Thursday, February 22, 2018
News Roundup

Volunteer board members in Hernando resign over liability waiver

BROOKSVILLE — Within 24 hours of the Hernando County Commission's decision Tuesday to continue requiring members of advisory boards to sign liability waivers, five of those members or potential members announced they would not serve.

Three of them are on the county's embattled Aviation Authority, where the liability issue originated. Member Derrill McAteer, resigned effective Thursday. Morris Porton and Ron Wilhite told Commission Chairman Dave Russell they plan to resign.

Russell said he had also heard from Sonny Vergara, a former executive director for the Southwest Florida Water Management District, and Vergara's wife, Pam.

Sonny Vergara had been set to apply for the county's Fine Arts Council but said he would not do so if the waiver were required. His wife resigned Thursday as an alternate on the county's Planning and Zoning Commission.

"This is going to seriously inhibit our ability to attract quality leadership to our advisory boards and seriously hinder our ability to retain those leaders,'' Russell said.

Russell on Tuesday strongly urged the County Commission to exclude advisory boards from the waiver requirement faced by other county volunteers. He admitted that he had made the original motion to approve the waiver policy two years ago but hadn't realized the implications.

It came to light recently that not all volunteers and not all advisory council members had signed the waivers holding the county harmless on any "losses, damages, or injuries caused or alleged to be caused in whole or in part by the negligence of the County.''

The issue arose when the majority of the County Commission declined to pay the legal fees of Aviation Authority Chairman Gary Schraut, who is being sued by an airport tenant for defamation, which is not covered by county insurance.

Several weeks ago, the county sent out notice to those volunteers and advisory board members who had not yet signed the waiver. By Tuesday, all but about 20 of the 70 volunteers had signed. On Monday, a new letter went out to those who didn't sign. This letter included a paragraph explaining that volunteers are covered under the county insurance if they are acting in their official capacity with the county.

Commissioners Diane Rowden, Wayne Dukes and Nick Nicholson, the same three commissioners who denied Schraut legal representation, voted on Tuesday to keep the policy, including advisory boards, in place.

They had argued previously that Schraut was not acting in his county capacity when he told Tampa Bay Times columnist Dan DeWitt that the airport tenant and his company were ""troublemakers, were liars, were bomb throwers and were like terrorists.''

The commission is slated to determine next week whether to let go of volunteers who won't sign. Russell said that if he cannot persuade another commissioner to change their vote ''we might as well just send out the pink slips.''

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