BROOKSVILLE — For nearly a year, the Hernando County Commission has operated with just four commissioners while Jeff Holcomb fulfills his obligations to his country after being called up as a member of the Naval Reserve, but last Friday Gov. Rick Scott appointed local businessman John Mitten to fill the rest of the time on the board that Holcomb is absent.
At the time Holcomb announced his deployment last April, he told commissioners he might be gone for up to a year, but according to state and county officials, it is not now known how long he will be gone. Holcomb was elected in 2014 and his term ends next year.
Scott announced in a news release that Mitten would serve during Holcomb's leave of absence.
"Florida is proud to be the home of so many brave military members and I am grateful to Commissioner Jeff Holcomb for serving our country overseas,'' the release quotes Scott as saying. "We will keep Jeff and his family in our prayers throughout this deployment and I am confident John Mitten will serve Hernando families well.''
Mitten, 47, is a Brooksville resident who owns and operates the local Chick-fil-A restaurant. A Republican, he received his bachelor's degree in finance from Florida State University. He was sworn in as interim commissioner during a private ceremony by Circuit Judge Daniel Merritt, Jr., on Monday and participated in his first commission meeting on Tuesday.
"I am humbled and honored to serve,'' he said, noting that it was Holcomb who deserved the attention for his willingness to serve both his community and his country.
Mitten, who has held a variety of positions in community groups including being a past chairman of the Greater Hernando County Chamber of Commerce, said that he would be "grateful for prayers for wisdom and understanding of the issues at hand and making decisions that are the best for Hernando County.''
When he was called by the Governor and offered the opportunity to fill the seat temporarily, Mitten said he was surprised. He also said that he sought and received the blessing of Holcomb.
Mitten was the only applicant for the job, according to a spokeswoman for the Governor's office. Lauren Schenone quoted an opinion by the State Attorney General which noted that it is in the Governor's constitutional power to appoint an acting member during an officer's absence.
Commission Chairman Wayne Dukes said that he spoke with Mitten last week, as did several other commissioners. Holcomb had recently asked Mitten if he planned to run against him next year and Mitten told him no, according to Dukes.
Dukes said he wished he knew when Holcomb might return since the projected potential one-year hiatus was nearly done. But he also said he has known Mitten for a number of years and "I'm sure he will fit right in.''
In his experience, he said, Mitten is "pretty laid back and on the straight and narrow.''
Despite Holcomb's absence and two new commissioners on board since January, Dukes said things had been running smoothly for the commission.
Still, he said, "the more the merrier ... It just means there's another person to offer some suggestions.''
After Mitten took his seat for his first meeting on Tuesday wearing one of his trademark bow ties, Dukes had another greeting for him.
"We welcome you with open arms,'' he said, "but we're not wearing bow ties.''