Article on new Walton County planning director
from Walton Sun
Since officially becoming the Director of Walton County Planning and Development, Pat Blackshear has been tied down with a backlog of work from the position being vacant for more than three months.
But now she has her laces tied tight and is ready to run full speed ahead.
"I am going to reorganize and hire more people," Blackshear said. "There is a better way to do the process."
The department has to be completely "turned around," Blackshear said, for it to "function properly." Blackshear has already implemented on-site visits from department planners to all new project locations.
"I have done the field work," Blackshear said. "It is just as important as sitting in a cubicle reviewing. I think the staff is excited about doing it."
Blackshear said when she came to the department there wasn't even equipment for planners to do on-site visits. Since taking over, Blackshear has ordered safety equipment, including two, four-wheel-drive vehicles and safety boots for on-site visits.
Another department need Blackshear identified was an inadequate amount of staff. Walton County Human Resources is currently advertising three positions, however, Blackshear indicated the department would need more than that.
"The Commissioners have been great," Blackshear said. "They keep saying, 'whatever you need.'"
Much of Blackshear's experience comes from more than 30 years in planning. She also was the Okaloosa Planning and Inspection Department Planning Manager for eight years and the Director of the Growth Management Department in Okaloosa for four years.
She plans to build up Walton County's Planning Department, much like she did Okaloosa's. She is gearing towards a "multidisciplinary team."
Blackshear has set up an environmental section of the Planning Department, which she said is one of the most critical portions of planning in Walton County.
Billy McKee, environmental planner will be the section chief. Blackshear also plans to add another environmental scientist to staff.
"It was a huge gap," Blackshear said. "No one was reviewing it (environmental impacts of development). It is a very specific expertise."
McKee will serve on the Coastal Dune Lake Advisory Board, review Code Enforcement complaints and review projects. He will also focus on environmental policies, dune lake issues and white sand issues.
Greg Graham will head the engineering section of planning, Blackshear said. Engineering will fully link traffic and storm water issues. The focus of engineering will also be developers providing plans for intersections, stacking areas, turn lanes and driveways, she said.
"It was normal procedure in Destin to talk to developers about (traffic) capacity," Blackshear said.
"I haven't had a developer say anything other than 'no problem,' Blackshear said about "proactive development."
"It is all about a partnership between developers and the county," she explained.
Lois La Seur will manage current and long range planning, Blackshear said. Each section will work together and do peer reviews.
"They will go over one another's plans and comment on them," Blackshear explained.
Another section, not yet in place, is citizen planning. A citizen planner would act as a liaison to the public, it is a planner devoted to working more with the citizens of Walton County.
Code Enforcement and Building Permits are also part of the planning department. Both have run smoothly under strong directors, Blackshear said.
"The Planning Department was a mess, but the building department ran great," Blackshear said. "I credit Billy Bearden as a hero." Bearden is the Walton County Building Official.
Blackshear also plans to equalize service in the north end and south end of Walton County, in anticipation of booming growth in the north end. She also sees a need for building staff in the south end.
Altogether, Blackshear hopes to hire two plans examiners for the south end, two building clerks in the north end, two deputy-building officials, another long-range planner and an environmental scientist.
"My goal will be to promote from within every chance I get," Blackshear said.
Within a year, Blackshear's goals are to work on key issues in the community, work on good mitigation with property owners, balance and protect natural resources with the development community, address department speculation through a community planner, increase building fees to support more staff, address flood insurance issues and altogether have a better Planning Department.
Re: Article on new Walton County planning director
She grew up in Paxton, where she fished and hunted with her grandfather and brother. It is all about natural resources, preserved by state land and Eglin, she says, that will always keep Walton County her naturally beautiful home.
Pat Blackshear is so excited about what she does that, eventually, all conversations turn back to planning and maintaining natural resources. Blackshear will stray for a moment to speak about the two men in her life, her husband and son.
But it always comes back to preserving Walton County's beauty while allowing it to grow.
Q. Where are you from?
A. I actually grew up here. I am fourth generation from this county. I grew up in Paxton, actually in the Natural Bridge community (laughs). A beautiful community, I grew up there. I went to Paxton High School. Of course my mother also went to Paxton High School. We had the same home economics teacher, a wonderful lady. Her name is Samantha Baldwin, who her husband was the superintendent here for, I don't know how many years. It is kind of nice. My mother was actually on the 1947 State Champion Women's Basketball team.
You know, so it is just wonderful to have those roots here.
Of course, I was one of those that married too young, you know how some girls do that. That was a disaster. So then I married Tom. We have had a wonderful life together. Tom and I have been married 22 years. We married in '83, in April of '83, so we just had an anniversary.
And the whole time that I worked here, I started going back to school. I went to OW when it was JC. I worked here from '75 until '84, January of '84.
Q. What did you do?
A. Here? Actually, when I first started they hired me as a secretary to the board, civil defense director and to handle purchasing for the road department. I did that for about six-months, they kept piling stuff on me. Then it was like, I was also working for the first planner. They were in the process of trying to work on a comp plan and a grant. So when that person left, they said you have been doing the work all this time, we want you to take this job.
