The Pasco County Commission recently honored Paula S. O’ Neil, who retired after three decades of public service.
O’ Neil’s final day as Pasco Circuit Court Clerk & Comptroller was June 30.
She had recommended that Nikki Alvarez-Sowles, her chief operations officer, be appointed by Gov. Ron DeSantis to complete the remainder of her term, which ends in 2020.
DeSantis had not made his decision as of last week, so Sixth Judicial Circuit Chief Judge Anthony Rondolino appointed Alvarez-Sowles to fill the post on an interim basis, pending the governor’s final decision.
O’ Neil was honored during the County Commission’s June 19 meeting, where Alvarez-Sowles read the resolution, lauding the clerk’s many contributions through the years.
The resolution provided background on O’ Neil’s life, as well as citing professional achievements and civic contributions, through the decades.
O’ Neil grew up in St. Louis, Missouri, and played collegiate softball and graduated from Missouri State University, with a Bachelor of Science degree.
She began her professional life working for Charleston Air Force Base, and also began teaching, which she still does today. She also worked for Charleston County Parks and Recreation Department, before her family moved to Pasco County in 1987, where she joined the staff of the county’s parks and recreation department.
Her duties there included implementing a voter-approved bond referendum for parks and recreation — expanding the county’s parks system from 22 parks to 36 parks.
She later worked in the county’s community services department, as administrative services manager, where she oversaw numerous grants and special funding resources that provided services to citizens, through social services, veterans services, animal control and sexual abuse victims services. She also played a critical role in the automation of the Pasco County public transportation system, improving dispatch, scheduling and office administration, according to the resolution.
At the same time, she was continuing her education to earn a Master of Science degree and then joined Pasco-Hernando Community College as an adjunct professor.
In the fall of 2002, O’ Neil joined the Circuit Court Clerk’s office, where she swiftly rose to chief deputy clerk.
Meanwhile, she continued to add to her educational credentials, obtaining a doctorate degree.
She was elected to her first term as Clerk of the Circuit Court & County Comptroller in 2008, and re-elected to subsequent terms in 2012 and 2016.
She led the office in the implementation of numerous technological advancements, modernizing the office to improve efficiency and customer service.
She has served on numerous boards and worked with various committees, agencies and organizations. She continues to teach, is an author and a cancer survivor.
“Paula has been a tireless leader in community, civic and not-for-profit organizations, serving to make Pasco County a better place to live and raise families,” the resolution adds.
A large contingent of O’ Neil’s staff was at the meeting, demonstrating their support.
The clerk thanked the board and her staff for their help through the years.
“I have an amazing team. The executive team is amazing. They’re a dream team,” O’ Neil said.
She offered a glimpse of what Pasco County was like when her family arrived.
“We lived in Wesley Chapel. I had to drive to Land O’ Lakes or Zephyrhills to get groceries.
“What a change it is today,” she said.
She also recounted attending Florida Retirement Seminars and thinking to herself: “I’m not going to be here that long.”
It turned out, though, “there was never anything better than Pasco,” O’ Neil said. “I appreciate all of the opportunities that I’ve been given here. It’s just been an honor to serve.”
Pasco commissioners lavished praise on O’ Neil.
Commissioner Kathryn Starkey told O’ Neil that the myriad accomplishments cited in the resolution “doesn’t begin to describe the value you have to this community, to this citizenry and this county.
“You know you will be missed, and you will always be a legend, here in this county,” Starkey said.
Commission Chairman Ron Oakley added: “We’re all proud of you.”
Commissioner Mike Wells said he was honored to be able to share the moment with O’ Neil.
“Well, I’ve known you since literally, I was a kid. I really wish my father (Mike Wells Sr., former property appraiser and former commissioner) would be here, too.
“Who would have thought that I’d be sitting up here, with you? I don’t want to get choked up.
“You truly are a great leader,” Wells said.
Commissioner Jack Mariano recalled being on the campaign trail with O’ Neil, in 2008.
He told O’ Neil: “The presentation you put on, made you a completely impressive candidate.”
And then, O’ Neil went on to implement her vision, Mariano added, “Thank you so much. You’ve been a great asset.”
Commissioner Mike Moore also applauded O’ Neil’s accomplishments.
“You do so much good. You’re an inspiration for so many people,” he said.
Published July 03, 2019