Dade City Commissioner Bill Dennis got it wrong. Tuesday evening, he endorsed incumbent Mayor Camille Hernandez to remain in the job for two more years. He did this despite past opposition to her controversial positions that cost the city a valued public servant and gave commissioners a pay raise as city employees received none.
Proof of Hernandez's divisive governing played out on the dais as it took nine nominations and multiple votes before a split commission picked the incumbent over Commissioner Scott Black on a 3-2 vote.
Unfortunately, Dennis' support for Hernandez failed to account for the will of the electorate in the April 8 municipal election. On that night, Hernandez ran unopposed for a third term on the city commission, but still ended up the political loser because voters overwhelmingly rejected her chosen candidate to oppose Black, Angie Herrera. Voters gave Black 80 percent of the vote in his re-election over Herrera, a political neophyte whose stealth candidacy was largely financed by the Hernandez family. It was a strong endorsement of Black's sterling 24-year record of public service and a humiliating rebuke of Hernandez's politicking.
On Tuesday, Commissioner Eunice Penix, a 21-year member of the commission who had supported Hernandez and her agenda for the past two years, nominated Black for mayor. Penix was wise to switch allegiance to Black and the high ethical standards and good government advocacy he sets for this commission. Penix also should consider her own role in a series of misguided votes over the past two years that simultaneously empowered the mayor and her political ally, Commissioner Jim Shive, while damaging the public's faith in its city government.
Commissioners Penix, Shive and Hernandez authorized the commission's salary increases and later, the trio made the ill-conceived maneuver to make personnel decisions, without prior notice or public comment, during a meeting advertised only as a workshop. The rushed decision carried an unanticipated expense to the public after the long-time city clerk/finance director resigned and the replacements added $36,000 to the city payroll. The workshop vote inspired an unsuccessful attempt from Sen. John Legg, R-Trinity, to amend Florida's Government-in-the-Sunshine law to ensure other governments didn't mimic the shenanigans.
Legislative oversight shouldn't be required for a municipal government and Dennis shouldn't have blessed the mayor who brought the city embarrassing notoriety. The gavel remains in the hands of Hernandez and its now up to her to conduct the public's business in a more transparent manner best serving the residents of Dade City.