BROOKSVILLE — As the District 2 Hernando County commissioner, Wayne Dukes hopes his public service over the past eight years has earned him another term on the board. But two other Republicans on the ballot for the Aug. 28 primary election would like to replace him.
Each has his or her own idea of what the commissioner for southwestern Hernando County should make a priority.
The race pits Dukes, a local native, against another Hernando Beach resident, Charles D. Greenwell, a retired attorney who has immersed himself in county issues since he arrived in the area several years ago. The third candidate, local businesswoman Beth Narverud, is completing a term on the Hernando County School Board.
The winner will face Democrat Deborah Salvesen in the November general election.
Dukes’ campaign flyers tout "Better jobs for Hernando County, better roads and infrastructure and better quality of life while keeping your property taxes low.’’ Dukes cites economic development success during his time on the board and the potential for new jobs and businesses in coming years.
"The County has been aggressive in pursuing new companies to come to Hernando County as well as helping existing companies to expand and thrive, creating new and good paying jobs in manufacturing and high skills industries,’’ he states on his campaign site.
Dukes also supports expanding and speeding up the county’s lime rock road-paving program, so "residents living in the affected areas are enjoying better air quality and a drastic reduction in dust and mud,’’ he said.
Dukes has had critics as the commission dealt with divisive issues over the years.
He strongly supported the controversial expansion of Cemex Construction mining operations, while also receiving a campaign contribution from the company of $250 in 2013.
Dukes’ campaign contributions include a $9,000 personal payment, plus money from several political action committees, and numerous contributions from business, development and engineering firms. He received $1,000 from Republic Services, the county’s garbage company, just months after Dukes and his fellow commissioners gave the firm a seven-year contract extension.
Dukes touts his support for coastal restoration projects, including reef balls and oyster beds. But he faced criticism for pushing to spend taxpayer dollars set aside for environmentally sensitive lands on non-preservation projects, including a beach park in the Weeki Wachee Preserve, which is currently shelved.
Dukes’ flyers tout a tax cut in the past fiscal year. While it’s true he supported a tenth of a mill cut in the property tax rate for the general fund, he also voted for a half mill property tax increase for fire services. All told, property owners saw a tax rate increase last year of four-tenths of a mill, or 40 cents per $1,000 in appraised property value.
Dukes has been at the center of the controversy over the former Hernando Beach volunteer fire department chief, David Freda, whom Dukes mentored and supported. Freda faces charges of organized fraud over $50,000 for misspending tax dollars collected from Dukes and his Hernando Beach neighbors. Dukes cast the sole vote on the commission against disbanding the department in 2017.
Greenwell’s was one of the voices criticizing Dukes during the fire department’s free-fall.
Greenwell’s platform focuses on more transparency, communication, citizen engagement and accountability in local government. He came to the area five years ago and has been chairman of the government affairs committee for the Hernando Beach Property Owners Association. In that capacity, Greenwell regularly speaks out at county commission meetings.
"I know the process,’’ he said at a recent political forum. "I know the flaws. I know how to fix them.’’
Greenwell has pushed for more community notice of important projects. He would soften rules regarding cumulative storm damage to coastal properties. He also wants a vision plan for Hernando Beach and a stronger emergency-notice process for coastal residents during storms. In addition to his citizen involvement, Greenwell points to his legal experience in contract analysis, governance, fiduciary responsibilities and risk-benefit decisions.
"I am a professionally disciplined, open-minded, evidence-based decision maker,’’ he told the Tampa Bay Times.
Greenwell wants county officials to work more closely with other government entities for the betterment of the community. Hernando County suffers from "a lack of dynamic leadership with a clearly-defined, innovative and inspiring vision to stimulate the hopes and ambitions of the citizens of Hernando County for a higher standard of living and a stronger economic future,’’ he said.
He has talked about his independence from the county’s "old establishment,’’ urging voters at a recent political forum to "follow the money.’’ He said he has taken no money from special interests, political action committees or the county’s political establishment.
"The bond between the citizens and their elected officials should always be stronger than any other influence on them while in office,’’ he said.
Greenwell has self-funded his campaign for $14,500. His other contributions are largely from individuals and a few business people.
Narverud’s campaign has focused on her business experience, her desire to create better paying jobs, and adding opportunities for Hernando County’s young people to stay local and earn a good living after graduating.
A resident of the area for more than 30 years, Narverud has spent a term on the County School Board.
"I’m very proud of the work I’ve done there,’’ she said at a local political forum. She was proud that she worked with the board to build up the school district’s financial reserves after school coffers fell dangerously low.
Her approach in the school district has been to talk to people in the field because "getting feedback from the people in the trenches is very important,’’ she said.
Narverud supports business development and diversification to ensure that the county never suffers from another crash like the one that followed the housing boom. She is a strong supporter of law enforcement.
"I am not a career politician,’’ Narverud said, when asked why she is the best candidate for the seat. "I have lived in Hernando County since 1987. My children have all attended Hernando County public schools. I have owned and operated a small business right here for over 30 years. Hernando County’s future matters to me.
"I am committed to creating jobs, keeping taxes low and helping our community prosper.’’
Given the county’s recent budget shortfall, Narverud wants to see budgeting done correctly, but would never raise taxes to cover a shortfall.
"If budget reductions need to be made, I would ask department heads to reduce their budgets,’’ she said. "They would know best where they can cut without hindering services.’’
Narverud contributed $10,000 to her campaign account and has contributions from political action committees, including Blue Collar Conservatives and Enterprise Holdings. She also received funds from businesses that share addresses with businesses of Blaise Ingoglia, Florida state representative and head of the state Republican Party. And she received $2,000 in total from four people entered into her campaign account as Cemex employees. Their names were then deleted and re-entered as three unaffiliated business men and one affiliated business woman.
Narverud said a campaign employee mistakenly posted the entries, but when the Times asked if the four worked for companies that worked for Cemex, Narverud said they did.
County commissioners serve four-year terms. They must live in the district they represent, but are elected countywide. They earn an annual salary of $69,232.
Contact Barbara Behrendt at [email protected] or (352) 848-1434.