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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


  1. Even with rebidding, questions loom over hangar lease at Hernando airport

    Local Government

    BROOKSVILLE — Last month, Hernando County commissioners made it clear they were not happy to find out that the fixed-base operator at Brooksville-Tampa Bay Regional Airport had moved into several hangars, and had already paid to buy them, before the commission was asked to approve the transaction.

    Other interested tenants cried foul, saying they had been told the hangars were supposed to be demolished. So they weren't even aware they were available for rental or purchase....

    County Administrator Len Sossamon says all bids will be reviewed in a month or so.
  2. Environmental money will finance work at Hunter's Lake, Bayport

    Local Government

    BROOKSVILLE — Despite public concerns about spending some of the roughly $6 million that remains in the county's environmentally sensitive lands fund, the Hernando County Commission this week unanimously approved using the money to dredge near the Hunter's Lake boat ramp in Spring Hill and to replace the fishing pier at Bayport.

    The issues were brought forward by Commissioner Wayne Dukes earlier this year....

    The fishing pier at Bayport Park was damaged during Hurricane Hermine, and county commissioners have voted to spend money from the county’s environmentally sensitive lands fund to replace it. [Photo courtesy of Hernando County government]
  3. County pulls plug on Hernando Beach Volunteer Fire Department

    Local Government

    BROOKSVILLE — When it came time this week for county commissioners to decide whether to shut down the Hernando Beach Volunteer Fire Department, Commissioner Steve Champion didn't mince words.

    "You can't responsibly sit up here and vote to keep that (department)'' in the face of a "laundry list of problems," Champion said.

    A majority of commissioners concurred, voting 3-1 Tuesday to terminate the county's contract with the department. They agreed to provide Hernando County Fire Rescue services, with an advanced life support engine staffed by three firefighters at the Hernando Beach station, when the contract ends in 60 days....

    “The problem I have is this corp-oration is a mess.”
Steve Champion, 
county commissioner
  4. Brooksville to appoint interim city manager, then search for permanent leader

    Local Government

    BROOKSVILLE — The Brooksville City Council will begin its search for a new city manager by first picking an interim manager. That person will oversee city government for several months while the council seeks a permanent replacement for Jennene Norman-Vacha.

    Council members on Monday night agreed, for both searches, to enlist the aide of the Senior Advisors program, previously known as the Ranger Riders, which uses retired individuals who have served as government officials to help with management searches and issues related to public administration....

    Jennene Norman-Vacha was recently ousted as city manager.
  5. Divided Brooksville council grants Blueberry Festival long-term Quarry lease

    Local Government

    BROOKSVILLE — Touting long-term economic benefits and putting Brooksville on the map, a divided City Council this week approved a 40-year lease of a portion of the former Quarry Golf Course property to the Florida Blueberry Festival.

    The lease, which potentially would allow those who run the festival to develop a year-round venue that could include a convention center, an arena, a concert hall, a visitor center or other facilities, was strongly supported by several city business leaders. But some residents and businesses blasted the council, saying the lease would pull the festival out of downtown Brooksville and amounted to a giveaway of city property with its $1-per-year rent provision....

  6. Brooksville council decides to not renew city manager's contract

    Local Government

    BROOKSVILLE — After detailing a series of performance concerns during a recent annual evaluation, Brooksville City Council members have voted to send longtime City Manager Jennene Norman-Vacha packing.

    Stopping short of calling it a termination, the council voted 4-1 to not renew Norman-Vacha's contract, which expires in June, and to immediately release her from all responsibilities and duties. They appointed Bill Geiger, the city's community development director, as interim city manager until they hold a special meeting in the coming days to determine how to proceed....

    Jennene Norman-Vacha was city manager for nearly 10 years. Her contract expires in June.
  7. Brooksville could seek to break ties with county ambulance service

    Local Government

    BROOKSVILLE — Concerned about the future cost of advanced life support and ambulance services, the Brooksville City Council has decided to seek proposals for an alternative provider to Hernando County Fire Rescue.

    How far that might go could rest with the County Commission, which has the authority to grant franchise agreements to ambulance providers.

    The pitch for a new emergency medical services provider for the city was made recently by Brooksville fire Chief David Freda, who discussed concerns about the financial condition of the county's fire-rescue service. Freda said the city's ordinance states that if the county increases its current tax rate for the service, the agreement between the city and county would be voided....

