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Kent Weissinger, Hernando County's senior assistant county attorney, quits to pursue online news

BROOKSVILLE — Citing a mistake he made in an item he brought before the County Commission last month, and his growing disinterest in the work, senior assistant county attorney Kent Weissinger has resigned.

An 11-year employee, Weissinger said he plans to devote himself full time to providing information that county residents need to know on his online news site, www.hernandonewssource.com , taking him back to his journalistic roots.

Weissinger's previous work producing an online news listing and his frequent anonymous posts on other news sites under the moniker "flarrfan'' — a nod to his love of trains — earned him scrutiny from his county bosses last summer. For a while, he stopped posting news links, but recently began anew with the Hernando News Source site.

County Attorney Garth Coller said Weissinger approached him after the May 26 commission meeting saying he wanted to resign. At that meeting, Weissinger made a presentation to the commission about the purchase of a piece of property on Nightwalker Road for a drainage retention area.

Weissinger told commissioners that the county had gotten an appraisal that placed the property's value at $50,000. He went on to say that, when he checked property appraiser's information on the lot, it was listed in the current year at $53,733.

His suggestion was to go with the higher amount to avoid any legal issue. Commissioners unanimously approved the purchase.

Property Appraiser Alvin Mazourek was in the audience for the presentation and shot off a letter the next day blasting Weissinger for calling the $53,733 a "current year'' appraisal because all appraisals by his office are a year behind.

In fact, Mazourek's letter pointed out, the 2009 value for the lot is just $29,926, which is more than 44 percent less than what Weissinger had called "current year'' value.

"Needless to say, I am quite troubled by the frivolous manner in which my office's work product is being tossed around as being truthful and accurate, when in fact it is being taken out of context and is then misleading at best,'' Mazourek wrote.

He added: "What's even more worrisome is that this is not the first time this has happened.''

Mazourek went on to ask Weissinger to contact his office if material from his office is used in the future as evidence of value.

On May 28, Weissinger submitted his resignation to Coller and submitted a personal check for the difference between the appraised value on the property and the assessed value in the amount of $3,733. Coller refused to take the check.

Friday, Coller praised Weissinger's work, his ethics and his work ethic.

"Kent has been an absolute joy to work with,'' Coller said. "Hernando County has lost an extraordinarily valuable resource with lots of historical knowledge.''

Coller said he did not know what would happen with the open position in his office since budget decisions for next year have not been made. In the most recent cost-cutting memo from the county administration, Coller had been asked to cut $126,820 from his 2010 budget.

Weissinger's annual salary was $88,857. His cash-out amount for unused vacation, sick and personal time amounted to $22,314.

Several months ago, Weissinger was on the short list of employees who were considering taking the early leave option offered by the county, but he pulled out at the last minute.

"I revoked the separation agreement and almost immediately regretted it,'' he said Friday. "I don't know if my heart was in my job for the last couple of years.''

He called the appraisal issue "probably the worst mistake I've made in 11 years and it's one the commission relied on.''

A graduate of the University of Florida, he started his first career doing radio and television news in the Fort Myers and Naples area and later landed in law school. Government legal work followed, from working in legal services and writing attorney general's opinions to bankruptcy work for the state Division of Revenue before he landed in Hernando County.

"I like the symmetry of starting and ending my career doing the same thing,'' he said.

Weissinger said he realizes he is getting into the news media at a time when media outlets are struggling, but he plans to give the venture about a year to see if he can pay his bills.

He said part of the reason is that he believes the public needs an alternative to media focused on what people want rather than what they need.

"There are important stories out there that the public needs to know about,'' he said.

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

Kent Weissinger, Hernando County's senior assistant county attorney, quits to pursue online news 06/05/09 [Last modified: Friday, June 5, 2009 7:31pm]
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