All three Republicans seeking to challenge incumbent Democratic County Commissioner Rose Rocco in the November general election agree on a few key points.
They all say Rocco is a nice lady. And they all say she needs to be replaced because, for too long, the commission has made bad decisions about county operations, allowing government to grow beyond its means and allowing county staffers to bungle important projects.
The field for the Aug. 24 GOP primary for the District 2 commission seat includes Wayne Dukes and William Kingeter, two men who are retired fire service leaders from the public sector, and Ty Mullis, who has worked as a draftsman for local engineering firms and been a development operational manager.
All three are largely self-financed at this point in their campaigns. The $9,940 in Mullis' finance report is nearly all from his own pocket. More than half of the $5,436.95 Dukes has raised and Kingeter's $3,018 came as personal loans to their campaigns.
As a government employee nearly all of his career, Dukes said he was frugal in the way he spent taxpayer dollars, but he doesn't see that out of the current commission. A strong proponent of downsizing, he said, "I don't think the people are getting value for government.''
The county overtaxed and overspent during the real estate boom, he said, and now must realign and outsource to get back in line.
"No way there's a magic wand to fix it,'' he said.
Dukes has been a critic of the county's fleet and tourism programs, including concerns that the county replaces vehicles too quickly rather than waiting until they simply can't be used any more. Local vendors should also be allowed to bid when vehicles are replaced, he said, instead of going through a state purchasing program.
The county could cut maintenance costs by leaning on the private sector, Dukes said, and he also does not see the need for a county full-time employee to staff the Interstate 75 tourist welcome center.
A critic of the county's public transit system, known as THE Bus, Dukes said the program doesn't work in its current form and should be fixed if it is going to continue. He says the same of the county recycling program, which mixes mandatory curbside recycling in an area of Spring Hill and a voluntary drop-off program for the rest of the county's residents.
"We need to do it smarter than the way we're doing it,'' he said. "I'd support it in any way that makes sense.''
Dukes gives County Administrator David Hamilton a score of "good'' while he rates County Attorney Garth Coller "expendable.''
He cites his own varied background — ranging from direct experience in contracts management to budgeting to labor relations — as reasons why he is the best candidate for the seat. Having that knowledge about issues commissioners deal with all the time would allow more critical discussions about details.
"It's imperative to be able to ask the hard questions,'' he said.
For example, he blames county engineering officials for the botched Hernando Beach channel dredging project, which has stretched on for years, and for the problems getting the clean-up started at the old public works compound in Brooksville.
"I'd be their worst nightmare,'' Dukes said. "People have to be held accountable.''
Kingeter also says the county has had too many scandals.
"The department heads responsible for such things were not up to the task,'' he said.
County commissioners are responsible for making sure that the job gets done, and "they just didn't seem to have done that.''
He called the Hamilton, the county administrator, "a breath of fresh air'' because he seems more dedicated to the job than several of the last administrators.
"Too many were just wishy-washy. Some were just biding their time,'' Kingeter said.
He also said he thought Coller was doing an adequate job handling the county's legal needs.
Unlike his opponents, who said they would support moving the massive Quarry Preserve project north of Brooksville on through the review and approval process, Kingeter said he believes that with the glut of available housing, such projects are not needed.
He said in his conversations around the community, residents have told him they came to Hernando County for what it offers and they like that kind of lifestyle.
"They moved to the area because they liked what they saw, but they don't like what they see coming,'' he said.
Kingeter said he is ready to do the County Commission job.
"I have the background to properly oversee what's going on,'' he said, noting that he has had experience with a fire department, a building department, a planning board, code enforcement and zoning when he worked in New Jersey.
He announced his candidacy last year and has run his campaign with a focus on using "shoe leather'' to learn about Hernando County residents.
Kingeter said that the current commission tends to fold when special interests enter the debate about public issues. His plan would be to spend money differently than the current commission.
"If you don't have the resources, you don't have the services,'' he said.
Having seen cities go bankrupt, he said the County Commission simply has to cut and that nothing should be sacred, even law enforcement and fire services.
Raising taxes would be "political suicide,'' but the county can look at lowering salaries, furloughs, stopping planned road projects or spreading them over a longer period of time, he said.
Wasteful spending is also what drew Mullis into the race. He said he is the best choice in the field because he does not have a long career working in government. Government, he said, has lost contact with residents.
He said he would scrutinize every program to make sure it was done as efficiently as possible. One of his proposals would be to significantly reduce the dollar figure at which projects must be bid. Mullis said that the current $25,000 is too high an amount "to not have more than one set of eyes on it.'' He also points to problems in the county's permitting process that could be made more customer friendly. If commissioners were more involved in the process, they would understand what needs to be fixed, Mullis said.
He said he saw the flaws working on the other side of the process with local engineering firms that were trying to gain approval for developments.
The county's policy requiring frontage roads for some development was another example Mullis gave of how property owners end up losing usable property and gaining liability for a road in the process. "The property owner has lost real estate'' and should get some special consideration, such as a reduced landscape setback, he said. He maintained that the delays, rules and costs in the permitting process are hurting businesses and hindering the efforts to develop and diversify business in Hernando County.
In general, Mullis said he is a strong proponent of property rights, both the right of someone to develop their property and the rights of those who own property around the development.
"Property rights for me are the foundation of being an American,'' he said.
He praised Hamilton for his effectiveness as county administrator, noting that whatever communication problems he had early on with the County Commissioners seem to have cleared up. Mullis also said he was impressed with Hamilton's approach to not just cut front-line county workers during the budget crisis, but also to examine the management structure for possible cuts.
As a compliment to Hamilton's effectiveness, Mullis compares him to the 1950s-era science fiction monster "The Blob.''
While he doesn't move fast, "by the time you get to the diner, everybody's screaming and it's way too late,'' Mullis said.
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at email@example.com or (352) 848-1434.