If you want a county-owned lime rock road paved in Hernando, you need to get two-thirds of the neighbors to agree with you, petition the county and then be prepared to foot the bill yourselves. But, if you want a privately owned dirt road repaired at public cost, all you need to do is call Hernando Commissioner Jim Adkins.
The absurd juxtaposition results from a murky county policy on exactly when it will do emergency repairs on private roads. The commission needs to clear it up quickly. Such repairs — if they are to be done — need to be debated and approved by the full board in a public meeting.
Post-rainstorm telephone calls from commissioners to mid-level managers should be prohibited, but that was the scenario earlier this month concerning La Dora Drive, east of Brooksville. Adkins ran interference for residents whose private road is outside the auspices of county repair work.
Adkins should be familiar with spending public money on private property. As a commission candidate in 2008, he called the county's ethics hot line to report a public works employee using county equipment and supplies to lay lime rock on a private driveway. That employee got three days off without pay.
This time, at least, the involved employees received an apology — from Adkins. To his credit, Adkins told the staff he was sorry for any perception of micro-managing. He should be. Commissioners cannot butt into the day-to-day operations of the county government. How is an assistant department head supposed to respond when a commissioner — an elected official three platforms above him on a flow chart — comes calling?
Adkins cannot claim ignorance because he is no stranger to government operations. As a retired Brooksville Fire Department chief, he took direction from the city manager, not the mayor or City Council. We wonder how he would have responded had an elected politician tried to tell him how to provide public safety. We also wonder why he can't see the hypocrisy of reporting employees while a candidate but encouraging similar behavior as a commissioner.
But interfere is exactly what he did on May 12 when heavy rain damaged La Dora Drive, a dirt road north of State Road 50. A public works crew with a grader had determined it could not repair private property, but Adkins, after hearing from a constituent, contacted assistant public works director Steve Whitaker. Adkins, relaying the conversation from the property owner, said the road was inaccessible. A deputy's report said it created a public-safety liability issue for the county. Adkins made a similar statement to Whitaker who repeated it to Times staff writer Barbara Behrendt as the rationalization for agreeing with Adkins' request.
There is no indication the deputy, the commissioner or the public works department conferred with the County Attorney's Office before rendering this inaccurate legal opinion. The county faced no liability, but it did face another financial consideration. The repair work cost the county overtime expenses to send workers to the site after hours. Asking the rest of the public to eat the costs of private road repairs is simply unfair. Adkins, a so-called fiscal conservative in favor of less government and reduced taxes, should be the first to recognize this.