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Hypocrisy and a dirty deal for longtime public servant

A pair of double-dippers lead the charge to eliminate a so-called double-dipper.

The zeal from Hernando Commissioner Wayne Dukes — a retired public worker collecting a salary and benefits topping $85,000 annually as commissioner — to force the exodus of Parks And Recreation Department chief Pat Fagan is hypocrisy for all to see.

Why does Dukes, a former civilian federal employee back on the public payroll at a salary nearly 40 percent greater than the median income of an entire Hernando County household, get to be so pious about government spending?

Fagan's crime is that he also is an elected member of the Hernando School Board — a position bestowed upon him by the voters in 2004. The electorate was so outraged at Fagan collecting both a School Board salary and county government paycheck that he was re-elected without opposition in 2008. Yes, sarcasm intended.

That is the same year voters elected another public-pension collecting retiree, Jim Adkins, to the County Commission. He initially favored new user fees to help balance the Parks and Recreation Department budget, but flip-flopped last month and followed Dukes' lead in demanding additional cuts to the 2011 budget that Adkins already had supported last fall.

Dukes even told the staff where to cut the parks department budget — ax one of the supervisors. That left Fagan, a 33-year county employee who already took a pay cut when his position was changed from a director to a manager, out of a job.

The commission approved the plan five days ago. Only Dukes commented publicly. He thanked Fagan's boss, Land Services Director Ron Pianta, for making the tough choice. Funny, but nobody on the commission publicly thanked Fagan for more than three decades of public service to Hernando County.

Fagan, unable to tap his retirement benefits and serve as an elected official, said he will resign his seat from the Hernando School Board in the very near future. In other words, changes in state law, mean Fagan can't do what Dukes and Adkins are allowed to — collect a taxpayer-funded pension and salary simultaneously. (State law requires new government retirees to leave their salaried positions for a minimum of six months before returning to public-sector work.)

Fagan's salary and benefits with the county totaled just less than $119,000. His School Board salary is just under $33,000 and we'll add $8,500 for benefits, bringing the cost to the public for a full-time county parks and recreation manager and a part-time school board member to $160,500.

Now, let's look at the part-time commission jobs. They pay $61,100 in salary and more than $24,100 in benefits. Combined, Dukes and Adkins cost the public more than $170,000 a year in cash and an untold amount in aggravation.

Total payroll and benefits to the five-member part-time commission is $426,000. I suddenly have a better understanding of the motivations of those who pushed for charter government simply as a way to cut the pay scale for elected officials.

Put aside the payroll issue and look at what Dukes, Adkins and John Druzbick — the third commissioner who champions more cuts instead of user fees — have accomplished.

They just sent packing the guy most responsible for one of Hernando County's most substantial quality-of-life attributes — its parks system. Virtually every major park in Hernando was built or renovated under Fagan's watch. Children from around the region come to compete in soccer tournaments at the Anderson-Snow fields. That means hotel stays and dining out in local restaurants. When the money got tight, Fagan's department turned to music festivals that enlivened the county's cultural offerings and even turned a profit. Still, Adkins found something to grumble about — the beer and wine sales.

Fagan's departure from the School Board also will leave that body without his even-handed leadership and could put in place a rookie whose first task will be to confront a $13 million shortfall. Maybe the new person can just ask Dukes which teachers to lay off.

Fagan, I suspect, won't be out of the public eye for long. He refused to sign the county's separation offer promising wages until May 27 if he agreed not to sue or bad-mouth anybody in Hernando County government. Fagan declined the gag order. Look for him on a 2012 ballot.

Fagan can campaign on a career spent making Hernando County a better place to live. Who else can make such a claim?

Hypocrisy and a dirty deal for longtime public servant 02/26/11 [Last modified: Friday, February 25, 2011 9:04pm]
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