says William Thrasher, Gulf Stream town manager.
Tim Stepien/The Coastal Star
By Dan Moffett
Gulf Stream ranks high on a short list of South Florida communities that value longevity in public service.
Rita Taylor is in her 27th year as town clerk. Joan Orthwein is in her 21st year as a town commissioner, ranking as Palm Beach County’s second-longest-serving elected official behind Cloud Lake Mayor Patrick Slatery, who’s served 38 years.
And William Thrasher has just completed 20 years as a Gulf Stream administrator, the last 16 as town manager.
It is not easy to last two decades in municipal management. Managers have to operate within the shifting political whims of their elected bodies and often wind up in the crosshairs of blame, justifiably or not, when things go wrong.
Consider that just up the road in South Palm Beach last year, the Town Council hired a new manager from New Jersey and then terminated him six months later.
The Florida City and County Management Association says the average tenure for town managers is about six years.
Thrasher thinks the longevity of service in Gulf Stream should be considered part of the legacy of William F. Koch, who served as the town’s mayor for 46 of his 91 years, until his death in 2012.
Koch was a powerful influence on Thrasher and his colleagues, they say.
“I have to say I loved Mayor Koch,” Thrasher says. “He was the greatest person I’ve ever been in contact with. He was a very hard outer shell person, but with a very loving heart.”
As Taylor puts it: Koch “had a lot of empathy for mankind.”
Thrasher’s path to Gulf Stream was unlikely in the socioeconomic landscapes it crossed. He grew up baling hay in Ottumwa, Iowa, known as the birthplace of the fictional Radar O’Reilly, the character in Richard Hooker’s M.A.S.H. novel. He came to Florida with Phyllis, his wife of 48 years. He earned a bachelor’s degree at Florida Atlantic University and wound up doing finance work for the city of Pahokee, 55 miles and several cultural light-years from Gulf Stream.
He answered an ad Koch placed for an assistant to the town manager, and Thrasher found his mentor and career in the same place.
“Mayor Koch was always a surprise as it relates to what he knew,” Thrasher says. “He knew so much. He was so influential but would never give the pretense of being that influential.”
Thrasher says working alongside Koch helped him develop a commitment to Gulf Stream that has endured through some difficult challenges in recent years.
Thrasher and other town officials have been named as defendants in dozens of lawsuits filed by residents Martin O’Boyle and Chris O’Hare over numerous disputed issues. The town also is in the middle of an arduous project to move its utility lines underground — an initiative that probably will take roughly a decade from conception to completion a couple years from now.
Thrasher says getting Florida Power & Light to cooperate on the project is “like trying to push water uphill.” But he says he’s determined to see it through and remains hopeful all the work will get done on his watch.
“The accomplishments are not generated by the manager but by the commissioners,” Thrasher says. “Most of us just love the town. That seems to be the motivating factor. Government in its purest ideal is to serve people. That’s what I’m here to do. That cannot be boastful. You need to stay humble. You need to have humility and care about Gulf Stream.”