On Aug. 26, Republican voters will choose which of three candidates will take on Democratic incumbent Diane Rowden in the November race for the District 3 seat on the County Commission.
The field includes businessmen John Druzbick and Charles Gaskin and retired government worker Hubert "Wayne'' Dukes.
All three cite bad decisions by the current commission, reckless spending, skewed priorities and a lack of accountability in county operations. Each thinks he has the mix of experience and ideas needed to set the county's critical policies for the next four years.
Druzbick, 57, is the only candidate in the primary race who has been in public office before. He served on the Hernando County School Board from 1994 to 2006. The owner of Custom Discount Blinds, he said his time on the School Board gave him insight into government.
He also has been involved in numerous community organizations, including the United Way, the Oak Hill Hospital advisory board and the Hernando County Education Foundation.
"I think my involvement with the community has given me a good retrospective on what people see out of the county government,'' he said. That, combined with his 30 years of business experience, would give him a "running start'' to do the commission job.
Among his criticisms of county government, Druzbick said internal communications are lacking, the county has ignored auditor's reports and not reduced the size of its vehicle fleet, and has failed to properly use impact fees and tax money to provide the county's needed infrastructure and services.
When the School Board paid for projects through bonds, the district built them immediately. He doesn't see that from the county. "I've not seen any real improvements,'' he said.
Druzbick does give credit to some long-term county employees for the work they have done, but said the county staff as a whole needs to get a better read on its residents.
"They're not all bad. I just think that they've lost focus on knowing what the community really wants,'' he said.
While Druzbick supports a leaner county government, he called his opponent Dukes' plan to cut another 15 percent from spending "irresponsible.'' While some areas might be able to sustain that, others could not. He said he found it curious that Dukes has been attacking him on his School Board tenure, especially since Dukes was a government employee for decades.
That very government experience is why Dukes said he is up to the challenge of reining in county spending.
"I worked for the federal government, and I know how government works,'' he said. "It inherently grows.''
If elected, his plan would be to ask every county department to slash another 15 percent from its spending plan. He wants to see at least four positions cut from the county attorney's office. He wants to see changes in the way the county maintains vehicles that are less costly and keep the vehicles in the fleet longer.
"I just think we could do things better,'' he said. "As government grows, it starts to redefine what is essential and what is not essential, and that's when we get some of our luxuries.''
Dukes, 63, a retired U.S. Department of Defense fire chief, said residents don't trust county government, especially as tax revenue expanded as property values soared several years ago. The County Commission should have shown leadership by slicing the tax rate earlier and deeper.
"If you feel your government is fair value to you, you don't have a problem paying your taxes. That's just what we do,'' he said.
His short-term goal is to downsize, outsource and make government services more efficient so the tax rate can be lowered "as much as possible" and acknowledges that could mean layoffs.
"We have to start changing what government stands for in this county,'' he said.
He favors an overhaul of some of the county's rules and regulations and a hard look at the way the county conducts code enforcement. He would cut down on the use of general purpose vehicles. He also favors closing the Development Department and hiring a private company to run the permitting operations.
Dukes ran unsuccessfully for County Commission two years ago and is running out of district this time.
"I wasn't prepared to sit four years and wait and start over'' to run again, he said.
Gaskin, 55, wants to see government be more accountable to residents. He thinks that some government officials abuse the power they have to enforce rules that hurt residents but don't really help the county.
"A lot of times, they don't listen to the people,'' said Gaskin, a mechanical contractor for 30 years and owner of Sunshine Heat and Air.
He is a proponent of charter government and is proposing a program he calls "Countystat,'' which would route all of the public's calls to the county through a single number, 311. That way, the county could keep a running log on issues, and commissioners could check and see how many calls of a certain type were received and how issues were resolved.
The system would encourage more cooperation among county departments and more accountability, he said.
Gaskin said he had lots of questions about how the county handles money collected from developers to provide infrastructure and is upset that, despite the county taking in millions of dollars in impact fees, promised road projects such as the improvement of Sunshine Grove Road have not materialized.
He favors lightening some of the existing development rules.
"We've got so many rules and regulations on top of people, what I look at is we need smaller businesses going here — mom-and-pop businesses — and we're not getting them,'' he said. When they find out about the rules they must follow, "they throw their hands up and walk away,'' he said.
Gaskin also said he would like to see changes in the county's comprehensive plan to provide more areas for commercial development.
Gaskin, who ran unsuccessfully for County Commission in 2004, has been arrested on charges of driving under the influence twice, once in 1986 and once in 1989. He was convicted once, and the second time he was convicted of a lesser charge, reckless driving.
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at email@example.com or (352) 848-1434.