Commission.

By MICHAEL SANDLER
Published November 12, 2004

CLEARWATER - Barbara Sheen Todd has been a steady voice on the Pinellas County Commission for nearly a quarter of a century.

She championed environmental protection, spoke up among an all-male commission for her turn to be chairman and made certain that a median was built to divide traffic on the Courtney Campbell Parkway.

Now her tenure in public office is coming to an end.

Todd, 62, did not seek another term and is stepping down at the end of this week. She attended her final public meeting Tuesday.

When the commission meets next week, newly elected Ronnie Duncan will take her place.

"I hope people think I made a difference and I hope they realize I love this county," Todd said.

In many ways, Todd was the final link to a time when Chuck Rainey seemed to be involved in everything that happened in the county. But colleagues say she was also instrumental in ushering out that era, in favor of a more modern one.

Todd was first elected in 1980, and it was Rainey who urged her to run. She often spoke of Rainey as her political mentor.

But in 1989, when it was Todd's turn to chair the commission, Rainey was chosen by three other men in a vote that took less than 30 seconds.

Back then, Todd was the only woman on the commission. She spoke up, questioning if gender played a role. Two years later, she was handed the gavel and made chair.

"She had that kind of muscle," said Sallie Parks, who served on the commission from 1992 to 2000. "When it was her turn to be chair, and she was being ignored, she wasn't hesitant to say she was being ignored."

Todd is perhaps best known for leading the county's environmental protection efforts.

Former County Administrator Fred Marquis remembers Todd as the driving force behind protecting Weedon Island in the 1980s. At that time, the state chose to close the park there and dispose of the property.

County Administrator Steve Spratt estimates that during Todd's tenure, $125-million was set aside to buy endangered land.

In recent years, she has pushed for education centers at Brooker Creek and Weedon Island. Todd also co-founded the Pinellas County Environmental Fund, a partnership with the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation that offers matching grants to local environmental groups working to improve the Tampa Bay Estuary.

Mandy Peterson, director for the fund, said that since 2000 nearly $15-million in grants have been awarded.

"She appreciates the quality of life we have here," Peterson said. "I think she may have even been around when it wasn't always so wonderful. There was a time we weren't so proud of the health of the bay. I think she had been there, and she had a commitment to turn this around."

Todd is particularly proud of her efforts to get money for the median on the Courtney Campbell. She was troubled by accidents involving teenagers who parked alongside on the beach and several high-profile, head-on collisions.

Todd said she had tried lobbying state transportation officials, but they said it was too costly. So she went to Washington and identified a federal grant that paid 90 percent of the cost. The median was soon built.

"That may not seem like a big thing, but I believe it saved lives," Todd said. "You don't take no for an answer. You have to be tenacious."

Todd left the board in 1994 to run for lieutenant governor on the Republican ticket and came back in 1996, winning the seat left open by Rainey's retirement.

Her career has been marked by some controversy. In 1997, she faced questions of having a conflict of interest for holding a job with a company that was awarded county contracts.

And her efforts to help her daughter's campaign for her late husband's seat on the Pinellas School Board made some commissioners uneasy.

Tiffany Todd ultimately lost the race to Mary Brown. Most say Todd's reputation for being a calming voice on the County Commission is what her legacy will be.

"She has really been a steady influence on the board," said Commissioner Bob Stewart, who filled Todd's seat in 1994 and now inherits the role as longest active commissioner.

Todd says she's not sure what she will do next.

She had considered a run for U.S. Senate, but bowed out shortly after Mel Martinez entered the race and since then has expressed no desire for another public office.

Michael Sandler can be reached at 445-4162 or sandler@sptimes.com

[Last modified November 12, 2004, 00:30:26]


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