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Barbara Behrendt, Times Staff Writer

Barbara Behrendt

Barbara Behrendt is based in Brooksville and covers Hernando County government, growth, development and the environment for the Tampa Bay Times. She joined the Times in 1983. Born in Chicago, she grew up in Columbus, Ohio, and earned her degree from the Ohio State University.

Phone: (352) 848-1434

Email: behrendt@tampabay.com

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  1. Online election season attacks focus on county administrator

    Local Government

    BROOKSVILLE — During election season, incumbent candidates for public office expect to get blasted for their voting records and for pet issues. But in this year's Hernando County Commission races, some of the harshest attacks have been focused on County Administrator Len Sossamon, who doubles as the county's economic development director.

    The latest attack raised the hackles of commission Chairman Jim Adkins, who during this week's commission meeting complained about incorrect information circulating on social media....

    Len Sossamon
  2. Hernando commission candidate out as wrestling coach at Springstead High

    Local Government

    SPRING HILL — After 10 years coaching wrestling at Springstead High School, Michael LaRocca says he has been told by school officials that he will not be asked to return this fall.

    The word comes as LaRocca is under fire from Justin Williams, whose wife, Lacie, had an intimate relationship with the coach at the same time he was coaching her son. Williams, who blamed LaRocca for breaking up his marriage, this week provided school district officials with text messages that included details of the relationship and a sworn statement made by Lacie admitting it....

    Michael LaRocca, who coached wrestling at Springstead for 10 years, maintains he did nothing wrong.
  3. Hernando commission candidate's texts detail liaison

    Local Government

    BROOKSVILLE — Justin Williams, whose then-wife Lacie had a sexual relationship with Springstead High School wrestling coach and Hernando County Commission candidate Michael LaRocca, said he has been asked by district officials to meet with them Monday.

    Though Hernando County School District spokeswoman Karen Jordan said the district is not investigating LaRocca's actions, Williams said he was told to bring to the meeting his phone with text messages from LaRocca....

    Hernando Commission candidate Michael LaRocca said he was told there was no investigation.
  4. Hernando releases budget long on spending, short on explanations

    Local Government

    BROOKSVILLE — Rising property values and new construction will mean more revenue for county government in the coming fiscal year even without a tax rate increase.

    But this won't be enough to cover the long list of new expenditures requested by several county agencies, including the Hernando County Sheriff's Office. And county staffers won't say how they plan to make up the difference — or whether the County Commission is likely to approve the requests....

  5. Commission backtracks on plans for sales tax referendum

    Local Government

    BROOKSVILLE — Plans to ask Hernando County voters whether they are willing to approve a half-cent sales tax to improve county services appear to be going down in flames.

    The County Commission agreed Tuesday to hold a public hearing to consider repealing the ordinance it approved in May that would have placed the referendum on the ballot in November.

    County officials had talked about the sales tax increase as a way to help pay for needed projects, ranging from road and sidewalk work to maintenance of environmentally sensitive lands. The extra tax revenue, which would have been recommended for a 15-year period, would have brought in annual proceeds of $8.5 million to $9 million....

  6. Man accuses Hernando commission candidate of ruining his marriage

    Local

    SPRING HILL — For Justin Williams, who moved to Hernando County four years ago with his wife, Lacie, her now 16-year-old son and the 7-year-old son they have in common, there is no question where the blame rests for the end of his marriage.

    The person responsible, Williams says, is the older boy's wrestling coach at Springstead High School — Michael LaRocca.

    Williams, 39, claims LaRocca, a candidate for the District 1 seat on the Hernando County Commission, had a sexual relationship with his wife. He says LaRocca destroyed his family, and he believes the public should know....

  7. Brooksville's old courthouse could see renovations, be opened to public, tourists

    Local Government

    BROOKSVILLE — The county seat's most recognizable landmark — the centerpiece of downtown Brooksville — might be heading toward improvements that would make it even more of an icon.

    Late last month and without fanfare, the County Commission voted to seek a grant that could lead to the start of renovations to the historic section of the Hernando County Government Center, known as the old courthouse....

