The governing board of the South Florida Water Management District on Thursday hired a new executive director: Blake Guillory, the current director of the Southwest Florida district and a former executive at major engineering firms that specialize in water projects.
Guillory, 52, becomes the district’s third executive director in 26 months and assumes control of an agency that oversees Everglades restoration but has recently endured severe budget cuts, layoffs, claims of cronyism and the departure of long-term senior executives, scientists and staffers.
Guillory’s arrival in Palm Beach County represents something of homecoming: He and his wife, Gail, bought a home in Jupiter in 2008 while he was working at Brown and Caldwell, a national firm specializing in water issues.
In August 2011, Guillory moved to the west coast, after becoming the executive director of the Southwest Florida Water Management District, headquartered in Brooksville.
Guillory made headlines two months after taking over there, when he embarked on a plan to restructure the district, saying the organization needed to get leaner and more efficient. He cut the staff from 768 employees to 590.
Guillory earned $165,006 at the southwestern district,“ the same as Melissa Meeker, who left as the South Florida district’s boss in June to become a vice president at CSA Ocean Sciences Inc., in Stuart.
Like Guillory, Meeker also cut staff by about 300 after lawmakers cut the district’s budget in half. Since her departure, Ernie Barnett, a scientist, lobbyist and longtime participant in Everglades restoration, has been serving as interim executive director.
Unlike Meeker, Guillory has not been a political, industry or government insider at his district or the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, which oversees the state’s water management districts. Meeker rose through the ranks of the DEP, served on the district’s governing board, worked for companies that did business with the district and was eventually appointed DEP’s water czar. In June 2011 she became executive director of the district after the abrupt departure of Carol Wehle.
Before becoming executive director at the southwestern district -- his first government job -- Guillory was vice president and Florida area manager at Brown and Caldwell. He holds a bachelor’s degree in petroleum engineering from Texas A&M University and master’s degrees in civil engineering and business administration from the University of South Florida.