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NAPLES — Former Collier County Manager Jim Mudd is a fighter. Always has been, always will be.
When he took over county leadership from Tom Olliff in July 2002, Mudd said as much. The challenge then was to systematically expand services within the rapidly growing county, while regaining public trust after a development scandal.
His last challenge: Shrinking budgets and a reduced staff to keep stride with the county’s economic crisis without scrimping too much on services.
Even so, the bloom never left the rose for his county commissioner bosses.
Three years into his service as county manager, Mudd was earning rave reviews and big salary raises. They continued this past week, when he announced he was stepping down as county manager.
Mudd joins staff, accolades begin
Hired in 2000 to head up public utilities, Mudd was promoted to deputy county manager in October 2001 and moved into the top job nine months later.
Mudd was in charge when Collier County finally began to emerge from the dark clouds of the Stadium Naples controversy that lasted some six years. Stadium Naples was a development project that was designed to bring in national golf tournaments.
It led to accusations of bribery and indictments of county leaders and businessmen.
When charges were dropped in January 2004 against a developer and a former county commissioner agreed to a plea deal, they were the last two of several defendants in the case.
The case damaged the credibility and trustworthiness of Collier County government and cast a suspicion of corruption on all public officials.
Commissioner Fred Coyle said Mudd helped regain public trust.
“He was committed to a very tough ethical standard ... that helped bring the county to the (current) level (which is) respected as an honest organization,” Coyle said.
Mudd helped guide county residents through back-to-back hurricanes. Hurricane Charley damaged parts of Collier in 2004 and Wilma tore through much of Collier in October 2005.
In other issues, Mudd worked to fend off Pelican Bay’s desire to become part of the city of Naples. Other priorities given to Mudd were a long-range plan for improvements east of Collier Boulevard; developing a five-year business plan; and increasing capital construction projects to deal with growth.
In 2006, Commissioner Donna Fiala said Mudd deserved credit for everything Collier accomplished for the prior few years, including massive improvements to stormwater management and waste management.
His base salary that year was $168,000, but with bonuses and benefits, his package was around $217,000. Mudd’s previous salaries were $153,000 in 2003 and $157,000 in 2004.
Because Mudd instituted a senior management salary cap, he refused to accept merit pay increases. He wasn’t a hypocrite, Coyle said.
Commissioner Frank Halas said Mudd provided great leadership, and stressed the county’s federal legislative agenda and securing money for the following projects: Interstate 75/Everglades development and study; Lely Area Stormwater Improvement Project; I-75/Collier Boulevard/Davis Boulevard interchange; Naples Zoo and Pedestrian Park; South Immokalee Park Community Center and stormwater drainage projects.
Mudd’s other successes in this time period will leave their mark on Collier County for decades to come. Among them:
■ Collier Area Transit, the county’s bus system, began service in January 2007.
■ Some $15.2 million was invested in stormwater improvement projects for the first six months.
■ A courthouse annex parking garage was completed and a seven-story courthouse annex got under way.
■ The Golden Gate Library expansion began, as did South Regional Library construction.
■ Construction began on a new Emergency Operations Center in East Naples.
■ Video on demand became available at Collier County government’s Web site.
By 2008, Mudd was grappling with effects of a weakening economy and a declining real estate market.
He once again rejected a pay raise for himself because he was cutting back staff salaries.
Capital improvements continued but a hiring freeze was put in place in county government. An early retirement incentive was offered to reduce county government’s work force, and there were layoffs.
Among a handful of major road projects that his administration tackled, Immokalee Road widening was completed from U.S. 41 to Shady Hollow Boulevard. So was the Rattlesnake Hammock Road expansion – from Polly Avenue to Collier Boulevard – to six lanes.
Freedom Park, at Goodlette-Frank Road and Golden Gate Parkway, was under construction and county staff worked with the state Department of Environmental Protection and Delnor-Wiggins Pass State Park to expand beach parking.
“As we head into 2009, I believe that 2008 was one of the most triumphant years in this government’s history,” Mudd said at the time.
This year, nine years after moving to Collier County – almost to the day – Mudd, 57, retired.
Brain tumor diagnosed
Mudd has been battling a malignant brain tumor since March 20.
Despite endless, nauseating rounds of chemotherapy, the 1974 graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point held himself upright and with dignity as he said goodbye to fellow workers and elected officials.
He stepped down this past Tuesday, returning to the commission meeting in the evening to help broker an apparent end to a several year feud between the Clerk of Courts office and Collier commissioners.
When Coyle thinks of Mudd, the first words that come to mind are honor and leadership.
Mudd’s greatest accomplishment was probably the ability to lead the county through an excruciating shrinkage of its tax base, budget dollars and jobs, Coyle said.
“His leadership and selfless service to the community is his most (permanent) legacy,” Coyle said.
When Mudd had to cut county staff and freeze salaries, the first thing he did was lead by example, refusing any salary increases for himself, Coyle said.
“That’s the type of leadership that is exceptional in government or private industry at a time when we have executives stripping millions of dollars from companies,” Coyle said. “He serves as an excellent example for us.”
David Jackson, hired in 2005 to head up the Bayshore Gateway Community Redevelopment Agency, called Mudd “a natural born leader.”
“Managers are made. Leaders are born. You manage pencils, beans and bullets. You lead people,” Jackson said.
Commissioner Jim Coletta was effusive in his praise for Mudd and his accomplishments.
“Jim Mudd is one of those special people who you meet only a couple of times in your life,” Coletta said.
Mudd’s assistant and legislative liaison, Debbie Wight, has focused on the amusing to deal with her sadness at Mudd’s departure.
“What comes to mind when I think of memorable moments is the trip to Washington, D.C., to present our federal projects to the county’s congressional delegation,’’ she said.
Mudd, Halas and Wight took the subway from the airport. They got off the train in a snowstorm.
“Jim made us walk two blocks to get to the hotel, suitcases in tow, rather than hail a cab,” Wight said. “Did I mention he’s a retired Army colonel?”
It’s no surprise, then, that everyone who dealt with Mudd seemed to come up with the same descriptions: honest, honorable, ethical.
“Jim is the finest executive I ever worked with,” County Attorney Jeff Klatzkow said. “He will be deeply missed on many levels.”