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Business committee wants to explore public/private economic development in Hernando

Michael McHugh is stepping down as Hernando County business development manager.

Courtesy of Dawn Badami

Michael McHugh is stepping down as Hernando County business development manager.

BROOKSVILLE — The Hernando County Commission next week will discuss how to replace departing business development manager Michael McHugh, and there are several suggestions on the table.

One is to resurrect an idea with a controversial past.

In an email to County Administrator Len Sossamon, banker Morris Porton urges the county to delay its hiring to allow an advocacy committee of the Greater Hernando County Chamber of Commerce to explore a public-private economic development organization.

"This would certainly, as I envision, (be) a great opportunity for the business community to come together to support our county," wrote Porton, who is a member of the committee. "I think it is prudent to look at ways to streamline operations and have the business community involved in decisions about our county's future."

The county had operated under a public-private arrangement before McHugh's arrival in 2002. The Economic Development Commission came under fire in 2001 when newly elected county Commissioner Diane Rowden questioned the spending of the group, and others voiced concerns about its effectiveness.

The County Commission ended the contract, bringing economic development back under its control.

Porton's email indicates that he participated in the previous group and says "it was quite successful." He blamed the dissolution on "issues with the director we hired."

Rowden said Thursday she still opposes the public-private partnership because there is no accountability under the system.

"We have the numbers that show that the cost for that was a lot more," she said.

"It's to our advantage to keep it in-house," said Commissioner Nick Nicholson. "That way we maintain control."

Commissioner Wayne Dukes agreed.

"That's an awful lot of irons in the fire, and so who do you hold accountable?" he said.

Dukes wants to see the county hire a search firm to find the most qualified person for the job. He said he also would like to hire the person under an employment agreement that would make sure he or she delivered new jobs to the county.

"I want someone who, on Day 1, could hit the ground running, who is full of ideas on how to help Hernando County grow jobs," he said.

Commissioner Jim Adkins said he would discuss a public-private partnership.

Barbara Behrendt can be reached at behrendt@tampabay.com or (352) 848-1434.

Business committee wants to explore public/private economic development in Hernando 09/05/13 [Last modified: Thursday, September 5, 2013 11:24pm]
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