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Someday, Hernando County Administrator David Hamilton just might be missed

Would David Hamilton have lasted longer and been remembered more fondly had he come along a few years earlier?

I'm talking about the days of subdivisions being built or just dreamed up with the certainty that one day they would be built, when, really, the only certainty was that it all added up to a thoughtless mess.

Hamilton, early in his time as Hernando County administrator, bravely opposed the slashing of impact fees. He also vainly warned the commission that approving a new city in an old mining pit would leave the county with crippling road improvement costs.

And we didn't just need to widen County Line Road, he said in 2008; we needed to use it as a tool to focus development — to fill in the white spaces of checkerboard growth along the road's western corridor and spare the scenic rural land to the east.

"The days of building a road and waiting to see what happens are over," he said.

So much for the county's main economic development strategy of the previous six decades.

With a little more money, Hamilton's plan to upgrade the hideously substandard infrastructure in south Brooksville would have seemed less like a pipe dream and more like what it really is — an inescapable community duty. And right now the commission might be paying tribute to its legacy with every meeting. That was another of Hamilton's plans: turning the under-used historic courthouse into the commission offices and chambers.

See, Hamilton was an idea guy, even up to last week's meeting, when he salvaged a constructive departure — agreeing to leave at the end of the year — from what was shaping up as an ugly and expensive firing.

As it was with his predecessors, Hamilton's leaving is partly due to pressure from unnamed members of the "business community," said Commissioner John Druzbick, who led the move to bring an early end to the administrator's contract.

You can only imagine how fast and hard that pressure would have come had Hamilton been standing in the way of plans for those can't-miss subdivisions. And who can say, even if Hamilton had the means to carry out his vision for the county, whether it would have made up for his real flaws as a leader.

He could be a hypocrite, who liked to tell you how much he studied and believed in deliberative, open government, while operating as a world-class corner-cutter. For recent examples, think of the hiring of onetime Hernando Beach dredge consultant Greg Jarque and the reassignment of environmental services director Susan Goebel.

That tendency to fudge, along with his insulting treatment of talented and committed workers — something we heard more and more about — was summed up in an incident my colleague Barbara Behrendt wrote about last week. According to former environmental services director Joe Stapf, Hamilton (who hasn't given his version of events) grabbed notes on a sensitive investigation from Stapf's hands and immediately fed them into a shredder.

By the time Hamilton agreed last week to leave, it was probably too late for him to salvage his relationship with some commissioners and almost all county employees. It didn't help that he was the one who had to lay off employees, freeze their wages and cut their benefits, but I can't remember anybody at the government center so widely and intensely disliked.

Still, this is about us, too. Since 1997, nobody's lasted in this job as long as Hamilton. Nobody's even come close. With that track record, the dream that the next hire will be the one to set us right will be just that, a dream, especially if commissioners cut the salary offered to the next administrator.

Hamilton compared his departure to a divorce, which is apt because it's always destructive when an administrator leaves. Which is why I wish there were more room for something like marriage counseling. I'd like to live in a place where that nebulous "business community" and government gadflies and some commissioners could discuss and correct administrators' mistakes rather than tallying them up, building a case for firing them from their first days on the job.

I think eventually people will again want to invest in Hernando, and property values will rise enough that the government is not perpetually broke. And if vision is as scarce around here as it usually is, we might miss Hamilton. We might wonder what he could have done with a chance to build a community rather than just trying to keep it from falling apart.

Someday, Hernando County Administrator David Hamilton just might be missed 10/29/11 [Last modified: Saturday, October 29, 2011 3:34pm]
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