It's all about economic development, according to Commissioner Jim Adkins. Unless it isn't. This week, Adkins put his convoluted philosophies on display and demonstrated that the economy is second fiddle to expediency in Hernando County.
Tuesday afternoon, Adkins said he wanted Administrator Len Sossamon to double as the county's business development manager. It's a sound idea, particularly considering the administrator's background in airport and business development in North Carolina. "It's all about economic development,'' Adkins told the rest of the board. He got unanimous commission agreement and Sossamon now will handle both chores.
Unfortunately, a few hours earlier, Adkins' put political safety before business recruiting and joined a three-commissioner majority in silencing their own staff's legitimate concerns about the county's failure to preserve industrial zoned land. Along the way, Adkins demonstrated greater knowledge of Robert's Rules of Order than economic development and used parliamentary procedure to switch his vote and kill a scheduled January hearing on whether the county should allow a church on industrial land.
Here's how it happened: Adkins initially agreed to hear an appeal of a zoning case in which a church won approval to build its 1,600-seat sanctuary on land near the county airport that is reserved for industrial use. A few minutes later, after a tardy Commission Chairman David Russell joined the meeting, Adkins asked for a reconsideration, then voted with Russell and Commissioner Nick Nicholson to kill the appeal hearing and affirm the Nov. 12 Planning and Zoning Commission's decision giving the church permission to build on industrial land.
By doing so, Adkins, Russell and Nicholson blessed Crosspoint Church's plans to build at Anderson Snow Road and Corporate Boulevard, without hearing their own staff's objections in an open public forum. It's a disservice to the public. Commissioners abdicated their duties as elected officials to a volunteer planning board that doesn't answer to voters.
The county's professional planners, airport manager and business development office all opposed the church location — with good reason. Preserving land for future industrial development, particularly in the airport overlay district, is key to attracting companies seeking sites for relocation and expansion. The commission is wrong to whittle that inventory of vacant industrial land by permitting nonbusiness uses. The actions of Adkins, Russell and Nicholson undermine their own goal of expanding the local economy beyond residential construction.
Nicholson characterized a public hearing before the County Commission on the matter as a waste of time. It drew an immediate and appropriate rebuke from Commissioner Wayne Dukes who told Nicholson, "If we're doing the people's work, it's never a waste of time.''
Indeed. The vote by the close-minded commissioners allowed them to duck a face-to-face meeting with a roomful of church parishioners. That's what it's really all about despite Adkins' statements to the contrary.