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Dade City Commissioner Steve Van Gorden to step down Nov. 10

DADE CITY — City Commissioner Steve Van Gorden surprised everyone Tuesday evening by dropping his effort to repeal the city's ban on private wells. Then he unleashed a bigger surprise: his resignation.

Van Gorden said that because of his pending divorce, his increased duties as principal of Zephyrhills High School and his plans to move out of the city limits, he would resign from the City Commission, effective after the Nov. 10 meeting.

"The last five-plus years have been some of the best years of my life," said Van Gorden, who was elected in 2004 and again in 2008.

"It's time to reprioritize and get my family situation together," he said after the meeting.

Van Gorden's term is set to expire in 2012. The city's charter states that if a commissioner resigns with more than 60 days left on his or her term, then the commission must appoint someone to fill the seat until the next scheduled election, said City Attorney Karla Owens.

The commission will discuss the appointment at the next meeting.

"Prepare to be politicked for the next couple of weeks," said Mayor Scott Black.

In the meantime, the effort to lift the city's ban on private wells was shot down.

Officials decided that lifting the ban was not worth potentially violating the bond covenants on money borrowed for utility improvements in recent years. Under the bond covenants, the city agreed not to allow competing systems for utilities.

Van Gorden voted to keep the ban, switching sides from the previous meeting when he and Commissioners Camille Hernandez and Eunice Penix took the first step toward lifting it. At that time, they had argued residents should have the option of sinking their own irrigation wells instead of using the city's metered water if it would help them save money.

None of the commissioners voiced support Tuesday for killing the ban.

"I support private wells," Van Gorden said, "but in light of the situation I think it would be naive of this commission to move forward in allowing private wells because of the financial consideration."

He also mentioned "the cloud" cast on the issue, referring to the controversy over a well on the Hernandez property. Then-City Manager Harold Sample sent a letter in 2007 to Hernandez's husband, David, raising questions about the well on the couple's Bougainvillea Avenue property. The letter resurfaced after the commission's Oct. 13 vote to explore lifting the ban.

The couple has refused to comment to the Times about the issue.

"There are no illegal wells on the Hernandez property," Commissioner Hernandez declared Tuesday night.

The city is investigating whether it was a pre-existing well that the couple uncapped after buying the home in 1997, as David Hernandez has reportedly claimed.

City Manager Billy Poe did not have an update on the investigation Tuesday. He said city staff was waiting to see if the ban was upheld before moving forward.

If the well predates the 1982 ban, it would be grandfathered in as long as the proper backflow system was installed to protect the water system. But if the well is there illegally, the couple could face a municipal ordinance violation, which could lead to a potential fine of no more than $500.

Glenn Rankin, who owned the Bougainvillea Avenue house for 14 years before the Hernandezes, said she was not aware of a well on the property.

"We never saw a well," Rankin told the Times this week. "And I was all over that property."

Dade City Commissioner Steve Van Gorden to step down Nov. 10 10/27/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, October 27, 2009 9:04pm]
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