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Ad for county administrator glosses over Hernando's flaws

All you prospective county administrators out there scanning the Web and thinking Hernando County might be a nice place to land — here's something important you should know.

The local economy is not, as the online recruitment copy states, "reasonably well-diversified."

In 2006 — the good times, mind you — economist William Fruth found that Hernando was so dependent on low-paying service and construction jobs that, considered as a separate metro region, its wages ranked dead last among cities nationwide.

Now, with the housing market collapsed, there is a glaring lack of any sector to take its place; as of December, the county's unemployment rate of 12.9 percent was the third-highest in the state.

If you read that original, relatively upbeat take on our economy, it means you found the website of Colin Baenziger & Associates — — the headhunting firm hired to find a replacement for former County Administrator David Hamilton.

You have also seen the attached photographs: shimmering gulf sunsets, a lovingly restored historic home in Brooksville, kayaks floating on the utterly transparent water of the Weeki Wachee River.

True, Hernando can be a beautiful place. But for the complete picture, you should check out Spring Hill's lakes, which have been drained by pumping and a mysterious, if slight, long-term decline in rainfall. And you should see the Chinsegut Manor House, easily the most impressive historic home in the county, which, far from being lovingly restored, has been neglected so badly it is starting to shed rotten siding.

Another sight you might want to take in: one of the shabbier neighborhoods of Spring Hill, a formerly tidy retirement community. Along with the other unpleasant images I've recommended, this will cast doubt on Baenziger's assertion that our community's "most important" quality is that "the people of Hernando County care."

Some of them don't care enough to mow their lawns or haul away derelict pickups. Most of them don't care enough to pay a tax rate that would pay for adequate code enforcement or to maintain our increasingly trashy neighborhood parks. Recently, the nonpartisan Florida TaxWatch ranked Hernando third from the bottom among Florida counties when it came to "per capita total county and municipal government revenue."

I don't want to conform too closely to one of the downsides of Hernando that Baenziger identified: media that have "not helped the County build a positive image."

I just want to point out that Hernando, for all its good qualities, isn't the near-paradise portrayed by Baenziger, which is based in Palm Beach County.

Downtown Brooksville isn't especially rich in "antique stores and quaint eateries."

Other than an impressive concentration of Walmart Supercenters, there aren't that many "major department stores" where you can "indulge in retail therapy."

And when Baenziger notes that "cultural activities, fine dining, nightclubs, airports and cruise lines" can be found within an "easy drive," what that really means is that you have to drive, because there isn't exactly an abundance of such amenities in Hernando.

In fairness, the posting also says the job will be difficult, that the budget is shrinking, that the politics can be tricky, and, finally, it points out that "the county has had eight County Administrators since 1990."

Before the county hires anyone, the firm will meet with the serious candidates to talk more about what founder Colin Baenziger calls the job's "challenges," and the right candidate will see them that way — as challenges.

In that spirit, I'll come right out and say it: For county administrators, this place is a political snake pit.

If that sounds like your kind of challenge, the deadline for applications is Feb. 24.

Ad for county administrator glosses over Hernando's flaws 01/31/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, January 31, 2012 8:20pm]
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