Hernando County's Commission is getting an overhaul. A two-term incumbent is retiring in District 1 and the incumbent lost his primary challenge in District 3. Voters, however, would do well to choose new blood in a third commission race. Here are our recommendations in the three countywide commission races in the Nov. 6 election:
District 1, Nick Nicholson
Republican Nick Nicholson, 55, a civil engineer, is a longtime and well-known fixture in the community whose commitment is demonstrated by his extensive volunteering. He is well-versed in the role of local government and the issues it confronts as he served on the Citizens' Advisory Committee on transportation and on the Hernando County Planning and Zoning Board.
Unlike much of the rest of the local GOP ticket, Nicholson recognizes the value of the county's mass transit system. He also believes the county should use economic incentives to improve land-use planning and to encourage in-fill development while protecting green space.
He is opposed by Arlene Glantz, a Democrat; Joseph J. Swilley Sr., who is running as an independent; and a write-in candidate.
Glantz, 69, moved to Hernando six years ago from New York after a career as an attorney and earlier as a corporate vice president for financial planning and asset control. She correctly pinpoints many of the problems facing the county including a budget too reliant on reserve accounts, a need for workforce training, and a reluctance to invest in parks and libraries.
Her answers, however, are problematic. She believes Hernando can tax Internet sweepstakes cafes that other counties are trying to shut down. She says corporate sponsors can fill the funding voids for parks and libraries and she advocates for additional staffing at parks and expanded hours at libraries — all without changing the property tax rate. It's an unrealistic promise, particularly with the county already projecting up to a $10 million deficit in the 2014 budget.
Swilley, 53, an air conditioning technician, offers a platform in which the first plank calls for curbing the national debt. He needs a more local focus. In an interview, he acknowledged he likely would have dropped his commission candidacy if Republican Michael Burmann had won the Aug. 14 primary.
To replace the retiring Jeff Stabins, the public needs a commissioner committed to the job, to the community and to finding realistic answers to a myriad of problems threatening the quality of life here. Nicholson best fits that criteria. For Hernando County Commission District 1, the Tampa Bay Times recommends Nick Nicholson.
District 3, Diane Rowden
Former two-term Commissioner Diane Rowden, a Democrat, is seeking to reclaim the seat she lost four years ago. Voters should allow her to do so.
Much public criticism has been aimed at Rowden and the boards she served with as tax-happy, lavish spenders, but such rhetoric fails to acknowledge the 25 percent property tax rate cut the commission approved during her second term. More astonishing, the current commission majority has spent the past four years balancing its budgets with the reserves accumulated during that time period. Spending money other people saved is hardly the mark of fiscal restraint.
Rowden, 63, is a hard-working and independent-thinking problem solver. Her opposition to sprawl-promoting developments earned her the wrath of the building community and an inaccurate label of being antibusiness. It's not antibusiness, but a matter of fairness, to demand new home buyers contribute to the cost of roads and other services — just as every other new home buyer in Hernando County did up until a year ago.
She is opposed by Republican Jason Patrick Sager, Gregory Lewis Sheldon who is running with no party affiliation, and a write-in candidate
Sager, 38, ran unsuccessfully for Congress two years ago, and much of his antigovernment rhetoric remains aimed at the federal level. He defeated incumbent Commissioner John Druzbick by eight votes in the August primary.
Sager objected to the county accepting federal dollars for an air traffic control tower at the airport, considered a key component to future aviation-related business opportunities for the county. His tea party tunnel vision will be a detriment to a county trying dig itself out from high unemployment rates and an over reliance on home building as its economic engine. His idea of economic development is to ask corporate executives why they aren't coming to Hernando. Perhaps those companies prefer communities where local governments invest in mass transit, parks, libraries, green space and educating its workforce. He claimed firsthand experience with dealing with a bureaucratic county permitting process then acknowledged much of the trouble was tied to insurance company requirements, not the county government.
How candidates campaign can be an indication of how they will serve. The underhanded tactics used to boost Sager's candidacy — anonymous robocalls, taking down opponents' roadside signs, Sager's own embellishment of his military record and overstating county spending — should give voters great pause as to how he will behave if elected to office.
Gregory Lewis Sheldon, 33, a licensed building contractor, said he ran because Hernando County is not going in the right direction. He said he decided not to affiliate with a political party after watching the shabby treatment the state Republican Party bestowed on Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, for supporting Charlie Crist's U.S. Senate bid.
Sheldon understands the value of impact fees in keeping infrastructure up-to-date and, like many of the candidates, advocates for better job training here. Sheldon is sincere and committed to Hernando County and improving its the quality of life. He would be an acceptable alternative if Rowden wasn't in the field, but her experience and record of constituent service is unmatched.
For Hernando County Commission District 3, the Tampa Bay Times recommends Diane Rowden.
District 5, Ramon J. Gutierrez
First-term Republican Commissioner James E. Adkins, 63, contributes little to the public dialogue. He takes credit for business development that occurred before his term in office and he was the sole commissioner to vote against the Federal Aviation Authority tower at the Hernando County Airport, despite his frequent proclamations of being probusiness.
Likewise, he talks about financial responsibility, but he has yet to approve a county budget in which revenue matched spending. He and the rest of the commission annually balance their the budgets off the reserves accumulated by their predecessors. Somehow, though, the incumbent thinks that is fiscally prudent. During his term, he offered a cockamamie economic plan, authored by special interests, to stimulate home buying that was tied to county-financed gift cards. It's indicative of a narrow agenda on behalf of political pals that fails to account for the need to broaden the county's economy beyond residential home construction.
Democrat Ramon J. Gutierrez, 60, a real estate agent and former restaurateur, understands the shortcomings of shortchanging government services. He supports THE Bus transit system and, to better its parks, he says the commission should revisit the 2011 vote killing sports fees to which athletic leagues already had agreed. He was an early advocate for better jobs training in Hernando, a theme of his unsuccessful commission run four years ago, that now is much more imperative because of the county's stalled economy.
For Hernando County Commission District 5, the Tampa Bay Times recommends Ramon J. Gutierrez.
Opportunity to reply
The Times offers candidates not recommend by its editorial board an opportunity to respond. Replies should be sent by 5 p.m. Tuesday to C.T. Bowen, Pasco/Hernando editor of editorials, Tampa Bay Times, 11321 U.S. 19, Port Richey, FL 34668. By fax to 727-869-6233 or by e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. Replies are limited to 150 words.