LAKEWOOD RANCH — For someone so inclusive, she brought her cat, Mr. Darcy, to work as an icebreaker, Eva Rey operates in secret when she must.
When her evaluators aren’t watching, Rey slips outside Lakewood Ranch Town Hall with fistfuls of paperwork and bolts for her Main Street apartment.
There, Rey will work after hours, undetected, she hopes.
In the only change from last year’s glowing review, Rey’s second-year evaluation in her role as executive director of Lakewood Ranch Town Hall shows she can be sneakier — and better at balancing work and life.
“If the worst thing they say about me is I work too hard for this community, I’ll take that hit,” Rey said.
In his review, Tom Green, the chairman of the Inner-District Authority, the mix of community development district representatives that hired Rey, commends her ability to communicate ideas and persuade their value to people.
So he buys Rey’s attempts at balance.
“She should take some time to recharge her batteries,” Green said. “She has reassured me she does what she needs to do to make sure she’s functioning the next day.”
However she does it, Rey, the former aspiring psychologist, has managed to function quite well.
Rey, entering the last year of a three-year contract, has provided a voice and identity for Lakewood Ranch’s CDDs through a new website; improved processes and the accessibility of records; and better customer relations with residents, boards, media and outside groups.
The biggest project to date under her watch — Town Hall’s new maintenance building — is on time and under budget.
CDD meetings operate smoothly, like an assembly line, but also more intimately, like customized service, and rarely go past budgeted time.
Phase one of the CDD’s irrigation plan proved successful, as Town Hall rolled out a rebate program to promote the use of soil-moisture sensors, in a move to save water.
Rey, a persistent goal setter who runs her staff meetings in a small “war room” attached to her office, believes she hasn’t done enough.
“I am always very critical of myself,” Rey said. “I look back and see things I could have done differently. I look back and say, ‘Wow. I’ve done a lot.’ But, amazingly, I could have done more.”
Rey won’t point to specifics because she doesn’t like to look back.
A self-described late bloomer who didn’t focus on her career until she was 30, Rey feels like she’s playing catch-up.
A Florida native, Rey grew up in Brooksville, where her family owns a drug store. She learned how to run a business, but Rey drifted from the family path. She thought she’d be a psychologist and obtained a bachelor’s degree in the subject.
A job working as a secretary at the Department of Children and Families from 2000 to 2002 proved to be the catalyst for changing her career.
Her supervisor, a retired military officer who commanded respect without barking orders, introduced her to working in the public-service sector.
When he left to become county administrator of Marion County, Rey joined him as his deputy.
During that time, she went back to school to earn her master’s degree in public administration. She joined the Village Center CDD, where she served as director of purchasing and support services, in 2007.
Rey only came to Lakewood Ranch after a recruiter the IDA hired found her.
“That was the first time I had to do an interview in years,” Rey said.
Now in control of her career, Rey struggles to cede it.
She’s the webmaster of Town Hall’s new website and she can even do basic HTML code.
“I’m always looking for continuous improvement,” Rey said. “I’ve learned you can’t always get everything right. Now that we’ve gotten things to a stable place with customer service and setting our core values, we can move more into performance measurement and planning.”
Looking ahead, the CDDs will prepare their first annual report this year.
Rey had her first meeting with the CDDs’ new auditor Sept. 26.
There will be things for which Rey can’t plan.
Rey has set up a comment card system (she says none of the remarks has been negative) through which she can get direct feedback from residents.
The process has resulted in small changes — after a resident complained of hard-to-find bike racks, Town Hall installed a new one in front of the building — that form a bigger theme.
“There’s been a huge shift in how residents perceive us,” Rey said. “And I am so very proud of that.”
It also matters to Rey how co-workers view her.
Rey still brings her fondness for cats, if not Mr. Darcy, himself, into the workplace.
Before department meetings in the “war room,” Rey puts up a motivational quote matched with a Lolcat — an image of a cat with humorous text.
Rey does manage to get out of the office.
She was the hamburger judge at Woodland Community Church’s annual festival.
“Things should never be stagnant,” Rey said. “I’m not afraid to take the next step.”
Contact Josh Siegel at [email protected].