Thursday, April 19, 2018
Opinion

As long as 'Janey was Janey,' Hernando County was under a sharp eye

Back in 1990, when new Hernando County Commissioner Ginny Brown-Waite blasted lawyer Joe Mason for basically running county government behind the scenes, nobody cheered louder than citizen activist Janey Baldwin.

Sixteen years later, and as game for a political fight as ever, Baldwin filed a lawsuit claiming that Rose Rocco had not been a resident of her district when she won her election.

Her lawyer? Her former nemesis, Mason.

"That was just Janey being Janey," Mason said.

Last year, when Baldwin stepped down from the now-defunct Withlacoochee River Basin Board, she took the time to recommend a replacement.

That person, you may have guessed by now, was Rocco, who explained the apparent flip-flop in their relationship by saying, "Janey was Janey."

And what, exactly, does that mean?

Mostly it means that Baldwin — who died at age 82 last Thursday, about a month after suffering a severe stroke — really, really cared about local government.

Though I don't know if this can be documented, I'm pretty sure she attended more County Commission meetings than anyone inside or outside of government since she and her husband, Tom, moved to Hernando County from the St. Louis area in 1986. And she thought nothing of driving to, say, Lecanto, to take in every fascinating moment of discussion by the Withlacoochee Regional Water Supply Authority.

"Being Janey" does not mean, as some people told me, that none of her battles were personal. Some were. Ask former County Administrator David Hamilton, whom she attacked almost from the moment of his arrival.

But it means she was easy to forgive, because she forgave easily herself. And because, in ruffling so many feathers, the targets of the ruffling were less likely to feel singled out.

And they knew her opinions were honest, and that they came out of concern for the county, which she showed not only by her attendance at meetings and her service on the basin board, and by running unsuccessfully for the commission three times, but by two anonymous donations totaling more than $100,000 that kept the county's Little Rock Cannery running for two years.

She was long rumored to be the source. Commissioner David Russell said he could confirm it. "I'm positive," he said.

What else did she do, besides let every commissioner for the past 26 years know that they were being watched with a close, well-informed eye?

Well, she led the charge, in the early 1990s, to relieve lawyer Bruce Snow of his part-time job representing the county while also representing some of Hernando's biggest business interests.

And she and her husband unearthed the documents that showed the county had created a never-used $300 million bond pool that netted a generous fee for Snow — with whom, by the way, she later maintained a friendly relationship.

"I could disagree with her, and often did, but I commend her civic spirit," Snow said.

I don't mean to suggest that Baldwin never offered praise. When she thought it was warranted, she heaped it on figures as different as Tallahassee development lawyer Jake Varn and the former manager of the county cannery, Flossie Raines.

I should add that someone so willing to antagonize well-armed folks sometimes got zinged herself.

And with her passing — which because she was such a big presence for so long, feels like the end of an era — I remember one insult particularly.

Or, rather, it was a perceived insult. She didn't like it when one of my former co-workers referred to her routinely in print as a "gadfly."

But read Socrates' quote from which the term originated and tell me it doesn't sound like Janey being Janey.

"I am that gadfly which God has attached to the state, and all day long and in all places am always fastening upon you, arousing and persuading and reproaching you. You will not easily find another like me."

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