Silly me, I was so young then. I was like, 'If I can't do this I want my old job back. I'll try it. They were like, 'You're going to do it.'
And so I just never looked back, I hit the ground running and never looked back.
And I have loved it ever since.
I worked on the first comp plan here, when you didn't have to adopt it, it was just an approved comp plan. I helped the first Building Official setup the Building Department here. A wonderful old guy named Sandy Seigler. He actually grew up in Freeport and had moved back here. He was a 30-year veteran of Farmers Home Administration, overseeing its building inspection program.
He was a very bright man. I learned an awful lot from him. He was the one that pushed me into also learning everything I could about the building arena. In fact, I got so tired of him bringing codebooks in my office to review. Now, in hindsight, what a wonderful thing he did for me, to push me as a young planner to also know the building side. I know the mechanical codes. I know the building. I know the electrical. And I have stayed in touch with it all these years, so that is what really helped me in this role of knowing all the Florida Building Codes and also knowing planning.
So, I worked with him, ran the Planning Department here then 'til '84 and did grants. I did a lot of grants for the county. Actually one CDBG grant that I wrote, that's how I met Tom. Tom actually did the drafting for the housing rehab program.
We put in 54 wells. Where people didn't have running water in a portion of the county.
So it was really weird. I'd go to Sandestin to meet with Peter Bos and Tom Patton, as an example, on expansions in Sandestin. Then, I'd go back where we were drilling wells in the central part of the county, where people didn't have running water.
(It was) really a great and wonderful 10 years' experience that I worked here.
I actually worked for Ken Pridgen's father. He was (BCC) chairman for a long time when I was here. Wonderful man, I mean I almost get teary eyed to think about him because he was so awesome, and I knew him growing up as a child. He was always so supportive.
So it's nice to work for Kenneth now. You know, we grew up together.
Bill McCartney from the Northwest Florida Water Management District called me up one day and said, 'Pat I have been working with the district on a water supply plan for the county, the 1982 regional water supply study for the county. Bill said 'you know Pat; you have been doing all this work on water supply. You know I need a person like you to take over the plan working with local government and doing the water supply planning.'
It was perfect for me; I wanted to go back to FSU. The job was in Tallahassee, or rather, Havana. So, Tom and I had not been married very long, we just built a new house.
Then, we bought an old home later in Quincy and moved there. So I worked for nine years for the Northwest Florida Water Management District.
I worked on all the water supply plans and Choctawhatchee Bay studies here.
Q. What brought you back?
A. When I went to Okaloosa it was déjà vu. Not enough staff. There were about two people in the planning department, two code enforcement staff. For a big county like Okaloosa, with a population, even back then of around 150,000. All the Eglin Air Force Base issues, it was a mess.
This is not nearly the mess that Okaloosa was in '93, if you could possibly imagine.
Citizens had no respect for the department, same déjà vu. Citizens didn't feel that staff took their job seriously.
All the same issues. The Comp Plan was a mess.
This is just déjà vu of what we have got to do here. The whole plan had to be rewritten.
And I am one of those workaholics. I love what I do. I think you can tell that.
As all that was going on, I was driving from South Walton. You know, Tom and I moved back. We bought our property in '91, thank God, or we would have never been able to afford a beautiful lot where we are. We bought our lot in the old Blue Mountain Beach subdivision. And we moved an old house that was built in the 1860s there, from Cottondale.
Q. Is that a hobby, restoring homes?
A. Our hobbies have been restoring old homes. And as things started to slow down with our construction activities, we did another one over on the Bay that we moved from DeFuniak.
We love to dive. We love to dive and boat. I am a certified scuba diver, nitrox diver.
Love the outdoors. Like I said I grew up in Paxton and I spent all my summers on the Bayou in Niceville with my grandfather, who worked on Eglin. He was very much involved in the Jackson Guard and the wildlife management on the reservation. All my childhood, with my brother, fox hunting with him, so I have always just been a real outdoors person.
Even though I sit here with my diamonds and my nails done, I am the first one to hit the boat, the first one to hit the water. You know, I love being outdoors.
I have one son from my first marriage, who is just the love of my life.
Q. How old is he?
A. He is 33
Q. Does your family still live around here?
He lives here. He has a clearing and excavation business. My mother is just a trooper. She still lives on the farm in Paxton. I am just blessed. She is that kind of mother everyone wished they had.
Q. You must have been so excited to come back to the county?
A. I was so excited to come back. I have to tell you, leaving my department over there was very hard. From the standpoint of, I had built that team. There was some really bright people in that department.
Q. What do you think is the most significant change you have seen in Walton County?
A. The most significant change is really going from a less permanent population to a more seasonal population.
I have seen such a change in the building. In the '70s it was condos. It has moved to a more single-family development now.
I have really seen a change in land use in the north end, too. A lot of the row crop farms have gone to pine plantations and now I am seeing a shift from that. Quite a bit of the acreage in the north county bought for horse farms.
Q. What do you think is the best feature of Walton County?
A. Hands down, it is environmental resources, the bay system, the river system, and the coastal dune lakes. Sometimes I walk down the beach and it amazes me, when the lakes open and drain into the Gulf, it is like, Wow!
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