It may be the happiest beetle invasion since the Beatles.
And it's almost as hard to miss.
All you have to do is look around for towering, tree-strangling strands of potato vine. Their usually bright-green, heart-shaped leaves are, in much of the county, wilted and lacy — or, as scientists say, "skeletonized."
The fleshy parts of the leaves have been consumed by small, red beetles called Lileoceris cheni, which in 2002 were found munching on potato vines in Nepal, part of the plant's massive native range....
In the heyday of the Great Florida Sinkhole Lottery, Iris and Harry Irizarry would have had all the ingredients for a big cash payout:
A sinkhole policy from state-run Citizens Property Insurance Corp.; visible cracking in the walls and floors of the Spring Hill home they bought new in 2003; and a sinkhole confirmed by both an engineer and the Hernando County Property Appraiser's Office.
But the era of easy sinkhole claims is over, slammed shut by a 2011 overhaul of the state insurance law. Based on the new law, the same engineering firm that found the Irizarrys' sinkhole — and recommended that it be filled with grout — deemed that it wouldn't qualify for an insurance claim....
If you're fed up with our brick wall of a Congress — and polls say about 85 percent of you are — hearing this from a lawmaker might make you want to cheer:
"I was opposed to the whole idea of shutting down the government," U.S. Rep. Richard Nugent, a Republican from Spring Hill, told the Tampa Bay Times editorial board last week. "That was, in my estimation, the dumbest idea."...
I have news that might change your whole perspective on living in Brooksville:
Now there's stuff to do here.
Specifically, you can go out at night on the weekends, choose a glass of wine or beer from a thoughtfully put together list and eat the sort of meal that used to require an hourlong commute to Tampa. On some evenings, you can find live music or a wine tasting.
The advantages include avoiding that commute or another option that is almost as much of a drag — getting a decent-but-predictable meal at a faceless chain restaurant in Spring Hill....
DARBY — Mike Long said that last Sunday morning's collision between a sport utility vehicle and his longtime cycling friend, Julio Vivo, "was the most horrifying thing I ever saw."
But as Long stood on the side of the road next to Vivo, who lay unconscious, struggling to draw a breath, Long witnessed another sight almost as shocking.
The SUV slowed enough for the driver to see that Vivo, 56, of Tampa was seriously injured, Long said, "and then he just accelerated away."...
09/25/14 Local Government
You may remember that one of the early names given to Hernando's tourist development project — if it really is a project and not just a free-floating lump of state funding — was "educational plaza."
That's appropriate because the one benefit I see in this fiasco is that it can teach us a lesson:
Why turkeys are bad.
This allocation isn't technically a turkey, I was told last spring, because it appeared as a small item in a legislative committee budget before ballooning into the $3 million allocation ultimately approved by the governor....
If Dick's Sporting Goods had to pay for its new Spring Hill store's full impact on nearby roads, the price would be about $385,000. Thanks to the Hernando County Commission, however, the national chain won't pay a dime.
Just across the street from the under-construction Dick's is a new Burger King, which, as a fast-food restaurant, generates traffic like no other use of its size. It, too, received a free pass on road impact fees, which according to a county consultant is a gift worth about $253,000....
BROOKSVILLE — When Leona Bechtelheimer won her first race as Hernando County tax collector, in 1976, payments were still handwritten in blue ledgers "big enough that they covered the desk," said her sister, Juanita Sikes.
The county was home to about 28,000 people, and the center of population was still shifting west from Brooksville to Spring Hill.
Mrs. Bechtelheimer was the first tax collector to open an office there, starting with tables set up in the Spring Hill Community Center in 1977. By the time she retired, in 2000, her office had been fully computerized for years, and much of Hernando, which by then was home to about 130,000 residents, was covered by suburban sprawl....
As you have no doubt heard, there was a tragedy in south Brooksville two weeks ago.
Police say that a man with a long criminal record went on a rampage, shooting four people and killing three of them, including his longtime girlfriend and an 81-year-old woman who had helped raise him.
Within a few hours, we in the media knew, and therefore the public knew, the names of the people involved and how they were related. We knew the basic chain of events. We had the story....
It was just after 9 o'clock Aug. 29 when Vickie Blount's niece called with the news that one of the victims of a shooting rampage in south Brooksville was Jannie Taylor.
Taylor was an 81-year-old, churchgoing woman whom Blount had known for nearly 40 years. She baked cakes and cooked picnic lunches for family and friends. She had called Blount three days earlier to check on how she was recovering from throat surgery. She even helped to raise the man charged with killing her....
People who received robocalls targeting Hernando School Board candidate Jay Rowden last month might have wondered who was behind them.
The answer, apparently, is David Ramba, a veteran Tallahassee lobbyist and chairman of Voter Interest Group, the electioneering organization identified as paying for the calls.
Which raises more questions:
Why would Ramba be interested in a nonpartisan Hernando County School Board race?...
08/28/14 Local Government
Ho-hum. The only thing at stake was the financial future of the Hernando County schools.
Also, there was solid evidence that incumbent School Board candidate John Sweeney pulled strings to change his son's grades, an outrageous case of meddling by an elected official.
But why bother filling out a ballot? Why send a message or make yourself heard? Somebody else will take care of it.
I guess that's what the great majority of voters who stayed away from the polls were thinking Tuesday. Of course, I can only guess because you can't interview people at the polls if they don't show up....
BROOKSVILLE — The city of Brooksville is trying to revive its long-dead chances of defending red-light camera cases in court.
But the biggest news for drivers might be what is missing from the city's legal argument.
At least for now, assistant City Attorney Cliff Taylor said, the city will only prosecute traffic citations against drivers who travel straight through intersections — not those making a careless right turn on red....
BROOKSVILLE — In a move that surprised his own lawyer, a man who spent 28 years on death row has refused to wait any longer than necessary for the start of his retrial.
Paul Hildwin, 54, whose first-degree murder conviction and death sentence for a 1985 Hernando County murder was overturned in June, had been expected to waive his right to a speedy trial when he appeared before Circuit Judge Stephen E. Toner on Thursday....
08/21/14 Local Government
It would be nice if we could just ignore Ron Ritter.
It would be nice if not paying attention to Ritter, who runs a hog-hunting camp in Ridge Manor, would do what that supposedly does to loudmouths — quiet him down. Even nicer if it stopped him from creating problems for neighbors of the property he leases off U.S. 98, south of State Road 50.
But it hasn't.
For the past year, the county has taken a mostly hands-off approach to Ritter. ...