Tuesday, April 24, 2018
Politics

Hernando County Commission race features fresh faces

With no incumbent in the District 1 Hernando County Commission race since Jeff Stabins decided not to run for re-election, three candidates are vying for a job they've never held.

The three are Democrat Arlene Glantz, a retired lawyer who lives in Timber Pines; Republican Nick Nicholson, who will have to move into District 1 if he is elected; and Spring Hill resident Joseph Swilley, an independent. Jose Luis Monegro is a write-in candidate for the seat.

While the three on the ballot all agree generally about the county's top issues, each has a different take on how to handle them.

One of those is the tough budget decisions the commission continues to face because of Hernando's ever-shrinking property values and tax revenue.

Glantz said she got into the race because she knows she could do a better job than the current commissioners have done. She said she sees them stuck in a mindset.

"So far, all I've seen is this heavy, heavy emphasis on building, building. It's make government smaller. No taxes. People are in a frame of mind it's either cut and slash … or taxes.

"There are things that we can do that generate revenue that are non-taxing,'' she said. "We've got to get out of that frame of mind.''

Glantz said she has been exploring several revenue-generating ideas. Some of them, such a seeking major sponsors that could advertise on the fences at county parks, might not generate a lot of money, but could help fill some of the revenue gaps in the budget, she said.

She has also pitched regulating sweepstakes and Internet cafe businesses, a move she predicts could generate hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Since the games are so close to gambling, they need to be regulated, she said.

Glantz has spent hundreds of dollars of her money to research how other Florida counties generate revenue from the industry, even though local officials have told her it can't be done.

"I'm willing to try different things to generate money,'' she said. "I don't want to talk about taxing the whole population. I don't want to talk about cutting services or people because I think we've had it with that.''

Nicholson said the budget needs a closer read by commissioners. No one has examined the spending plan line by line, he said. He believes there are still cuts that could be made and more positions that could be combined.

He favors more of a cut to the budgets of county's constitutional officers as well.

"I'm a conservative Republican, and I'm certainly anti-tax," Nicholson said, but he also said there could be a point when taxes might have to rise.

That time, however, is not now, he said.

As a business person, Nicholson noted that when revenue goes down, he has to cut people. If the county had been doing that since the economic slowdown, he said, it wouldn't be in the position it's in now.

Swilley said that "when it comes to spending, I'm conservative,'' noting that he probably is more conservative than current members of the commission.

A fan of zero-based budgeting, Swilley said he is also concerned that the upper levels of the county staff are overpaid, especially when the average Hernando County private-sector worker is making much less.

Other savings, he said, could be realized by re-evaluating the way the county handles its motorized fleet. He believes that the county puts too much aside for vehicle replacement and maintenance. Change the oil less frequently, make some other adjustments, and the savings could add up quickly, he said.

"The mentality has to change,'' he said.

Swilley also said he's open to privatizing parts of county government, and he favors making the county's permitting process much quicker, a viewpoint he shares with both of his opponents.

There is less agreement among the candidates on the issue of whether the county needs to keep THE Bus, the county's fixed-route transit system.

Swilley said in his younger days, he used a bus to get to and from work in another state. But in Hernando County, the service doesn't make sense because there are not enough riders.

He said he definitely would not have expanded the system, as the current commission did. He said he might feel differently if Hernando were a more prosperous county.

Glantz supports THE Bus, and not just because some people need it. It's also good for business and business development, she said, and a community without a transit system "is like in the dark ages.''

Swilley recently accused Nicholson of flip-flopping on his stand regarding THE Bus, but Nicholson said that's not true.

"We need denser development to make THE Bus more efficient,'' Nicholson said. "There is a need for THE Bus. It's costing us a lot of money. I'd prefer a more economical way.''

Despite those concerns, he said, some people need the service.

"We need to provide for their needs,'' he said.'

Nicholson touts his professional experience and education and his longtime community involvement as reasons why he is the most qualified person to serve in the District 1 seat. He has the largest campaign account, with numerous donations from the county's banking, business and development community.

Endorsed by the builders and the Realtors of Hernando County, as well as by state Sen.-elect Wilton Simpson, Nicholson said he plans to serve not only the county's special interests, but every resident.

Glantz, whose campaign contributions include numerous Spring Hill residents and the Teamster union, has raised issues about Nicholson's past, pointing out that he has faced several complaints filed against his engineering license since 2000. He was twice reprimanded and paid costs. He was also fined in one instance for negligence and was required to take an ethics course.

Nicholson's response is that, since the last complaint, he was appointed by the governor as the structural engineer on the Florida Building Commission.

"I think it's pretty obvious that the governor is not going to make me the state's structural engineer on that board if those (complaints) were of any significance,'' he said.

Swilley, who has largely funded his own campaign, has some marks on his record as well, including some details of his life that he failed to disclose when he filled out his biographical form for the Times.

He did note that he had been charged with domestic violence for allegedly grabbing his stepdaughter's shoulder five years ago, but the charges were dropped.

He did not disclose a conviction for possession of a controlled substance in Jackson County, Miss., in 1992, a charge related to growing marijuana in his home. Swilley said the plants belonged to a roommate, but he acknowledged he was a marijuana user then.

In fact, growing up in a rough family situation, he said he was a drug addict in his teens and ran with some hoodlums. But he said he cleaned up his act when he joined the Navy.

Swilley also did not disclose that he had three daughters by women other than his current wife until he was asked directly about additional children.

Swilley acknowledged that he has made some bad choices, but said he now has a good life with his wife, Cathy.

He cited his "bullheadedness'' as the reason he would make the best county commissioner.

Swilley also is critical of Nicholson for running in a district in which he doesn't live, saying that Nicholson is already "playing with the system,'' even before he is elected. (Nicholson would have to move into District 1 should he win the Nov. 6 election.)

Glantz said she invites voters to listen carefully to the candidates and how they would make the changes that Hernando County needs. She said the quality that makes her the best choice is that she doesn't take no for an answer.

She said people should listen to her platform and consider her background, her energy and her willingness to come up with new ideas. "We need new thinking,'' she said. "The thinking we've had got us into this, and we need some new thinking to get us out of it, and I'm that person.''

Monegro, the write-in candidate, is a 34-year-old native of Puerto Rico who runs a martial arts school in Spring Hill. He is also a community college student who graduated from Springstead High School in 1996, then entered the Army.

Recently divorced with three children, Monegro said he decided to toss his name in the ring because he wants to see Hernando County thrive again.

"I want to put Hernando County back on the map in a positive way,'' he said.

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