BROOKSVILLE — In the short time that David Hamilton has been county administrator, he has heard a resounding message that residents of south Brooksville feel disenfranchised by their government.
Three different times, he has visited with people in the largely African-American community. He has tried to demonstrate his concern about charges of racism in the county's Utilities Department and attempted to understand the community's perspective on how the county spends its money.
He will visit again Tuesday evening, this time unveiling some ideas for what he thinks will be visible improvements that help meet the community's needs. He wants to hear what residents think.
How far the ideas might fly could depend on the level of interest in the community and the cooperation of other officials whom Hamilton hopes to involve in a larger discussion of how to shape south Brooksville's future.
Early indications are that there might be some obstacles that could put a damper on some of Hamilton's enthusiastic ideas to pull government resources together to make meaningful changes.
One focus of the community frustration has been the old Department of Public Works site on Dr. M.L. King Jr. Boulevard, where arsenic, lead and other contaminants have polluted the soil and the water for years. For several years, the county has been testing the water and soil, awaiting the go-ahead by state environmental regulators to begin a cleanup.
The Florida Department of Environmental Protection is still reviewing the county's latest test results, agency spokeswoman Pamala Vazquez said Friday.
But Hamilton said the county wants to begin some early excavation on the site to begin to pull pollutants out. He said it was time to act because "it's something that's taken an awfully long time.''
He blames state rules for some of the delays, but also puts some of the blame on the county for not making the cleanup a priority.
The plan is to pull out the top 2 feet of soil on various portions of the 5-acre site and also in off-site areas where contamination has spread, according to Gregg Sutton, assistant county engineer.
"It's actually a good thing,'' he said. "It keeps the project going.''
The major cleanup will happen after the DEP approves a remedial action plan, he said.
Hamilton has an idea for what to do with the site once it is safe: He is interested in discussing the idea of building a community center there that would include a sheriff's substation, if Sheriff Richard Nugent can be convinced to change his plans for building a substation near the corner of Dr. M.L. King and E Jefferson Street.
"I want to have this discussion with the community,'' Hamilton said.
But the idea already faces one major problem. Nugent said he is too far along with plans for the substation on the other site to talk seriously about moving it to the DPW location. Besides, he said, his location is in the heart of the community, where it is needed, in an area that has long been popular for drug deals. The sheriff says community members he has talked to want the substation there.
This year, Nugent's office received some drug case forfeiture dollars that he hopes to use to make the substation a reality. He has hired an architect to complete designs and update permitting with the city of Brooksville.
The only fly in the ointment could be if Hamilton and the County Commission stand firm and force him to reduce his 2008-09 budget request. Hamilton said he and Nugent are just $950,000 apart. But the sheriff said that's enough for him to consider cutting programs and possibly substations from his spending plan.
Another idea that Hamilton has discussed that could help south Brooksville is the possibility of annexing the community into the city of Brooksville, because portions of it are not inside the city limits.
While Hamilton is aware that annexation has long been a controversial concept, he said it is worth exploring because, if all parties approved, city and county resources could both be used to help the area.
He has discussed his idea with Brooksville Vice Mayor Frankie Burnett. Burnett could not be reached Friday for comment on the idea.
Hamilton's community meeting is slated to begin 5:30 p.m. Tuesday in the community center at Kennedy Park.
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1434.