Jeff Stabins didn't hit the gas pedal hard enough when he accelerated his departure from the Hernando County Commission.
Stabins, serving his second term, already announced he would not seek re-election in November 2012, admitting frustration at an increasingly conservative-leaning board. Wednesday, he issued a written statement to Times staff writer Barbara Behrendt saying he would leave the commission seat in April to run for Congress in an upstate New York district where he recently purchased a home.
Stabins, a two-term Republican commissioner who has provided a moderate voting record coupled with humorous and sometimes caustic behavior from the dais, shouldn't remain in office until next spring. He simply cannot represent his constituents in Hernando County effectively while he commutes between Florida and New York. Neither a serious run for Congress nor a Hernando commission post can be fulfilled on a part-time basis by a distracted candidate/commissioner.
Stabins would better serve Hernando County if he remained in office only through the end of September, allowing him to continue shaping the 2012 budget that still requires multimillion-dollar cuts. His concern about his seat remaining vacant is understandable in light of the poor job Gov. Rick Scott has done responding to Hernando voters' needs. A vacant seat on the Hernando School Board still awaits a gubernatorial appointment more than five months after the resignation of Pat Fagan.
Stabins' departure also increases the likelihood of 2-2 deadlocks, particularly on fiscal issues, considering the like-minded votes frequently cast by Commissioners Jim Adkins and Wayne Dukes. In that regard, Stabins presence will be missed greatly. He recently joined the majority in killing a ploy to resurrect a charter government task force and referendum. He also attempted to lessen planned cuts to the parks department via new fees, but found himself outmaneuvered when Adkins flip-flopped following Dukes' election.
Yet, over the past several months, Stabins also became increasingly unpredictable. He missed a meeting near Easter and issued a cryptic e-mail that left other commissioners worried about his mental health. He lobbied to fire County Administrator David Hamilton, pushed for his own television show on the county's government-access channel, and frequently departs the dais during public comments.
Tuesday, he insulted civic activist Anthony Palmieri, who offered an etiquette lesson on listening to constituents. Otherwise, Palmieri said, the commissioner gives the appearance he couldn't care less about what the public has to say.
"I agree with you,'' Stabins retorted. "I couldn't care less about what you have to say.''
Such boorish behavior won't play any better on the congressional campaign trail in Watertown, N.Y., than it does in Brooksville.
Stabins can be proud of his work to improve the county's housing stock, preserve THE Bus mass transit service, and playing devil's advocate by scrutinizing the spending requests from constitutional officers, the judiciary and consultants. He remains a strong proponent for the parks system while others prefer padlocking the gates to ball fields and preserves.
But Stabins is no longer fully engaged in commission business and has grown disconnected to Hernando County. He would better serve his current constituents by resigning next month and working full-time to impress the New York state residents he hopes will become his new constituency.