Sunday, May 20, 2018
News Roundup

Bad sign: We make Flint look good

Here's a sign of how the Hernando County administrator's job looks to outsiders:

On Tuesday, one of the finalists for the vacancy, a 67-year-old director of a county roads commission, John Daly III, took himself out of the running.

He'd worked in places like Hernando that chew up and spit out administrators. He didn't want to do it again, he said, and all things considered he'd prefer to stay where he is — Flint, Mich.

To which I was tempted to say, "Flint!" Then I thought better of it and went with "FLINT!!!"

There are worse places, I'm sure, just not in this country.

Crime has been so bad for so long that stories about it in the Flint Journal newspaper read like reports of warm, sunny weather in Florida.

"Flint is once again the most violent city in America, according to figures released by the FBI today," said an article last May.

Hernando's grim unemployment picture looks absolutely rosy compared to Flint's. More than 25 percent of the city's workforce was jobless when the auto industry was on the verge of collapse three years ago. The recent turnaround? In Flint, it's brought the unemployment rate all the way down to 17.4 percent.

Some of that reduction is likely because of people leaving, because when it comes to population, Flint has been shedding like a golden retriever for decades. The city's population is now so low — just over half of its 1960 peak — that the city pioneered the idea of bulldozing entire neighborhoods of vacant homes. And we thought Royal Highlands was bad.

Our housing market is in tatters? In Flint, the average home sells for roughly half of what it does here, and there has never been a boom to come down from, at least not in the lifetime of most current residents. Just one long bust.

In 2006, when I visited an old friend in Flint, we saw a for-sale sign in front of one of the old auto tycoon's mansions, a real Midwestern San Simeon — stone walls, slate roof, cut-glass windows. You could imagine the chandeliers inside, the billiards hall and, possibly, a couple of bowling lanes.

The asking price was about that of a stucco box in many parts of Florida at the time — $265,000.

Daly, and I don't blame him, was quick to tell me, "I have nothing to do with Flint."

Except that his office is in Flint, he lived in Flint until recently moving to a town just outside of Flint, and his commission is responsible for the roads in the unincorporated territory all around Flint.

And Januarys — and Februarys and Marches — are just as brutally cold outside the city lines as inside.

Yet he still turned down the chance to move to a Florida county on the Gulf of Mexico, a dream relocation spot for the typical 67-year-old.

The problem is that the political climate here for administrators is about as bad as Flint's actual climate, and it's bad all year long. Which is probably also why the field of qualified candidates for a job running a good-size county and paying at least $120,000 a year is slim enough to make you wonder what, really, was so bad about the old administrator, David Hamilton.

Yeah, I know. He wasn't perfect. And if the resumes of his possible replacements aren't stellar, they are good enough that we can hope to find a keeper.

That can only happen if people refrain from plotting his (all the candidates are men) removal as soon as he warms his seat.

Right now, we're stunned to be rejected by a guy from Flint.

We may think it can't get any worse than that, but if we treat the new administrator the way we've treated past ones, it probably will.

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