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County, city wrangle over road cost

Pinellas Park says the county agreed to help pay for Park Boulevard repairs. That's not so, says the county.

By ANNE LINDBERG

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 20, 2001


PINELLAS PARK -- County commissioners say they never promised to contribute millions to help fix drainage problems along Park Boulevard and are outraged at this city's efforts to portray them as shirkers.

"I think we're being painted as bad guys here," Interim County Administrator Gay Lancaster said. "I think we have a strong sense that Pinellas Park is not playing it exactly straightforwardly here. . . . We're being shown as having reneged on a commitment we didn't make."

Pinellas Park passed a resolution May 10 asking that the county live up to its end of the deal: one-third of the roughly $12-million that ultimately would be needed to improve Park. The city then lobbied Seminole, Kenneth City and several beach communities -- neighbors who would depend on Park Boulevard in a hurricane evacuation. Last week, commissioners cried foul.

Lancaster said she had researched the issue and discovered that the county agreed to contribute only toward the design of the drainage improvements. While the county supports fixing the road, payment for the project itself was to be worked out later, she said.

Pinellas Park City Manager Jerry Mudd agreed Friday that there is no written contract between the county and city concerning who's paying what.

"We felt there was an informal commitment, yes," Mudd said. "I think I feel that they've made an informal commitment of being an equal partner for drainage improvements on Park Boulevard."

In February 2000, Mudd announced that the county and state had agreed to kick in as much as two-thirds of the multimillion-dollar cost to fix Park. Mudd called the tentative agreement the Three to Get Ready Partnership. Since then, Mudd and the Council have treated the agreement as a sure thing.

Lancaster said she has talked several times to Mudd about the Park Boulevard drainage situation to clarify the county's position.

"We had a different recollection. There was no promise made," Lancaster said. "I have clarified that so many times. He's telling me he's just a hired gun. I don't know why it has to work that way."

Lancaster and former County Administrator Fred Marquis are not the first to disagree with Mudd over what was said or agreed to during meetings.

In 1998, Mudd said the city's auditors, Grant Thornton Accountants and Management Consultants of Tampa, had admitted that they told a city official about problems with a $750,000 federal police grant. The city later had to return the money.

Grant Thornton's representatives denied they had found problems with the grant and never had such a discussion with Mudd.

The same year, Mudd moved to fire assistant city manager Peggy McGarrity, alleging she had ridiculed him and City Council members during meetings with him and with members of her staff.

During a pre-firing hearing, 32 people, including some of her subordinates, submitted letters of support, denying that they'd ever heard McGarrity disparage council members or Mudd. McGarrity still lost her job.

Last year, former police Chief David Milchan resigned after being suspended without pay for allegedly shaking his finger in Mudd's face and threatening the city manager.

Milchan denied those allegations, calling Mudd "a consummate liar."

Milchan said his problems with Mudd began years before when his officers arrested Mudd and accused him of hitting his son. Mudd had those records sealed and, about that same time, changed his name from Halstead to Mudd.

At the time, Mudd denied that he held a grudge against Milchan and declined to talk about the alleged abuse, saying that family matters were private and had no bearing on government.

Until 1995, Mudd was known as Jerry Halstead, after the aunt and uncle who raised him in West Virginia. That year he legally changed his last name to Mudd to reflect his father's name.

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