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A top county planning official who resigned in August 2020 after public criticism by a then commissioner is back in her old job.

Joanna Coutu returned a week ago as director of Citrus County Land Development after eight months as Marion County deputy director of growth services.

“I missed the county a lot,” she said. “This is a really special place. I’m happy to be back.”

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Coutu, a 23-year Citrus County veteran who got her start as a secretary in the building division, found herself in the political crosshairs when Commissioner Jimmie T. Smith became a frequent critic of her leadership and suggested she should go. Commissioners responded by condemning Smith’s comments, saying they bordered on workplace harassment.

Coutu said at the time that her departure was unrelated to Smith’s pressure, and instead it was to take advantage of a career opportunity.

She said Monday the Marion County job was challenging, but she kept up with Citrus County development activity and noticed her job was still vacant.

“When they hadn’t filled it and hadn’t filled it, I thought, ‘Maybe I should check it out,’” Coutu said.

Commissioner Holly Davis, who defeated Smith in his re-election bid, said she was pleased to have Coutu back.

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Citrus County Commissioner Holly Davis

“The growth management department is understaffed and having somebody with her institutional knowledge coming back to the team is a great benefit to the county,” Davis said.

Coutu’s starting salary of $82,784 essentially picks up where she left off — the increase from $80,468 equals the same pay raise offered to employees during the same time period.

Contact Chronicle reporter Mike Wright at 352-563-3228 or mwright@chronicleonline.com. To view more of his stories, go to www.tinyurl.com/y3bakm6w.