Hernando Commissioner Jeff Stabins shouldn't face a state ethics complaint, but neither should he be absolved for his recent spate of strange behavior.
Last week, Commission Chairman Jim Adkins filed a complaint with the Florida Commission on Ethics against Stabins after an internal report detailed employee complaints about the commissioner. Tuesday, during a board meeting, audience members criticized Adkins for overstepping his authority, failing to follow a chain of command and acting in some sort of conspiracy against Stabins.
The criticism was pointed at the wrong target. Adkins' request for a state ethics investigation is out of order — a public admonishment from the chairman might have been just as effective — but doing nothing was unacceptable and an invitation to further employee-related legal proceedings.
(The county already faces a federal discrimination complaint after Stabins, Adkins and a commission majority in December declined to approve recommended raises to two female employees who had assumed greater responsibilities.)
Nor could County Administrator David Hamilton intervene with Stabins because, Hamilton said, his ability to enforce county employee policies does not extend to the commission. Hamilton also was powerless, from a political standpoint, because Stabins' actions were aimed in part at producing a DVD report critical of Hamilton's three-year tenure as administrator. Had Hamilton stepped in to ensure more appropriate use of county staff resources, he could have been accused of attempting to quash Stabins' critique.
If county staff accounts in the report are accurate, Stabins contributed to a hostile work environment by using profane language, requiring an employee to work on his pet project producing the DVD, and expecting county workers to tend to his dogs' needs when he brought the animals to the county building.
Stabins told Times staff writer Barbara Behrendt he did not recall using foul language and apologized if he had offended county employees. During Tuesday's commission's meeting, Stabins was critical of the report for not seeking his side of the story, lambasted Hamilton as a "disgrace'' and called for the administrator to resign.
While free to manage his boss, Stabins also needs to evaluate his own unprofessional performance. His extended absence over the Easter holiday and oddball, e-mailed explanation raised commissioners' concerns about Stabins' physical and mental health. Even after Stabins' return, his frequent departure during meetings, particularly during a recent discussion about Spring Hill Fire Rescue District, denies his constituents elected representation.
Stabins has been a valuable member of the Hernando commission since his 2004 election. However, his frustration at being unable to build a consensus on a multitude of issues — not the least of which is his desire to dismiss Hamilton — his announcement he would not seek re-election in 2012, and now his unprofessional and bizarre behavior have diminished his effectiveness.
Stabins can continue to play the disgruntled lame duck or he can make the most of his remaining 17 months as a commissioner to fulfill faithfully the duties to which he was elected and at times has excelled.