Saturday, May 26, 2018
News Roundup

Monday's Quick Hits: Jeff Stabins, Annie Williams and the effort to save Chinsegut

Anyone else who had spent as much time in public office as Jeff Stabins — three terms as a state representative and two as county commissioner — would get a major send-off from this newspaper.

And if the outgoing politician had shown as much sense as Stabins has about policy (and, in his case, only policy) I might be writing about how sad I am to see him or her go.

But for Stabins, whose last meeting as a Hernando County commissioner is Tuesday, the only events I feel like rehashing are these:

• The drunk-driving charge — later reduced to reckless driving — that led to his being voted out of state office in 1998.

• His apparent emotional meltdown in recent years, which included so many undignified moments it's hard to pick a low point, though my top choice is the "joke" email he sent to fellow commissioners in 2011 suggesting — Ha! Ha! — he had died.

• His virtual abandonment of Hernando for his hometown in upstate New York, where he has lived in recent months, returning mostly just for meetings.

At first, some of this was amusing and then, for a while, I was worried about his mental health.

But recently I've realized that we don't need to care any more about him voluntarily leaving his commission job than he did about holding it.

•••

The retirement of Supervisor of Elections Annie Williams might also be a big deal.

Like Stabins, Williams was a public fixture, serving three terms as the boss of the office and, before that, 24 years as a staffer. Unlike Stabins, she made history. She was the first African-American woman elected to a countywide position in Hernando.

And with a little more attention to detail, I always thought, she could have run an excellent office.

But she didn't.

There were late election results, misinformation her office gave to a School Board candidate earlier this year, a website that looked and performed like it was straight out of 1999.

And, whether it was her fault or the fault of Liz Townsend, Williams' top staffer and the Democratic candidate to replace her, last week's election night was typical.

My older son, a senior in high school, volunteered to enter the latest results on this website, tampabay.com, which I figured would mostly just involve cutting and pasting from the supervisor of elections site.

But 15 minutes after the polls closed, not only had no results been posted; there was not even a button available to click for results. When the button finally showed up, it led to a blank page, and for most of the night my son and I were reduced to trying to pick up results as they scrolled by on the county's Hernando County Government Broadcasting channel.

That would have been great 15 or 20 years ago, being able to turn on TV and get partial results on election night.

It's not great in 2012. Not even adequate or acceptable.

Even worse, at the end of the night, the office told us the results were complete when it turned out they weren't.

It was more confusion, in other words, from an office whose main job is to clear up confusion.

•••

Maybe you've heard that the county commissioners are looking into a lease of Chinsegut Hill and its historic manor house.

They're scheduled to talk about it Tuesday. And though I'm sure they won't commit to it if it involves spending much money, just the fact that they're willing to entertain the idea is a good sign.

Not that I had any real doubt that it's important to keep such a historic and scenic asset in public hands, but just in case there was any question at all, I cleared it up with some harmless (I thought) trespassing. On Saturday, I hiked with my son from the Big Pine Tract north of Brooksville, across the pasture and wooded fence lines of the now-abandoned federal Department of Agriculture cattle research land, and up to the grand old house itself.

Beautiful weather. Beautiful walking. Great opportunity for the county. No doubt about it.

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