For the second time in 15 months, a Hernando County Commission majority correctly decided it did not have the time, resources or inclination to pursue the whims of charter government advocates.
Last year, it was Commissioner Jim Adkins. This week, the call for studying a revamped county government came from Commissioner Wayne Dukes. The majority of Jeff Stabins, John Druzbick and David Russell wisely opted for the status quo, but not before Stabins delivered his own lesson in government efficiency via parliamentary procedure.
Dukes, the panel's vice chairman, made a motion to create a study commission. Adkins, the commission chairman, was forced to pass the gavel to Stabins, the second vice chairman, in order to second the motion. Stabins, who had earlier announced his opposition to the charter government push, immediately cut off discussion and called for a vote. Dukes' motion failed 3-2. He tried again with a motion to put the question to voters in 2012. It, too, was defeated.
Instead of studying charter government, perhaps the efficiency proponents would do better to study Robert's Rules of Order.
The idea of switching Hernando County to a charter form of government has been discussed periodically for more than a dozen years with no resolution. Adkins resurrected the proposal as part of his successful election campaign in 2008, and Dukes did likewise in 2010.
Under charter government, a governing method more common to incorporated cities, residents can govern themselves by customizing the charter to fit local needs. It can give residents the authority to recall elected officials, set their salaries and decide certain budgetary issues by popular vote.
The majority was right to kill this current discussion as an unnecessary distraction for a county that has few resources to spare. Spending public money and taking staff time away from more pressing matters like balancing the budget, finishing the Hernando Beach channel dredge and soliciting private sector help to stave off park closings is irresponsible and contradicts the supposed efficiencies and cost savings promised by charter government.
If there is a groundswell of grass roots support for changing the form of county government, advocates have the authority to petition the commission with the signatures of 15 percent of the county's registered voters. Instead, Dukes' call appeased five people in the audience who spoke in favor charter government. Four people opposed it and the most prudent comment came from long-time civic activist Anthony Palmeri who asked, "What is it that's broken that we're trying to fix with this charter government?''
Later, Dukes provided an answer that should have insulted the other four commissioners. The past four budget cycles in which the commission relied on reserves to balance their spending is reason enough, he suggested.
"How much worse can it be?'' Dukes asked.
Plenty. A charter actually could expand government expense, not shrink it as some suggest, if the commission included single-member districts as well as at-large seats elected countywide, as is the case in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties. That could push the commission membership from its current five to seven or more.
Besides, Hernando's government budget woes are tied to a national recession and a bursting real estate bubble in a county that is too reliant on home-building and low-wage service sector jobs as the basis of its local economy. Charter government isn't going to fix that. Just ask the cash-strapped city of Brooksville.