NAPLES — Longtime Collier County resident and employee Leo Ochs Jr. went from deputy – and acting – county manager to county manager in a day.
It will take a little longer to make the actual move into Jim Mudd’s office: “Probably in a week or so,” Ochs said.
The executive offices were quiet Friday morning. Many who had worked the marathon 13-and-1⁄2-hour commission meeting Tuesday took a little time for themselves.
Others just kept a low profile as Mudd was still packing up his office. Battling brain cancer, Mudd resigned Sept. 29 and asked county commissioners to hand over the reins to Ochs. They agreed.
Ochs was still in his own office Friday as he discussed the past and future.
Raised in Joliet, Ill., Ochs, 54, spent eight years in Joliet city government before moving to Collier in 1986 for a county job.
He was hired by then- County Manager Don Lusk to run the county’s personnel department. Ochs worked closely with then- County Manager Neil Dorrill.
The move, and transition from city to county government, was the greatest challenge he’s faced in his life, Ochs said.
At the time, he and his wife, Debi, had two children, 3-year-old Christine, and a 6-month-old, Matt. Their son, Kevin, was born here.
“It was hard to take (them) away from grandma and grandpa,” Ochs said.
Professionally, he was used to a faster pace.
Down here, it took longer to accomplish some tasks, Ochs said.
“That is not necessarily a bad thing,” Ochs quickly added.
But, at the time, Collier was entering its boom period.
The pace of growth kept county officials hopping to provide adequate service levels and maintain the quality of services, Ochs said.
Jim von Rinteln, a key county emergency management official, has worked with Ochs since 1996.
“Leo’s biggest challenge will be that of managing an organization and set of priorities that are stressed by a new and different set of fiscal realities,” von Rinteln said Friday. “But he is well-suited for the challenge; he knows the community and county organization well, and has been very involved in getting us this far.”
County Attorney Jeff Klatzkow has worked closely with Ochs for more than seven years.
“I have an outstanding working relationship with Leo, and look forward to working with Leo as county manager,” Klatzkow said. “I have full trust in Jim (Mudd’s) judgment, and Jim’s strong recommendation of Leo should instill confidence in all that Leo will be a fine county manager.”
Ochs has been active in the community since his first days in town.
His children attended St. Ann Catholic School in Naples, and Ochs’ first civic commitment was service on the St. Ann School Board for five years.
He became involved in United Way of Collier County - he’s a past president and board member - as well as Collier County Education Foundation and Leadership Collier, two Greater Naples Chamber of Commerce initiatives.
Ochs is a past director of the Leadership Collier Foundation Board, and has strong ties to Hodges University. He is on the advisory board for Hodges’ College of Business and Public Administration.
Ochs received his bachelor’s degree in political science and government from Benedictine University in Lisle, Ill., and a master’s degree in public administration from Northern Illinois University in DeKalb.
Asked on Friday to name his best friend, Ochs quickly said, “My wife. And I mean that sincerely.”
After Debi, his best friend is his Quail Woods Estates neighbor, Dr. Mark Marzano, a radiologist. Their children grew up together in that North Naples subdivision.
Ochs worked here through the Stadium Naples scandal.
“It was a very difficult time to be a county employee,” Ochs said Friday.
The failed golf stadium project led to bribery accusations and the indictment of several county commissioners and businessmen.
County officials had to regain the trust of Collier voters.
“We had the good fortune to (rebound with) a board of county commissioners with the highest integrity and a county manager who was, head over heels, the best I’ve ever worked with,” Ochs said, speaking of Mudd.
Mudd’s leadership contributed tremendously to foster community trust, Ochs said.
Asked if he plans to make any changes in his leadership team, Ochs said: “I have no intentions of moving pieces around on a chess board just to say I moved them.”
However, as anyone would, Ochs will continue to look at whether the county staffing and services structure optimizes his ability to deliver services to county residents.
“We have an exceptional leadership team in place,” Ochs said. They are all committed to the county’s mission statement, which is, to make “to make Collier County the very best community to live in and work in,” Ochs said.