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Longtime head of mosquito control program to retire

STORY BY RAY MCNULTY (Week of October 22, 2020)

Island resident Doug Carlson, the longtime, well regarded and highly paid director of the Indian River Mosquito Control District, is bugging out.

After 42 years with the district – the past 17 as director – Carlson, 68, informed the district’s board of commissioners he will retire effective Dec. 18.

This newspaper last week drew attention to the fact that Carlson is being paid $151,000 a year – more than the county’s sheriff.

“Doug Carlson has been a stalwart in mosquito control his entire career and is a leader in his field,” district commissioner Buck Vocelle said. “He has led the creation of innovative methods and procedures, and he has served and chaired numerous boards and committees on both the state and national levels.

“Through his leadership, the Indian River Mosquito Control District has been recognized as one of the most prominent such districts in the nation,” he added. “Although we wish him well in his retirement, he will be sorely missed by all those with whom he came into contact.”

Those who think the Mosquito Control District is a minor cog in the county’s governing machine may not know that as recently as the 1970s, the night air in Indian River County was thick with buzzing, stinging, disease-carrying pests.

Continuing to keep those pests at bay is a key factor in maintaining the lifestyle residents here enjoy and helping protect public health from a wide range of wicked diseases.

Two of the board’s three commissioners – Vocelle and 38-year member Janice Broda – face challengers in their bids for re-election on Nov. 3. Whatever the outcome that day, the post-election panel’s first priority will be to find Carlson’s successor.

A Vero Beach High School graduate who earned degrees in zoology and economics at Duke University, Carlson began working for the district in 1978 as a biologist. He was promoted to assistant director in 1991, then to director in 2003.

A past president of both the Florida Mosquito Control Association and American Mosquito Control Association, Carlson has served on numerous local, state and national committees.

He has written extensively about his work and has had more than 60 papers published, many of them in scientific journals. Considered an expert in his field, he also has served on numerous committees, given many presentations, received several research grants and earned multiple awards.

“What I’m most proud of, though, is leading this organization and the fine people whose work in mosquito control has enabled us to change the complexion of Indian River County – at least as far as protecting the public’s health and our quality of life,” Carlson said.

“Every so often, I’ll hear someone say, ‘I didn’t know we had a mosquito control problem,’ or ‘We don’t have any mosquitoes here,’” he added. “That’s about the best compliment I can get, because it’s the service we provide that matters most.

“You might see our trucks spraying at night, or even the yellow airplane flying over the lagoon area, but as long as we’re doing a good job, we’re not going to get a lot of attention.”

Other than his occasional phone-ins to a local radio show, Carlson maintains a relatively low profile, allowing the district’s work to speak for itself.

“I always have admired Doug Carlson’s consensus-building skills, respect for others, environmental protection efforts and integrity,” said Commissioner Broda.

Asked why he chose to retire now, Carlson said, “I’ll be 69 in a couple of months. We have an excellent staff here to run things. It’s the right time.”

Carlson said he expects Sherry Burroughs, the district’s assistant director for the past 18 months, to be a strong candidate to replace him.

Burroughs has worked in mosquito control for nearly seven years in St. Lucie and Indian River counties. She joined the district here as a medical entomologist four years ago and was promoted to assistant director in May 2019.

“She’s a very able assistant director,” Carlson said. “I’m sure the commissioners will give her due consideration.”

As for his future, Carlson, who lives in the Wabasso Beach area, said he will stay in town and spend more time surfing and kayaking.

“I moved to Vero as a young boy,” he said, “and I’ve always loved the ocean.”