By B.C. Manion
Pasco County’s newest county commissioner doesn’t expect his constituents to agree with him on every issue.
Indeed, if they do, Henry Wilson said they should never vote for him again.
In fact, Wilson told members of the Pasco Alliance of Community Associations that he’s not even sure he will seek re-election when his term expires in roughly 3 1/2 years.
“Why did I get into politics?” Wilson said. “I was tired of being an armchair person.”
However, even since being elected on Nov. 10, he’s already learned this: “There’s a big difference between campaigning and governing.”
On the campaign trail, you can have all sorts of ideas. But ideas won’t get implemented without a majority vote by the board, he said. Wilson, a Republican, defeated Democratic incumbent Michael Cox last fall.
“We want to make Pasco County business-friendly,” Wilson said. “It’s been talked about a lot.”
Along those lines, the board has directed county staff to figure out what the county needs to do to bring impact fees to zero for industrial and commercial developers.
“We have enough retail. We have enough restaurants,” but the county needs more companies that will bring quality jobs to the county, he said.
He’s also aiming to help the county rid itself of its “business as usual” mentality.
The county needs to create process improvement teams, to take a fresh look at how things are done, Wilson told members of the alliance, an organization whose members include 75 of Pasco County’s homeowner associations, community development districts and condominium associations.
These “pit” crews should include people from other departments to help see things from a new perspective, he said.
“One of the biggest frustrations I hear about on a daily basis is the permitting process,” said Wilson, who advocates finding out what makes the process so difficult.
Wilson said he’d also like to see Pasco County do more to advertise itself, particularly in northern states.
The pitch could go something like: “You might be in three feet of snow, but here in Florida, it’s 80 degrees,” he said.
“We need tourism to help us,” Wilson said.
The county also needs a broader economic base.
“For far too long the county has relied too heavily on residential impact fees,” Wilson said. “We need to diversify what we have.”
Wilson said there’s also a need for civil discourse.
“I don’t have all of the answers. You don’t have all of the answers, either. We need to work together.”
“We’re not going to agree on everything,” Wilson said. But he added, “You’ll know where I’m coming from. I tell you what I believe. I don’t sugarcoat things.”
At the same time, when he’s wrong, he wants people to tell him he’s wrong and then present information to help him better understand the issue.
In some cases, he might change his mind, he said.
Some people may call that “being a flip-flopper,” he said.
“I call it being open-minded,” he added.
People need to stay informed, not only by reading the newspaper or listening to the media or talking to their neighbors or relatives — but by doing all of those things, Wilson said.
And when they vote, they need to find the right person to support — regardless of the candidate’s political affiliation, Wilson added.
Wilson also took questions from the crowd, including one about the county’s proposal that would temporarily slash or eliminate impact fees, including one which pays for new school construction.
He said county commissioners and school board members plan to meet to discuss that issue.
“The schools are not projected to build a school for 10 years, so why do they need an impact fee?” Wilson said.
Wilson said his biggest concern is that he doesn’t know what the school district’s fund balance is, or how much it actually needs.
“We need transparency for everything,” Wilson said.
If the district can’t support going to zero, he wants to know what it can support.
Wilson was also asked to talk about what has been the most surprising thing to him since he took office.
“My biggest surprise? How set in the way people are. “We do it this way. We’ve always done it that way.’“
His other biggest surprise is the lack of cross-training in the county. He said more workers need to have the ability to perform multiple job functions. Many employees are approaching retirement and the county needs to be sure that it doesn’t allow all of the knowledge they’ve built up to walk out the door with them, Wilson said.