With his retirement less than three months away, County Administrator John Gallagher offered a bit of a mea culpa this week to the leaders of Pasco County's cities and towns.
Gallagher, who was a city manager for New Port Richey before joining Pasco County 30 years ago, admitted he was responsible for the often testy relations between city and county officials.
"As a city manager all I did was fight with the county," he said. "Then I came to the county. Honestly, I didn't care about the cities for a long time."
He was at his last Municipal Association of Pasco meeting to discuss the county's economic development plan, and he asked for input from the mayors, council members and managers he once had ignored.
It took self-reflection, and a scathing report from the Urban Land Institute, for Gallagher to realize that under his leadership, the county had done a "horrible job" of building communities.
"Counties and cities always have strange relationships, but in the last 10 years, I know my attitude has changed a lot," he said. "Instead of telling you what to do, which is the old John Gallagher, I want to hear what you want to do."
The message was well-received. Port Richey Mayor Eloise Taylor said that for too long, city and county leaders were more concerned with "building your own empires" than working together to promote the county.
"Cities also have some really significant attractions to help all of us grow together," she said. "I think it's really exciting, and I'm willing to take the journey."
Richard Gehring, the county's growth management administrator, detailed the economic development goals, starting with a communitywide effort to "rebrand" Pasco County. That's why the county designated specific market areas and gave them catchy names such as "The Harbors" for west Pasco and "The Highlands" for the rolling hills around San Antonio.
"Pasco's image has to change significantly," Gehring said.
He outlined other goals, such as working with local colleges and trade schools to improve the county's workforce — and to get more college graduates to move here. Gehring calls it a "talent attraction campaign."
"We need to pull them here," he said. "That's where the quality of life comes in. It's not enough to keep high school graduates from leaving."
San Antonio Commissioner Richard Gates called it a "beautiful plan" but said the question is whether Pasco County can execute it.
John Hagan, executive director of the Pasco Economic Development Council, said the voters' approval of last year's Penny For Pasco tax, which allocates $45 million for economic development, means the county will have the money to realize its vision.
"A lot of plans sit on the shelf; I think this one is really set up to fire off on all cylinders," he said.