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Hillsborough County Commission picks Janet Dougherty as the next EPC chief

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She didn’t even make the initial list of finalists, but now Janet Dougherty will soon become only the third executive director of the Hillsborough County Environmental Protection Agency (EPC).

The 53-year-old Hillsborough County native comes with 25 years of experience in local and state environmental policy and business management, and she wasn’t even on the short list recommended by the EPC’s selection committee last month.

But the door opened up for her after Scott Emery, the EPC wetland enforcement manager, had to drop out of the running for personal reasons last month. That prompted Commissioner Victor Crist to request that someone with business experience be added to the list, though that angered some members of the initial selection committee who had gone through the process of reviewing the accomplishments of the 41 different applicants, and found Dougherty unworthy of final consideration.

Her inclusion to the list led to a furious round of lobbying to the commissioners by business interests, as first reported by Steve Contorno of the Tampa Bay Times over the weekend. Doughtery ran for the County Commission District 4 Republican nomination last summer, but was defeated by Stacy White. She raised over $33,000 from those in the development or real estate industries, prompting speculation by some about how fair she could be in making decisions at the EPC.

After conducting one-on-one job interviews with the four candidates before them, the board voted 5-2 to have her succeed Rick Garrity, who is retiring after leading the agency for the past 15 years. Ironically, one of the two votes in opposition came from Commissioner Crist (Kevin Beckner was the other dissenting vote.)

Crist said he came into the meeting believing that his two leading candidates were Dougherty and Rick Tschantz, who has served the past 15 years as the General Counsel to the EPC. But his favorite was Mary Yeargan, currently the director of district management for the Southwest District of the Department of Environmental Protection for the State of Florida.

“Frankly, she’s the path to least resistance,” Crist said. “Choosing her isn’t going to piss anybody off. She’s a good, safe bet.”

But alas, no one else on the board felt that way about Yeargan, though Commissioner Stacy White said he could have voted for either her or Dougherty.

The fourth candidate in the mix was Robert Musser, currently an environmental projects manager for Port Everglades in Broward County.

All four of the candidates seemed to be steeped in experience to take the job, and county commissioners lavished praised on all of them.

But it quickly became apparent that Dougherty was a consensus choice.

Although Beckner said his top pick was Tschantz, he also said initially that he was “stuck” between him and Dougherty.

Al Higginbotham stressed that he hadn’t made up his mind before today’s vote, but said that while Musser was impressive, Dougherty had answered all of his questions sufficiently, and thus he would support her.

Sandy Murman said that her opinion hadn’t changed at all, as she was always a Dougherty supporter. “This is an opportunity to make a statement,” she said. “I think the new leader should have a lot of passion for the environment and listen to all sides with a really open mind that can collaborate and make decisions firmly and objectively.”

One supposed demerit for Dougherty was that she didn’t posses a science degree, but Commissioner Ken Hagan said that he didn’t believe that was crucial, saying that the candidate need not be a “career bureaucrat or have a technical degree to be a successful executive director.”

Dougherty said she was “very humbled and honored ” by the decision. She said her number one mandate is to protect natural resources in Hillsborough County, and vowed to make the board proud for selecting her.

On June 18, the board, acting as the EPC, will vote on the terms of Dougherty’s contract.

Photo via Bob Baggett Photography.

Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at [email protected]

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