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New county administrator looks like a winner

When I met County Administrator David Hamilton at a coffee shop in Brooksville last week, he was immersed in a newspaper I know I should read but never do, Britain's Financial Times.

A few minutes later, he reached into a canvas tote bag and pulled out a heavily highlighted copy of Cities and the Wealth of Nations, by the urban planning guru Jane Jacobs.

"This is my bible,'' Hamilton said.

Darn, I should have read that, too. So should anybody writing about growth and development.

But instead of kicking myself, I thought: Isn't it great to see the county administration in the hands of a reader and a thinker?

I don't want to say "finally,'' because that wouldn't be fair to his predecessors who were barely around long enough for me to get to know anything about their reading habits.

I'm just saying that, six months after Hamilton was hired as Hernando County administrator and slightly more than four months on the job, I'm impressed.

Which may not be a surprise because, with a doctorate in public administration, Hamilton is a bit of a wonk, and newspaper people usually like wonks.

But Hamilton, who previously worked as county administrator in Crow Wing County, Minn., has impressed a lot of people in the county.

Remember the angry voters who railed against government waste and who helped push County Administrator Gary Kuhl into resigning last year?

Most of the leaders of the tax-cutting movement, including Linda Hayward and County Commission candidate Jim Adkins, have told me they are pleased with Hamilton's decisions so far.

He has announced plans to cut the number of county departments by nearly one-half, for example, and, at his request, staffers have figured out a way to trim $200,000 from THE Bus' budget without reducing services.

Maybe he's ticked off some members of the Hernando Builders Association by speaking out against their proposal to cut impact fees. But association president Dudley Hampton Jr. says he agrees with Hamilton's larger goal: diversifying an economy that is too dependent on the housing industry.

He has reached out to residents of south Brooksville, and, at his urging, the County Commission last week voted to seek a grant that may bring as much as $400,000 worth of improvements to Kennedy Park.

He'd like to do the same in neighborhoods across the county, he said: find residents to work with and show them the county is committed to their interests.

I don't want to get carried away here. Certainly, Hamilton will mess up in the future. His decisions have no doubt already made him enemies whose grudges will build over time.

But after the county's nasty politics drove away two capable administrators — and after the county went through a total of eight leaders in 10 years — residents seem more receptive to Hamilton.

Maybe it's the economy, which has forced budget-cutting and encouraged cooperation. Maybe it's Hamilton's calm manner.

Either way, from what I've seen so far, I think it would be good for the county if Hamilton stays at least until I get around to reading Jane Jacobs — which will probably take years.

New county administrator looks like a winner 07/28/08 [Last modified: Thursday, July 31, 2008 3:47pm]

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