Dade City Commissioner Steve Van Gorden helped elect Camille Hernandez to the City Commission in 2006, contributing advice and cash to her successful campaign against a seasoned and, until-then, highly regarded incumbent, Bill Dennis. It was the kind of political maneuvering that earned Van Gorden behind-the-scenes scorn for campaigning openly against a fellow commissioner.
Tuesday evening, Van Gorden, who resigned his own seat because he is relocating outside the city limits, corrected his prior political gaffe. Van Gorden nominated Dennis to replace him until the April municipal election to fill the last two years of the term. Mayor Scott Black and Commissioner Curtis Beebe concurred with the sound choice and Dennis, 77, who served two separate eight-year terms previously, will rejoin the commission.
"I'll do what I've always done,'' Dennis told Times staff writer Helen Anne Travis. "If it seems like it's good for Dade City, then I'll vote for it.''
That's all anybody can ask for. Though we didn't agree with all of Dennis' votes over the years, he has been guided by what he believed to be the best interests of the city. It will be a calming contrast to Van Gorden's political ambitions and the perceived personal slights or self interests that have colored Hernandez' tenure.
Here ares two instances of Dennis' long record of defending the public interest. In 1986, he refused to be a part of the city's attempt to railroad then-police Chief Bernie Enlow from office after the chief's public dispute with the city manager. Dennis found himself on the short end of that 3-2 vote, but Enlow was vindicated later with a $150,000 settlement and a rewritten personnel file that erased any mention of a termination.
Seventeen years later, Dennis was the only commissioner to buck the favor-for-a-loyal-friend thinking and voted against sending the retiring city attorney on a taxpayer-financed junket that took place after the lawyer left city employment. Attorney William Brewton later rescinded the request.
But Dennis, a retired school teacher, brings more than attention to the bottom line. He provides a vision beyond the city's municipal limits. As Dade City's representative to the Metropolitan Planning Organization, the combined county and city transportation planning group, Dennis was an early advocate for expanded mass transit. On the commission, he wisely pushed for higher road impact fees to prepare the city for growth.
It's a level-headed approach to governing that emphasizes public, not private interests. Dennis' return to office will be a favorable addition to the Dade City Commission's decision-making process.