Dade City has a new city manager, a new police chief and an old problem: shrinking revenue to finance government operations. Still, the leading campaign issue in the municipal election is personality, not paper currency. Specifically, the personality of a city commissioner not even on this year's ballot.
Camille Hernandez, the subject of an unsuccessful recall effort in 2007, is the topic of conversation because her husband or his business is financially supporting a trio of commission candidates: two first-time candidates and an incumbent. Hernandez's ill-advised actions — writing a letter to the governor's office asking for an investigation of baseless allegations of corruption and malfeasance against the mayor and ex-city manager — drew a strong public rebuke from the rest of the commission and recall effort led by resident Curtis Beebe.
Beebe is now trying to join the commission, running for the open Group 3 seat against Hernandez confidant Jim Shive, a former longtime city employee whose job was eliminated a few years ago.
Beebe, a technology consultant, moved to Church Avenue more than a decade ago because he and his wife wanted to raise their children in Dade City. He is a member of the Dade City Planning Board and the Land Development Review Advisory Committee, but gained the most notoriety for heading the Committee to Recall Commissioner Hernandez.
He says his campaign is about leadership, integrity and transparency. He brings management and budget experience and a levelheaded approach to governing, confessing at a recent candidate forum that you couldn't promise all things to all people because of the property tax cuts contained in Amendment 1 to the Florida Constitution. Beebe would be a fine addition to the commission.
Shive was unavailable for interviews, did not respond to a written request for information about his candidacy and did not attend a candidate forum.
In Group 4, Commissioner Steve Van Gorden is seeking re-election to a second four-year term. Van Gorden, a middle school principal, points to the city's hiring of a part-time recreation director to improve youth activities, eliminating duplicate work of planning boards and moving code enforcement from a civilian board to the county court system as top accomplishments. He is a proven leader and should be re-elected.
His opponent, Robert Avila, did not respond to interview requests and skipped the candidate forum sponsored by the Dade City Chamber of Commerce. Denying the public opportunities to examine his platform — if he has one — and motives for his candidacy insults the electorate. If he plans to be as detached from his constituents as he is from his candidacy, the city will be served poorly if he is elected.
The race for the Group 5 seat is not as clear-cut. There, 14-year incumbent Eunice Penix, a retired teacher, is having to make her first run for office. She was appointed to fill a vacancy in 1994 and has not been opposed since. Mike Agnello, owner of the Osceola Tavern downtown, is making his second bid for the commission. Agnello looks at the yard signs around town and remarks the election looks like three-on-three basketball. Except neither he nor Penix wants to be considered tied to any one group.
Agnello's platform is much as it was two years ago. He thinks city schools are shortchanged on education funding and Dade City deserves a new elementary. That is an issue for the Pasco School Board, not the Dade City Commission. He wants a parking garage downtown or a shuttle service from the city outskirts and claims Dade City is unfairly left out of discussions about tourist tax spending. Many of his ideas are grandiose, however, and come at an inopportune time as the city confronts a $300,000 revenue cut from Amendment 1. His personal financial situation also is a cause for concern. Agnello failed to pay state sales tax from his business in 2006, culminating in his arrest last year. It shows questionable judgment for someone seeking the public trust.
Penix, though she was confused and performed poorly at the candidate forum, has a substantial voting record to which she can point. She made the politically unpopular but correct decision to fold the city fire department four years ago and contract with the county in a cost-saving move. She voted to disavow Hernandez's letter to the governor and supported hiring Billy Poe as the new city manager. Both were 4-1 votes with only Hernandez dissenting. If a campaign contribution from Hernandez's husband was supposed to be a show of loyalty, Penix's public record speaks otherwise.
It also is worth noting that Penix delivered the stern message to the then-city manager in 1999 that the Police Department needed better training, after she served on a criminal court jury. Penix and the other jurors exonerated a local lawyer accused of molesting a teen-ager, saying they didn't believe officers' testimony. In the aftermath, one officer resigned and two others were suspended.
Penix is not a strong leader, nor particularly outspoken. She defers to others during commission discussions. Her voting record, however, shows a commissioner who acts in the public's best interests.
In Dade City's April 8 election, the Times recommends Curtis Beebe for Group 3, Steve Van Gorden for Group 4 and Eunice Penix for Group 5 City Commission seats.
Candidates not recommended by the Times have the opportunity to respond to this editorial. Responses of no longer than 250 words can be sent to the attention of Pasco Editor of Editorials C.T. Bowen at 11321 U.S. 19, Port Richey, FL 34668; via e-mail to email@example.com or via fax to (727) 869-6233. Responses must be received by 5 p.m. Tuesday.