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Two new commissioners aren't passive

Peter Altman and Ted Schrader "have some very clear ideas of where they want to take the county,'' one observer notes.

By COLLINS CONNER

© St. Petersburg Times, published November 9, 2000


Peter Altman wants to revitalize old neighborhoods.

Ted Schrader wants to encourage water conservation.

But some people say that what these newly elected commissioners will really change in the Pasco County government is who leads whom.

"In the past few years, the County Commission has pretty well followed the lead of its own staff," said Ted Williams, former Pasco property appraiser and once Democratic kingmaker.

"I have a feeling these two people are . . . not going to sit there and, if the county staff says something, say "Okay.' "

Altman on Tuesday won a tight race against Republican Jack Armstrong for the District 5 seat being vacated by Commissioner David "Hap" Clark; Schrader handily out-polled Democrat Charlotte Kiefer to replace retiring District 1 Commissioner Sylvia Young.

Both men "have some very clear ideas of where they want to take the county," said Pasco Property Appraiser Mike Wells. Both Altman and Schrader have served in elective positions and have histories of strong leadership.

Altman and Schrader "understand what the job of being a county commissioner is -- it's not paving roads or driving buses," Wells said. "It's to set direction for (County Administrator) John Gallagher and his staff. They know that and they're good at it."

Neither Williams nor Wells suggested that the new commissioners would hover over Gallagher or meddle in the county's daily operations. But they won't be shy about defining Pasco's path.

The two new commissioners said Wednesday that they had heard residents' concerns about the commission's sometimes passive leadership.

"I believe the county manager and the county staff are also looking forward to clearer direction and a clearer focus," Altman said.

Schrader said some residents "complained about some things the staff has done."

"As I was campaigning around the county, I heard things like, "I thought the developer was supposed to set aside money for this road, or four-lane this road. Why has the ball been dropped?'

"But in their defense, staff members haven't had the leadership to give them direction. We need to develop guidelines for the staff to follow. We need to make sure we're carrying that message, to direct the staff and give the leadership they need."

Former Commissioner James Hollingsworth, now a political science professor at Pasco-Hernando Community College, said the two new commissioners may join Commissioner Pat Mulieri in seeking "greater accountability on the part of the administration."

By way of example, Hollings-worth mentioned controversial items put in recent years on the commission's consent agenda, a spot reserved for simple matters that can be approved without discussion.

Such controversial items "practically blow up in the commission's face," he said, and suggest that the county staff "needs greater oversight."

According to Williams, direction won't be a problem with the new commissioners.

"They both exhibit pretty good leadership potential," he said. "They have never been bashful about what they did.

"I think they're going to come up with their own ideas. And I think that's good.

"I think everybody will be happy with the direction the County Commission is going."

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