    The Hernando County Government Center in the 1920s.
  8. Zika raises level of concern as Hernando works to combat mosquito population

    Local Government

    BROOKSVILLE — While Hernando County has not yet had a single case of the dreaded Zika virus that is spreading across Florida, the county's mosquito control director says the media attention focused on the disease is a good reminder of why illnesses spread by mosquitoes are not to be taken lightly.

    For years, Hernando's mosquito control efforts have included pre-treating areas prone to flooding, educating the public about how to avoid contact with mosquitoes and treating when the pests are at their peak....

    Samples of Aedes aegypti mosquitoes, responsible for transmitting dengue and Zika, sit in a petri dish.
  9. Hogan steps down from party post in Hernando, opposes Ingoglia as his replacement

    News

    BROOKSVILLE — For the first time in at least 55 years, a new Republican state committeeman will represent Hernando County.

    Tom Hogan Sr., who has held the job since 1961 — seven years before Hernando elected its first Republican county commissioner — has announced he will step down in August.

    Hogan also had strong words about who he wants to replace him — or, more to the point, who he does not want: state Rep. Blaise Ingoglia of Spring Hill, who also serves as chairman of the local and state parties and who qualified to run for committeeman last week....

    Blaise Ingoglia says he would step down as local  chairman.
  10. Caution ahead: Work set to begin this summer on I-75, SR 50 in east Hernando

    Roads

    BROOKSVILLE — Hernando County motorists should hold on to their steering wheels.

    The biggest road project since the widening of Cortez Boulevard in west Hernando is about to begin, and soon the landscape on the county's east side will be full of orange cones and barricades.

    Those who travel Interstate 75 and nearby State Road 50 will be seeing major construction work as the state prepares to rebuild the interstate bridges over SR 50 as a key component of its massive interstate widening project....

  11. With passing of qualifying deadline, races set for 2016 election ballot

    Local

    BROOKSVILLE — The season for campaign signs and bumper stickers is officially upon us.

    The qualifying period for candidates for local public office concluded late last week. For voters, the first opportunity to start making choices will be the Aug. 30 primary election, where some candidates will be elected and others simply thinned out to face one more vote in the Nov. 8 general election....

  12. Commission delays decision on permit for mentoring, training center

    Local Government

    BROOKSVILLE — The Born to Win Community Development Corp., which has provided mentoring, training, tutoring and other assistance for children and residents in south Brooksville for 13 years, is facing another hurdle before getting the go-ahead on its proposed new community center.

    County commissioners this week balked at a provision suggested by the Planning and Zoning Commission last month that would allow the organization to take up to a year to build a fence on its property to separate children from a potentially dangerous gully just off the site. The location is on Josephine Street, just south of Dr. M.L. King Jr. Boulevard....

  13. Community organization that helps kids reach potential plans to expand

    Local Government

    BROOKSVILLE — Thirteen years ago, Tammy Willis faced both the challenge of raising a special-needs daughter and the reality that her south Brooksville neighborhood offered many more challenges than solutions for youth.

    What started as tutoring sessions and praying with neighbors in her garage became a network of educational, counseling and community resources, which eventually turned into the Born to Win Community Development Corp....

  14. Brooksville moves forward with plan to rename street in honor of Muhammad Ali

    Local Government

    BROOKSVILLE — Approximately 28 residents along Union Street in Brooksville will receive formal notice in the coming days that the City Council is considering renaming the road after the late Muhammad Ali.

    The suggestion to honor Ali was made by council member Frankie Burnett just days after the famous boxer and civil rights champion, known as "the Greatest,'' died this month.

    "Muhammad Ali was a great guy, and not only one of the greatest sports figures we've seen in our time,'' Burnett said. "He used his power and fame to uncover the ugly social injustices. He did it worldwide and not just in America, and that made him even greater.''...

    New York now has a Muhammad Ali Way and Brooksville could soon have a Muhammad Ali Boulevard.
  15. Hernando Beach residents hear details regarding improved emergency services

    Public Safety

    HERNANDO BEACH — During a town hall meeting this week, residents of Hernando Beach finally got a look at the details and what it might cost to have paramedics at their doorstep who could treat a heart attack, administer lifesaving medicines and save a choking victim.

    The community is the last in Hernando County to have volunteer first responders capable of providing only basic life support. County fire officials spent more than an hour explaining to about 50 residents how a hybrid fire service could improve response times by more highly trained paramedics....