FLA: Bush aide to oversee growth - But governor plans merger of two agencies

By Bruce Ritchie


Gov. Jeb Bush on Thursday appointed Cabinet aide Colleen Castille to lead Florida's growth-management agency, though he indicated that it may not be a job she'll hold for long.

Bush said he wants to move some Florida Department of Community Affairs programs into the Department of State, though he said a plan still is being developed for doing that. He said Florida's growth management system, which has been in place since 1985, needs to be updated.

"I urge the people that are concerned about this ... to recognize that what we have now isn't that good," he said. "Working together, we can make it better."

Castille, 43, began her career in politics in 1986 as a campaign fund-raiser for Tom Gallagher. She has been a senior Cabinet aide to Gallagher as insurance commissioner and to Frank Brogan as education commissioner. She became Bush's senior Cabinet aide in 1999. An aide is responsible for advising the state's highest elected officials on policy matters that come before the Cabinet.

Castille, who will earn $107,000 a year as head of the 445-employee department, will replace Steve Seibert, who resigned to spend more time with his family.

She takes over a department that provides state oversight of local land-use decisions, provides grants for local planning and administers grants to cities and counties for buying parks. It also coordinates responses by various state and local agencies to hurricanes and other disasters.

Florida's population grew from 12.9 million in 1990 to 15.5 million in 2000, an increase of 20 percent, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. While the state has had a huge conservation land-buying program since the 1990s, development continues to gobble open space while creating traffic congestion and crowded classrooms.

In charge until merger

Bush said the state made progress last year when the Legislature adopted his proposals to require identification of future water supplies and coordination on planning between local government and school officials.

The governor said he will ask lawmakers to approve moving growth management programs into the Department of State but he didn't explain how the state would benefit from the merger. Castille will remain in charge of DCA until the merger is approved and will remain involved in the department after then in some role, he said.

Bush also said he remains committed to the programs and to meeting the requirements of Florida's growth laws. "No amount of changing the boxes in an organizational chart is going to change that," he said.

Castille said she looks forward to implementing growth management laws.

"Environment was my passion; it still is my passion," she said. "Growth management is an important issue in our state. It's critical for the economic development in our state."

Her appointment, which must be confirmed by the state Senate, was welcomed by some environmentalists and a spokeswoman for the Florida Home Builders Association.

Some environmentalists want stricter oversight of local government and stronger regional planning, particularly in the Panhandle, where the St. Joe Co. has proposed building thousands of homes and moving roads to accommodate development.

Castille has been one of the best people in the governor's office on environmental issues, said Eric Draper, policy director for Audubon of Florida. He said he hopes she will help DCA focus on stronger regional planning, particularly in coastal Franklin and Wakulla counties.

More involved in some places

"They don't have to be involved in every land-use decision in Tallahassee or some other urbanized area," Draper said. "But they do need to be more involved in places where there are going to be natural resource impacts."

The lack of merger details raises uncertainty about the future direction of growth management in Florida, said Charles Pattison, executive director of the 1000 Friends of Florida growth management advocacy group.

He said a restructuring may not make any difference unless the intent is to reduce the state's emphasis on growth management. "That would be pretty disturbing," Pattison said.

Bush drew fire from home builders in 2001 when he proposed requiring that classroom space be available for proposed new development. That proposal was killed in the Legislature after being opposed by the Florida Home Builders Association, which eventually endorsed Bush for governor in 2002.

The association also hopes to learn more about the governor's merger plans, said Edie Ousley, the group's public affairs director. Otherwise, the group is happy with the appointment.

"As a long-time Cabinet aide, Colleen Castille has the experience and knowledge necessary to lead the Department of Community Affairs."



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