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Indecisive commission dupes public on hearing

In case you missed it, which most of you certainly did because public broadcast access is limited, here's the no-kidding version of the hot-button issue from Tuesday's Hernando County Commission meeting.

Representatives from the Chamber of Commerce and the county Builders' and Realtors' associations asked the commissioners to approve a 25-percent reduction in impact fees on new construction. They claim it will help lower-income people obtain state aid and also jump-start Hernando County's economy, which is overly dependent on the construction industry.

The proposal was confusing from the get-go, because the new state law that allows counties to make this reduction is poorly written. Still, after two weeks of researching the topic, the commission's planning and legal staff presented numerous concerns about how it would be implemented, the loss of revenue to the county, and its redundancy to other state programs that provide housing assistance to people who are eligible for such help. Then the county administrator, David Hamilton, recommended that the commission reject the notion and maintain the status quo.

So, what did the commissioners do? They told their staff to research it some more, and set up another hearing on the matter three weeks from now, July 15.

Fair enough. Indecision by politicians surprises no one, even though this one looked like a no-brainer.

But then they went a step further — insert your outrage here — they actually had a discussion about how they could withhold information from the public about the purpose of the upcoming hearing.

Commissioner David Russell, Jr., whose back must be aching from carrying so much water for the proponents of this shortsighted measure, made repeated motions expressly designed to use "vague'' — his word — language about what the commission may or may not consider, or what action it may or may not take, on July 15. Commissioner Rose Rocco seconded every one. Only Commissioner Diane Rowden stood squarely against it, but even she acquiesced by making the vote unanimous when it came to scheduling the hearing.

In others words, the commission as a whole was not only unable to make up its mind about the merits of the proposal, it engaged in a maneuver to leave the majority of the public in the dark.

So much for the people's right to know everything there is to know about their public hearing. After all, it's only their infrastructure for which the commission is considering cutting funding. On Tuesday, it was more important to our elected representatives that they manipulate the process to accommodate their timid dithering, and the hurry-up agenda of those who support this suggestion.

Tuesday's decision/indecision must have pleased that crowd. After realizing their first round of arm-twisting fell short, this fall-back position gives them extra time to put a sharper point on their argument, discredit the county staff's findings and apply more pressure on the vacillating commissioners.

Oh, and pack the commission chambers with their supporters on July 15.

And even those who watch these meetings only occasionally know that's the best way to get a commissioner to make a decision.

No kidding.

Jeff Webb can be reached at webb@sptimes.com or (352) 754-6123.

Indecisive commission dupes public on hearing 06/24/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, July 8, 2008 10:08am]

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