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Resignations, well roil Dade City's 2009

Dade City Officer Cristina Diaz patrols in the Police Department’s new electric GEM car, which was introduced this year.

BRENDAN FITTERER | Times

Dade City Officer Cristina Diaz patrols in the Police Department’s new electric GEM car, which was introduced this year.

The year started off quietly in Dade City.

The City Commission voted to switch from blue bags to blue bins for curbside recycling. The Police Department cruised the streets in new, battery-powered cars. Only 84 households out of 1,000 responded to city satisfaction surveys randomly sent out in water bills.

Then things got interesting.

At an October meeting, City Commissioner Camille Hernandez spoke out against a 1982 ordinance that forbids digging wells.

The ban was put in place mostly because of concerns about protecting the city's water supply and revenue made on utility services. Hernandez said it was wrong "especially in this economy."

A few days later, a 2007 letter from former City Manager Harold Sample to Hernandez's husband, David, surfaced at City Hall. It stated that the couple had a "non-City water source" — a private well — on their Bougainvillea Avenue property. The letter was discovered when Commissioner Curtis Beebe, who wanted to keep the well ban, asked staff to review their files for any open issues related to irrigation wells, looking for citizen comments on the issue.

According to the letter, city staff found evidence of the well when relocating water meters for the Hernandezes' landscaping purposes in September 2006.

Crews at the Hernandez property that day said that the house still had water, despite being disconnected from the city's system.

The Hernandezes have refused to comment about the issue to the Times.

Commissioner Hernandez has publicly denied having an illegal well; her husband has reportedly claimed it was already there when the couple bought their home, but the previous homeowner said she was not aware of any well on the property.

The issue whether to repeal the ban went to vote but failed when commissioners learned it could violate 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.

But the revelation of the well in Hernandez's yard prompted a citywide investigation for more wells.

The city wants wells in violation of the ordinance abandoned, and wells built before the ban to be outfitted with backflow prevention devices.

October also brought the resignation of Commissioner Steve Van Gorden, who is moving out of the city limits, and city attorney Karla Owens.

Owens will resign at year's end from her roles as director of safety services and director of community development. She will continue to work as city attorney, a part-time position.

Commissioners voted to have Bill Dennis replace Van Gorden until the election next year.

Dennis took the oath for his third stint on the commission earlier this month.

Dennis was elected in 1982 and served eight years before losing to Mayor Scott Black in 1990. He was elected again in 1998 and lost to Hernandez in 2006.

At the same meeting where Dennis was appointed, the commission voted unanimously to have veteran Commissioner Eunice Penix replace Van Gorden as the mayor pro-tem.

Helen Anne Travis can be reached at htravis@sptimes.com or (813) 435-7312.

Resignations, well roil Dade City's 2009 12/23/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, December 23, 2009 9:08pm]

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