East Pasco justice will now be done under Robert Sumner's name. This week, the Pasco County Commission decided to honor the memory of their late county attorney by rechristening the county courthouse in Dade City as the Robert N. Sumner Judicial Center.
Sumner, who succumbed to lung cancer May 25 at the age of 76, served as Pasco County attorney from 1999-2007. The courthouse tribute is a pleasing memorial, but commissioners just as easily could have designated their own commission chambers — in either Dade City or New Port Richey — as an appropriate tribute to Sumner. It was in these rooms that Sumner's handiwork was most visible.
Robert N. (Bobby to nearly everyone) Sumner wore white, short-sleeve dress shirts, not a black judicial robe. And, instead of winding down a stellar legal career through part-time duty or rain-making for somebody else, Sumner concluded his full-time working years by accepting the county attorney's job and leading an exhaustive period of reshaping Pasco County. Sitting on the dais, he went beyond offering legal opinions to providing unsolicited advocacy for public policy changes he knew would benefit the Pasco landscape.
It was Sumner, not commissioners, who suggested an outright ban on new billboards in 1999. And a year later, Sumner who helped guide a proposed school impact fee to adoption; even browbeating building industry representatives who attempted to stall it.
Sumner was a leader who didn't mince words and wasn't shy about telling the commission and its citizen advisory boards what they needed to hear. His strong personality and knowledge of Pasco's heritage and its key political players allowed him to serve the public well and to provide a pro-citizen influence that benefited all.
It is appropriate that commissioners recognize Sumner's public service. People now will pass by his name each day when they enter and depart the criminal and civil courthouse on Live Oak Avenue in Dade City. Commissioners who truly want to honor Sumner, however, will make sure they don't forget his legacy at more opportune times — whenever somebody tries to weaken their comprehensive land plan, dilute their aesthetic controls on signs and landscaping, or ram through an impact fee moratorium.
For elected county commissioners, preserving a memory must go beyond a name on a building.