FERNANDINA BEACH WEATHER

A conversation with County Manager Taco Pope

By Cindy Jackson
Reporter
September 24, 2020

RUMOR HAS IT THAT YOU ARE A LOCAL, IS THAT TRUE?

County Manager Taco Pope

My family moved to Yulee in the 1980’s and I couldn’t imagine growing up in a better place. As I get older, I realize just how special it was to grow-up in Nassau during that era. Even though things have changed a lot since then, I consider myself extremely lucky to have the opportunity raise my two boys in Nassau.

MR. POPE’S TIES TO THE COUNTY ARE STRONG.

His mother, Chili Pope served as the Human Resources Director for Nassau County having retired just in the past few years.

MR. POPE’s CREDENTIALS.
Taco Pope graduated with a Bachelor of Business Administration from the University of North Florida where he also studied Transportation and Logistics. He also received an MPA (Master of Public Administration) from the Florida Gulf Coast University with a concentration in Environmental Policy and Planning

ADD TO THAT ARE SOME OTHER IMPRESSIVE CERTIFICATIONS AND MEMBERSHIPS INCLUDING:
A certification as a professional planner through the American Institute of Certified Planners (AICP)
Member, International City-County Management Association (ICMA)
Member, Florida City-County Management Association (FCCMA), and a
Member, American Planning Association (APA)

WHEN DID YOU DECIDE THAT COMMUNITY PLANNING WAS FOR YOU?
While in college, Nassau County, especially Yulee, was really starting to change. The rural small town that I knew growing up was disappearing. Going to school at UNF and spending time in Jacksonville is when I really started to connect the dots between planning, or lack thereof, and impacts to the community and the residents. At the end of the day, Nassau is where I grew up, where I am raising my kids and where I hope to live out my days. It bothers me that parts of Nassau have lost that unique character and charm that made it special.

WHEN DID YOU FIRST THINK ABOUT BEING THE COUNTY MANAGER?
The first time I thought of potentially moving from community planning to county administration was when Mr. Selby, then County Manager, asked that I serve as the planning director. It took some convincing but, Mr. Selby was very supportive and encouraged that I embrace a leadership role. He felt that it was important that local professionals be retained and prepared for leadership roles. Roughly three years later, I was asked to step-up and fill a needed role as the Asst. County Manager. I have now been asked to step-up once again and lead the organization. I expressed to each of the Commissioners individually that I was willing to accept the challenge and serve in the role as County Manager if that was their desire. At the same time, I expressed that I was equally satisfied to remain the Asst. County Manager for the foreseeable future.

WHAT ARE YOUR GOALS AS COUNTY MANAGER?
In this era of transition, it is crucial that we promote a collaborative, inclusive and community-based approach to governance that places quality of life and generational sustainability at the apex of decision making. I firmly believe that good governance is measured by its ability to balance competing interests in a shared pursuit of the common good. With that, transparency, integrity and trust are paramount to building a positive community-government relationship through which a collaborative form of governance can prosper.

YOUR PASSION AND BACKGROUND FOR COMMUNITY PLANNING WILL NO DOUBT INFLUENCE YOUR GOALS FOR THE COUNTY. CAN YOU EXPLAIN HOW?
When you boil it down, community planning is all about people, quality of life and balancing competing interests. The citizens of Nassau still have the opportunity to actively craft their community’s future. As I have said in many of my presentations, the role of local government should not be to dictate but rather facilitate the expressed desires of the citizens regarding what type of community they want to live in.

AND HOW IS IT THAT YOU WILL GO ABOUT REPLACING YOURSELF AS DIRECTOR OF PLANNING AND ECONOMIC OPPORTUNITY?
I am going to focus on candidates that have strengths where I have weaknesses. It is my intention to conduct a national search and hire the best candidate for the job. [Since this interview, Thad Crowe was hired as Director of Planning and Economic Opportunity.}

WHAT DOES YOUR FAMILY THINK OF YOUR APPOINTMENT?
(I recall you sharing that your sons asked if you ever did anything other than making posters/signs — I thought that was darling!!)

I have been blessed with an amazing wife who is supportive and understands the tremendous amount of time required to execute my responsibilities. Even as the Asst. County Manager, it is a 24 hour a day 7 day a week job. Without a supportive family, I couldn’t commit the time necessary to be successful.

YOU WERE MOST CANDID ABOUT DISCUSSIONS RELATING TO YOUR CONTRACT? CARE TO EXPLAIN?
Nassau County is my home. It’s where I grew up. It’s where I am raising my kids. I’m not going anywhere. I don’t have any plan on leaving. I’m going to work for Nassau County for another 15 years.

You also mentioned, in terms of your commitment to Nassau County, “when I retire, you can go and see me in on offshore boat docked at the marina.”

YOU MADE A REQUEST FOR AUDIENCE PARTICIPATION DURING THE MEETING APPROVING YOUR CONTRACT.
Newly elected Commissioners John Martin (District 1) and Klynt A. Farmer (District 5) approached the podium to speak on your behalf. With all sorts of COVID restrictions it was obviously planned. Both noted they had met with you and both were quite positive in their assessment.

During that same meeting you said that “I have planted a lot of seeds over the past 15 years. I’m looking at another 15 years . . . I am willing to bet on myself.”

At the end of the day, as what may be considered, a “confirmation hearing” comments received were nothing but positive:

From outgoing Commissioner Justin Taylor: “I like the skill set you are bringing to the role.”

Commissioner Thomas Ford, when praising Pope’s abilities said it’s: “Not only for this commission but for future commissions.”

And Commissioner Bell noted, as another vote of confidence, “if we do something for the residents of Nassau County, it’s that we deliver excellence.”

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