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Former fire chief puts irony in running

Jim Adkins' stand on cutting taxes was the kind of brazen hypocrisy that makes this job easy.

Running as a Republican candidate in County Commission District 5, he has received the endorsement of the Hernando Taxpayers Alliance. He pledges on his Web site to "curb the spend-a-holic, shop-a-holic attitude of the current county commissioners.''

Last year, he backed the Government Gone Wild seminars that pilloried longtime public employees for the offense of earning competitive salaries.

Adkins, of course, used to be one of those employees. During his 13 years as Brooksville fire chief, he not only owed his living to taxpayers, he talked proudly about all the stuff he acquired at their expense: new fire engines, an air compressor, an $8,000 washing machine to sterilize firefighters' clothes during the height of the AIDS scare.

Since Adkins retired in 1998, at age 48, taxpayers have also paid his retirement benefits, which came to $33,000 last year.

The irony deepens when you remember all the previous opponents of government waste who came after Adkins or his department.

Adkins fended off several county efforts to take over all or part of the city's coverage area. When Adkins retired, former police Chief Ed Tincher assumed his duties with no apparent loss of service; the arrangement ended after Tincher realized that taking this new job, public safety director, would compromise his law enforcement retirement package.

In 1993, School Board member and former Brooksville City Manager Jim Malcolm tried unsuccessfully to eliminate both Tincher's and Adkins' jobs, which he said would save the city $100,000.

"It was top-heavy,'' Malcolm said Tuesday of Adkins' department. "Too many chiefs and not enough Indians. … If government ever went wild, that was the time.''

I told you it was easy.

I say was because Adkins is now striking a more moderate tone about property taxes, saying they need to be cut only slightly.

"I'm not radical radical,'' he said this week.

About the statements on his Web site, he said, "I have to redo that. It was a campaign. That's all.''

So, I guess, political reality has helped charge his heart; it's hard to advocate deep cuts when tax revenues are already plummeting. Also, I think, people tend to have second thoughts about slashing taxes once they start to see the consequences: dwindling services and crumbling public institutions.

Especially if you helped build one of those institutions.

Because, as much as I used to laugh at Adkins' ability to persuade the City Council to buy, for example, a Chevrolet Blazer as his personal take-home vehicle, his lobbying for equipment helped bring professionalism to a neglected and underfunded department.

When he first started working for the city in 1973, one of the engines had to be kick-started by pushing it out of the old downtown fire station and coasting down Liberty Street. Before Brooksville acquired a compressor, firefighters filled their breathing tanks at the Weeki Wachee mermaid attraction.

Said current fire Chief Tim Mossgrove: "Jim Adkins brought this department out of the dark ages.''

I hope he doesn't want to go back.

Former fire chief puts irony in running 07/17/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, July 23, 2008 4:42pm]
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