SPRING HILL — With less than four weeks until Election Day, candidates for federal, state and local races ramped up their rhetoric during Wednesday evening's Candidates Night at Timber Pines.
A crowd of more than 140 residents attended the forum, during which sparks flew as some candidates questioned their opponents' competency, motivation, veracity and ethics.
Sponsored by the Timber Pines Community Relations Committee, the event was also broadcast on the retirement community's local television channel.
In the District 1 County Commission race, Republican Nick Nicholson called his Democratic opponent, Arlene Glantz, "anti-business and pro-tax" for wanting to charge fees on utility companies and Internet cafes.
Glantz calls them fees, Nicholson said, but "you know that they're going to still be passed on to you.''
Glantz, who lives in Timber Pines, touted her ideas for raising revenue without increasing taxes and reported enthusiastic support of the proposals by county leadership. Then she outlined how Nicholson, a professional engineer, has run afoul of the state licensing board in several cases since 2000. He was fined, placed on probation and required to take an ethics course, she noted.
"Is this someone that you want as your county commissioner? It's not what I want,'' she said. "It's time for a change — new, innovative thinking.''
Nicholson responded that he has been appointed to and was continuing to serve as the structural engineer on the Florida Building Commission.
Nicholson also was blasted by the Independent candidate in the race, Joseph Swilley. He accused Nicholson of flip-flopping on his opinion regarding THE Bus, the county's fixed-route mass transit system. During Wednesday night's forum, Nicholson said he was in favor of keeping the service.
Swilley, who said he does not believe the county can afford mass transit, said he had heard a different opinion previously.
"I just want one answer. I gave you mine,'' he said.
"He's a liar,'' Nicholson responded.
The future of THE Bus was also a divisive issue for the candidates in the District 3 commission race.
The Republican candidate, Jason Patrick Sager, is opposed to THE Bus, but he said he has no problem continuing the separate door-to-door service for those who need it. His Democratic opponent, Diane Rowden, supports THE Bus and noted that, if it went away, the county would lose federal grant money.
Sager said he is philosophically opposed to the county taking the federal transit money because "every dollar from Washington is put on our children's credit card.''
In the District 5 commission race, Democratic challenger Ramon Gutierrez went after incumbent Republican Jim Adkins
Gutierrez said he wanted to improve Hernando County — and not just for the special interests he said Adkins has served, including developers. He was especially critical of Adkins' vote to suspend impact fees and asked if anyone in the audience was better off than they were in 2008, when Adkins was first elected.
"I will work for the needy,'' Gutierrez said, "not the greedy.''
Adkins recounted his four years of constituent service, talking about his work to approve traffic lights, pave roads and craft ordinances to make Hernando a better place to live. He added that there is really no one better off than they were in 2008, given the current economy.
Republican Robert Schenck, who is seeking his fourth term in the state House of Representatives, also promoted his record, including cuts made in the state budget, Medicaid reform, state action on pill mills and efforts to stop sinkhole fraud.
His opponent, Democrat Rose Rocco, spoke of how she organized participation in a rally to protest sinkhole insurance rates. Rocco also questioned why Schenck is rarely seen in the community while she has been busy with a variety of local projects. She asked why state projects such as the "sidewalks to nowhere'' under construction along Hernando County highways were not being questioned by state leaders.
"I'm a get-it-done lady,'' Rocco said.
Schenck said he gets things done, too. He pointed out the announcement last week that Accuform Signs would be building a new manufacturing facility at the corporate park at the Hernando County Airport, a decision the company based partially on incentives that include millions in state economic development dollars.
"Guess who got that money,'' he said. "It's me.''
Republican Shirley Anderson also went on the offensive in her bid for the job of supervisor of elections.
"I believe it's time to demand excellence in our operations,'' Anderson said, criticizing some of the actions by retiring Supervisor of Elections Annie Williams and her director of operations, Elizabeth Townsend.
Townsend, a Democrat, is Anderson's opponent in the Nov. 6 election.
After working in the elections office for eight years, Townsend said, "I've gained the knowledge and the experience to lead this office from Day One.''
In response to audience questions, Anderson said that the supervisor's office, more than anything, needs to be accurate and transparent.
In her closing statement, she touted the fact that she has received recommendations from the county's builders and Realtors as well as the Hernando Times and Hernando Today.
At that point, Townsend asked forum moderator Frank Sayers for one last rebuttal, but was turned down.
When contacted Thursday about what she intended to say, Townsend said she wanted to point out that Anderson, the candidate who said she was seeking accuracy and transparency, had failed to mention that her newspaper recommendations came in the Republican primary and that neither newspaper, as of Wednesday, had yet to make a recommendation in the general election contest.
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 848-1434.