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A Times Editorial

The elite game the system

On a banks of the Withlacoochee River sits a so-called barn with all the comforts of home: two bedrooms, a bath, a kitchen and a covered porch. By calling it a barn, the owner — a state senator and former Citrus County sheriff — avoided pulling a building permit and paying nearly $10,400 in impact and other fees. His buddies in Citrus County government appear willing to let him get away with it. That's an insult to taxpayers.

The "barn" on Charlie Dean's property is a house, plain and simple, with 3,200 square feet of storage space. It sits on 25 acres of land zoned for agricultural grazing. Dean gamed the system in 2007 by citing the state's Right to Farm Act as a rationale for not obtaining a building permit, which would have triggered residential inspections and fees. Now it appears both county commissioners and staff are willing to swallow this dissembling for a fellow member of Citrus' political elite.

As Times staff writers Barbara Behrendt and Greg Hamilton reported:

• Dean has said Development Services director Gary Maidhof signed off on the construction during a meeting in which Dean displayed building plans. Maidhof has no recollection of the meeting and no notation of it on his calendar. Still, he doesn't publicly doubt Dean's account.

• A January complaint prompted a code enforcement officer to look at the property from a sheriff's airboat on the river, but he never walked the property nor looked inside the structure. The sloppy investigation helped lead Maidhof to rule the complaint unfounded.

• Another arm of county government has a different opinion than Maidhof. Property Appraiser Geoffrey Greene considers a portion of the building as living quarters and appraised a little over 1,000 square feet at the higher-valued rate for residential use. Dean has not challenged that appraisal.

• Commission Chairman John Thrumston recently dressed down county staff for not treating Dean better, saying their poor communication was damaging Dean's reputation. The commission agreed to seek an opinion from the state attorney general.

Thrumston and others should worry less about Dean's good name and more about their own. They shouldn't be party to the chicanery and the senator should do the responsible thing and pay the outstanding fees. Dean shouldn't need a state attorney general's opinion to tell him right from wrong.

The elite game the system 03/30/09 [Last modified: Monday, March 30, 2009 6:34pm]
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