Mike Olson excelled at his unsexy job

A solitary figure in the rear of one more look-alike clubhouse, his gray suit pressed and his hands clasped at his back as he waited out his turn during an all-comers candidates forum, Mike Olson, the only tax collector most Pasco residents had ever known, scowled only a moment when he was asked - for the umpteenth time, apparently - whether he was interested in making news about his future plans.

Those baccalaureate roasts don't plan themselves, after all.

Composing himself, Olson peered down from his small forward's height and, in a voice just above a whisper, settled the matter: "I don't know where those rumors get started, but I'm not planning to go anywhere. There's still a lot I want to get accomplished. We still have plans we need to implement."

Those plans, especially the construction of new satellite offices, were central to the 2012 campaign, but so was this: "Besides, I still have lots of energy. I like doing this job, and the people of Pasco County like how I do it."

Election Day 2012 reaffirmed Olson's gauge of his constituents' sympathies; voters resoundingly returned him to office for the ninth time over the challenge of Republican Ed Blommel, a likable and accomplished retired TECO executive. But life is by turns rhapsodic and cruel, as we'd recently seen in the untimely death of longtime Land O' Lakes High football coach John Benedetto. Last month, Olson joined the ranks of the gone-too-soon, claimed, like Benedetto, by a stroke.

So change comes with a forceful reminder that we are not always in charge of our fate.

Olson was the last of a breed, an unrepentant Democrat in a county that had shifted from blue to red. Despite this rolling earthquake, the man once regarded as the godfather of Pasco politics survived for a variety of reasons.

Yes, he was an astute and studious politician, but so was his West Pasco protégé, former Pasco County Commissioner Michael Cox.

But Cox, a wonk's wonk, loves to wage war in the arena of public philosophy, where the winds of opinion blow strongest, explaining Cox's out-of-office electoral status.

A county commissioner before being elected tax collector, Olson pitched his tent on unsexy territory that rewards proficiency, stewardship and client service. Oh, the odd challenger could haul out the occasional disgruntled ex-employee to take shots at the tax collector's magisterial demeanor, but where the rubber met the road - or more to the point, the pen met the signature line on a check - Olson was the one competent guy in public office you didn't change.

That said, at such times we are reminded about the adage linking cemeteries and the indispensable. We have lost Olson, but because the man understood the blessings of momentum, somehow Pasco County can be counted on to sort out the business of carrying on his work.

Olson's proper legacy, then, will be that his office continues to do it well, no matter who Gov. Rick Scott chooses as his successor as tax collector.
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