Hernando County Commissioners' new economic policy is moving from job creation to protectionism. Commissioners this week rejected engineering proposals for design and permitting work on a highly desirable public project because a local firm failed to snag the contract. Instead, commissioners said they will draft a new policy that gives preference to local vendors in the event competitors tie when being ranked by a selection committee.
In other words, the commission wants to change the rules and then again ask which companies want to consult for the county. Don't be surprised if the response from non-Hernando firms is underwhelming, depriving the public of expertise beyond its county borders and potentially driving up costs because of too little competition.
It's a waste of time. For people just elected on a platform of improved government efficiency, this amounts to a commission-ordered duplication of staff work intended for one reason — benefiting a local company and campaign contributor.
In the meantime, work is stalled on Peck Sink, an environmentally sensitive piece of property that is earmarked to be the site of a storm water park and passive recreation. The commission-authorized delay puts the county further behind on a project that is keyed to grants from the Department of Environmental Protection and the Southwest Florida Water Management District.
In mid November, at his first meeting as commissioner, Jim Adkins asked to have consideration of the engineering contract tabled for two weeks because he was unfamiliar with the project. In an interview Friday, Commissioner Jeff Stabins said he had concerns about the top-ranked proposal from King Engineering Associates, but had been prepared to support the committee's recommendation at the November meeting.
Odd, but that support was not evident five days ago. When the item returned to the agenda, commissioners raised the issue of trying to steer business to a local company. They didn't mention it was also a political benefactor.
A Civil Design Group of Spring Hill or its principal contributed $1,400 during the 2008 election cycle to Commissioners Adkins, John Druzbick and Jeff Stabins and to the unsuccessful campaigns run by Hubert "Wayne'' Dukes and Christopher Kingsley.
Stabins and Public Works Chief Charles Mixson ranked A Civil Design Group as their first choice when the selection committee met in October. Other members of the county's professional planning staff and a water district planner opted for King Engineering, which earned the committee's recommendation based on the county's tie-breaking policy.
Tuesday, commissioners said that policy is flawed, rejected the committee recommendation and ordered a rewrite in order to steer the work to A Civil Design Group. Commissioner Rose Rocco dissented when the commission rejected the contract proposal, but acquiesced later when the board unanimously ordered a new local-preference policy.
It is a bad precedent that fails to recognize Hernando as part of the Tampa Bay region. It also is the subject of a formal protest from King Engineering which noted the county is trying to change the rules in the middle of the game.
Commissioners, incidentally, failed to instruct staff on their definition of ''local.'' King Engineering, for instance, said it has employees in its Tampa office who reside in Hernando County, meaning the company's payroll contributes directly to the Hernando economy. (The firm formerly had a Brooksville office, but closed it nearly two decades ago and it, too, contributed to the Kingsley's 2008 campaign, but not to the others.)
Commissioners charged with watching the public purse should be seeking the best deal possible for taxpayer-funded goods and services. Cronyism or somebody's Zip code shouldn't be part of the check list for ranking private-sector competitors seeking public dollars.