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JACK FOUTS CALLS IT A CAREER


JACK FOUTS CALLS IT A CAREER


Former Tax Collector and Long Time Assistant Retiring

BARTOW, Florida/ PR Free/ July 15, 2007

After 35 years at the Polk County Tax Collector's Office, Assistant Tax Collector Jack Fouts will be retiring next month. Fouts, who has been a fixture in the Bartow tax office since 1972 and a recognized leader in Florida real estate tax, is leaving not just with the satisfaction of a rewarding career, but with a record of service never before matched in the State of Florida.

Jack Fouts first started working at the tax office as a 20 year-old front line clerk while he was a sophomore in college at Polk Community College in Winter Haven, Florida. Hailing from Kathleen High School's Class of 1970, Fouts remembers those days. "At that time, we were still maintaining records using 6" thick, 25 pound ledger books and everyone's job description included being capable of carrying these large ledgers around."

Fouts rose through the ranks over the years, becoming a Senior Clerk, followed by Manager of the Tax department within 4 years, ultimately going on to become the Assistant Tax Collector under Hobson Strain in 1983. Strain retired in 1994 and Governor Chiles appointed Jack Fouts to complete his unexpired 2 year term. Once again, Jack Fouts steadied the ship. Fouts was 43.

As a result, Fouts has made tax collector history, becoming the only person to ever serve in the top slot for two different counties. According to state records, no tax collector has ever served more than one county before.

Just last year, Jack Fouts was again asked to step in and help out another county when Nassau County Tax Collector Gwendolyn Miller became too ill to serve out her term. Fouts consulted with the Nassau County Tax Collector's Office over an indeterminate period of time, assisting newly-appointed John Drew who was named to the top post. Drew is indebted to Jack Fouts, he says. "Jack came up and by the second day we were filing tangible warrants for the first time in Nassau County. One week later he ran our tax certificate auction. He single-handedly saved Nassau County's certificate sale."

The Honorable Ray Valdes, Tax Collector for Seminole County, shared many stories of Fouts through the years they served together. States Valdes, "In my opinion, Jack Fouts is, and has been one of the three top Assistant County Tax Collectors in the state of Florida for at least the past 10 to 15 years. No other Assistant Tax Collector in the known history of the State of Florida has ever been asked by a Governor to become the appointed Tax Collector in two different counties. Jack did it not once, but twice with distinction."

For the past 10 years, Fouts has assumed the role of Assistant Tax Collector under Joe G. Tedder, who ran for Tax Collector in 1996 when Fouts decided not to run for office. Fouts admitted then, "I loved the job of Tax Collector, but I found that I did not enjoy the obligations that went along with being an elected official."

Tedder valued the experience Fouts brought to the office, and asked him to stay on staff. When he stepped down from his appointment, Fouts told the employees, "I never got a single word of bad press, and I attribute that to you, the staff, who represents the office with every person that you come in contact with. It is because of you and the outstanding work that you do and are doing." For 35 years, Fouts has engendered that level of caring and concern for his co-workers. Fouts' leaving has his co-workers calling it "the end of an era."

Tedder readily acknowledges Fouts influence in the office. "We have made a number of outstanding changes over the past 10 years and Jack has been a driving force in all of them. He has made me a better Tax Collector. The citizens of Polk County have no idea the quality of the public servant we are losing. I hope they join me in tipping our hats and extending their hands in appreciation for a job well done."

In an article written about Fouts in 1993, Fouts referred to himself as an "average guy." But Fouts is hardly average. Randy Hunt, Chief Deputy of Administration worked with Jack since the early 90s and he admits that his leadership style is "anything but average. "Jack did much to modernize our offices. Jack's brief tenure as Tax Collector brought several innovations to the tax office and ushered in a new era in customer service."

Susan Holland worked for 35 years with Jack Fouts in the Property Tax Department. She recalls that right after Jack became the Assistant Tax Collector, he purchased the office's first high-speed mail processor. "This eliminated the manual posting of tax payments, and really streamlined the way we processed the mail. That was just the beginning of automation."

During his leadership, Fouts also provided drop boxes at the branch offices for more convenient walk-in payments and instituted 'comment cards' in every office so that he could get regular customer feedback from the walk-in customers around the county. Most recently, Fouts was given the task of overseeing the modernization of the property tax certificate sale held annually in May. From a two-week long live auction which old-timers felt more closely resembled "a shouting match where the loudest voice won the bid," the process now takes less than two days. Now it is a task subcontracted to an online auction company which conducts the internet-based 'eBay-style' bidding process. Fouts personally ran the live auction for over thirty years as the auctioneer. Polk has conducted its certificate sale online for the past three years and is one of the counties leading the state in this innovation.

Fouts made one lasting change within the last few months of his tenure as Tax Collector says Seay. "Before Joe Tedder was installed, Jack made sure that he formalized "Casual Friday Dress" in the employee policy manual for the staff. "Jack is so laid back; he enjoyed that as much as the staff!"

Most who know Fouts admit he is a shrewd prankster and a quick wit. Colleagues who have worked with him over the years are easily able to recount their favorite "Jack Fouts" story. Such as the time he had to remove a boa constrictor from the Bartow lobby, which rode in on the shoulders of a taxpayer, shared Barbara Rowell, another long-time employee of the tax collector office and Manager of the Bartow Branch. "He had to summon up his best customer service, and calmly ask the lady to remove the snake from the premises."

"That is just like Jack," shared Rowell. "He relates so well to the public and the employees. He has always been available and approachable, no matter what comes up." Margaret Bolden, a Senior Clerk within the property tax department describes Jack as "the quiet authority figure."

Jones agrees. "His leadership style is conducive to problem-solving. Anybody could bring him a problem and instead of getting excited, he'd rationalize how to solve the issue."

Fouts has been a community leader in various civic responsibilities over the years. Past Chairman of the Board of Imperial Polk Credit Union, he has been actively involved since 1991. Fouts ushers at his church most Sunday mornings, unless he is down in Gasparilla, wetting a hook out on his boat, or enjoying outdoor activities with Jennie (formerly Jennie Bouton of Lakeland), his wife of 34 years and their 20-year-old daughter Lauren.

Since 1996, Fouts has either chaired or served on the Citrus Center Kiwanis Mayor's Prayer Breakfast, held annually in Lakeland. He served as the club's president in 1998-99.

Valdes agrees. "Very few individuals impact and influence the industry they choose as a career. Jack Fouts is one of the few. His knowledge, experience, and likeable manner will be missed."

W. Dale Summerford, Tax Collector for Gadsden County echoes the sentiment. "We are all going to miss Jack. His expertise in ad valorem taxes has been an asset to a lot of us through the years. He's one of those 'common sense' type people that everyone needs to have around."

Holland and the property tax department remember that Jack brought humor and concern into the workplace. "He had a way with the customers and employees; he could really smooth over someone's ruffled feathers. Jack was a pleasure to work with - he made going to work fun."

There will be a public reception honoring Jack Fouts' 35 years of service on Thursday, July 26, 2007 from 4:00 to 6:30 p.m. at the Polk County Tax Collector's Office in Bartow.

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