  8. Brooksville city manager gets suggestions for improvement in evaluations

    Local Government

    BROOKSVILLE — As Jennene Norman-Vacha nears her 10th anniversary as Brooksville city manager, City Council members say she is meeting expectations.

    In her annual evaluation, Norman-Vacha earns her highest scores in fiscal management and management of city assets.

    However, council members also have identified a number of areas where they would like to see her performance improve. Her lowest scores in the recent evaluation were in community relations and management style....

    Jennene Norman-Vacha is meeting expectations, say city council members.
  9. County says Transformation Aviation Services breached incentives contract

    Local Government

    BROOKSVILLE — In July 2015, when David Tidwell made his pitch before the Hernando County Commission seeking financial incentives and promising to bring 125 jobs to Brooksville-Tampa Bay Regional Airport, his Transformation Aviation Services airline refurbishing business was expected to be one of the year's best economic development successes.

    A year later, social media was buzzing with claims that Tidwell was not meeting his obligations under the incentive program approved by the commission. It was one of a series of criticisms leveled during the election season against Len Sossamon, who juggles the jobs of county administrator and economic development director....

  10. With retirement of incumbent, District 5 commission seat is up for grabs


    With two-term county Commissioner Jim Adkins choosing not to seek a third term, the District 5 commission seat is up for grabs in the Nov. 8 general election, and two political newcomers — Republican Steve Champion and Democrat Paul Douglas — are in pursuit.

    Champion, 42, has owned American Gun & Pawn in Brooksville for the past three years. A fifth-generation Hernando County resident, he previously worked for 23 years as a store director for Target. A lifelong member of the National Rifle Association, he has been an annual sponsor of the Hernando High School chapter of Future Farmers of America....

  11. In District 3, lone commission Democrat Rowden tangles with GOP foe Allocco


    As a long-term public servant and the sole Democrat holding elected office in Hernando County, Diane Rowden is used to the challenge of a hotly contested election. And this year's race for the District 3 seat on the County Commission is no different as she goes head-to-head with a political newcomer, Republican John Allocco.

    Rowden, 67, is a retired flight attendant who has served three terms on the County Commission and three years on the Hernando School Board. Six years ago, she made an unsuccessful run for the State House....

  12. Hernando District 1 commission candidates disagree on administrator's role, sheriff's funding


    Nick Nicholson, the Republican county commissioner representing District 1, says he is proud of his tenure on the board, both as a fiscal conservative and as a public official focused on quality-of-life issues.

    But his challenger in the Nov. 8 general election, Democrat Jimmy Lodato, questions the wisdom of Nicholson and other commissioners on a variety of issues, including entrusting economic development to County Administrator Len Sossamon and the commission's recent decision to deny a funding increase requested by Sheriff Al Nienhuis....

  13. State House | District 35


    One-term incumbent Rep. Blaise Ingoglia also serves as head of the Republican Party of Florida and has been chairman of the Hernando County Republican Executive Committee. He faces a challenge for his House seat from Democrat Ramon Gutierrez.

    About the job: State House District 35 includes all of Hernando County except the northwest quadrant. Representatives serve two-year terms and are paid $29,697 a year....

    Blaise Ingoglia
  14. Hernando County Commission | District 5


    With two-term Commissioner Jim Adkins' decision to not seek re-election, the District 5 commission seat will be filled by a political newcomer. Voters will choose between Republican Steve Champion, who defeated longtime public official Dave Russell in the primary, and Democrat Paul Douglas, who heads up the local NAACP. Barbara Behrendt, Times staff writer

    About the job: County commissioners are elected countywide but must live in the district for the seat they are seeking. Commissioners set policy and the budget for government operations. District 5 if comprised of most of the eastern half of Hernando County. Commission terms are four years and the annual salary is $65,515....

    photo of Paul Douglas, who is running for president of the local NAACP chapter.
To run with story (NAACP) by Tony Marrero on Sunday, Nov. 21, 2010 in the Hernando Times
  15. Hernando County Commission | District 3


    The District 3 race for Hernando County Commission pits the commission's sole Democrat, Diane Rowden, against Republican challenger John Allocco. Rowden, who is vying for her fourth term on the commission, is running on her history of promoting quality of life, environmental protection and economic development. Allocco, who has not previously sought public office, serves on the county's Republican Executive Committee and has served on several Republican political campaigns. ...

    John Allocco