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Gallagher’s friends to roast and toast retiring administrator

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NEW PORT RICHEY -

Always leave ’em laughing could be the motto for John J. Gallagher, Pasco’s longtime county administrator.

Humor helps explain his longevity after more than 30 years at the helm of the county, Gallagher has said.

Now it’s time for his friends to tease him a bit with a “Retirement Celebration, Roast and Toast” on May 3, said Michael Cox, one of the organizers. The party starts at 6:30 p.m. at the Spartan Manor, 6121 Massachusetts Ave., New Port Richey.

“Make sure he actually retires,” a flyer reads in part. In fact, Gallagher is staying on board past the end of April for at least a few more months while the county seeks his successor.

The May 3 event will double as a fundraiser, Cox pointed out. Proceeds will benefit Friends of Animal Services, which is planning a mobile pet adoption center.

The $50 tickets are on sale online at www.johngallagher.eventbrite.com.

Cox is handling sponsorships and program ads. Call him at (727) 389-3010 or mcoxpasco@gmail.com.

Gallagher’s trademark, hearty guffaw is sure to be heard many times at the party as friends celebrate his accomplishments amid plenty of laughs, organizers said.

“Most of my tenure here has been bringing the county through adolescence,” Gallagher reflected during a February 2012 interview. “I didn’t know what I was getting into. No clue. I was young and full of vinegar.”

When he started March 22, 1982, Gallagher oversaw county budgets of about $300,000. By fiscal 2008, the county budget broke through the $1 billion barrier, before shrinking because of the recession.

His own salary has gone from about $40,000 a year to a bit more than $180,000 annually.

Pasco’s population has boomed from almost 218,000 when Gallagher started to nearly 450,000 today.

New houses no longer sell for $4,500 like they did during the 1960s boom times.

Pasco has gone through many transformations since Gallagher’s family moved here from Brooklyn, N.Y., in 1950. His dad built a gas station, Casey’s Corner, at U.S. 19 and Palmetto Road.

After graduating from what was then St. Leo College, Gallagher began his career teaching social studies at Gulf High School in 1970.

In 1974, wedding bells rang for Gallagher. His wife Judy holds a doctorate in education and is an assistant principal at Gulf High School.

A stint as New Port Richey city manager in 1977 would groom him for the top post at Pasco.

The county administrator office had become a revolving door before Gallagher arrived in 1992. Grand juries were questioning actions of some county commissioners that first year.

Gallagher says he owes his longevity to honesty and dedication. “If nobody has died, it probably can be fixed.”

Passage of a referendum in 1986 signaled to Gallagher the county was maturing. He was a bit surprised that voters approved the financing for bond issues to build parks and libraries.

The next phase of Gallagher’s tenure concentrated on building roads, sewage treatment plants and other infrastructure that had been sorely lacking.

Gallagher rates the past seven to 10 years as the most exciting. Pasco brought in consultants from Urban Land Institute to recommend changes and goals, such as “smart growth.”

Demographics of Pasco have shifted dramatically, Gallagher added. Retirees still dominated the Pasco landscape when Gallagher took the helm. Young families then began displacing them. Nowadays, many people are being born right here in Pasco.

Gallagher relaxes by fishing. Soon his hobby could become a full-time vocation.

But it’s always been a fun ride as county administrator, Gallagher said.

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