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Dan DeWitt, Hernando Times Columnist

Dan DeWitt

Dan DeWitt has worked as a reporter or columnist for the Times in Hernando County since 1989. He and his wife, Laura, live with their two sons south of Brooksville.

DeWitt previously worked for the Newport News (Va.) Daily Press. A Cincinnati native, he attended Kenyon College in Ohio and received a master's degree in journalism from the University of Michigan.

Phone: (352) 754-6116

Email: ddewitt@tampabay.com

Twitter: @DDewittTimes

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  1. As Spring Hill turns 50, longtime residents contemplate its future

    Growth

    SPRING HILL

    Greg Kirkland looked down his street near Kass Circle — the original commercial core of Spring Hill — and considered the future of his now 50-year-old community.

    Most of Spring Hill lacks sidewalks, he pointed out, and Kass is dominated by down-market enterprises, including a thrift store and a used furniture outlet. The houses in Spring Hill are too spread out to support any real community hub, he added, and are mostly occupied by financially strapped residents....

    Workers put finishing touches on one of the early model homes. Prices ranged from about $8,510 to $20,600, including the lot.
  2. DeWitt: The 'vintage' look of old Spring Hill

    Growth

    “Vintage."

    That's what people, at least some young people, consider homes in the oldest part of Spring Hill, according to Hernando County planner Pat McNeese.

    If it's true, it's the most hopeful and revolutionary idea I ran across in reporting on the 50th anniversary of the original Spring Hill subdivision.

    It's revolutionary because I never noticed it myself and never heard it from anyone else. Until recently, McNeese said, she hadn't either....

  3. DeWitt: Repealing the supermajority rule is not a 'good idea'

    Local Government

    There's a marvelously detailed picture of Hernando County on the county Planning Department website, the intricacies rendered not in pixels or brush strokes but in charts and graphs.

    It was compiled — or, you could say, created — over the years by David Miles, the county's longtime demographic planner who retired at the end of March. With zero fanfare, of course, because that was his style....

  4. Hernando superintendent, USF clarify focus of performance survey

    K12

    BROOKSVILLE — The long-delayed plan to allow Hernando County School District employees to rate the performance of superintendent Lori Romano got back on track this week after the district smoothed over differences with a University of South Florida professor hired to create the survey.

    "I called it a meeting of clarification," said School Board Chairwoman Beth Narverud, who met with Romano and USF professor George MacDonald on Monday....

    “I called it a meeting of clarification,” said School Board Chairwoman Beth Narverud.
  5. DeWitt: Heroes in Aquatic Services Division deserve a tip of the cap

    Local Government

    At a community event a few months ago, in a friendly if somewhat heated chat with Sheriff Al Nienhuis, I said we certainly need a good, well-funded Sheriff's Office, but we also need good parks.

    He responded that what we really need is good families.

    It's a not-uncommon refrain, the subtext of which is that public safety is the essential work of government and that other functions are secondary, even extraneous....

    Crossed-paddle sign that marks the county’s new Bayport-Linda Pedersen Paddling Trail.
  6. 'Aripeka Jim' Rosenquist left a lasting impression in coastal community

    Human Interest

    ARIPEKA — In the late 1970s, a guy who said he was building a house in Aripeka started stopping by Norfleet Fish Camp, a neighborhood store and social hub.

    The youthful-looking middle-aged man, who introduced himself as Jim Rosenquist, loved to fish, said longtime store owner Carl Norfleet. He bought milk and beer, talked community news and mentioned in passing that he was an artist, though not in a way that suggested Norfleet should recognize his name....

    James Rosenquist discusses some of his artistic concepts in his Aripeka Studio in 2008. He bought a home in Aripeka in 1976.
  7. DeWitt: Challenging the sheriff's budget is not war, but good sense

    Local Government

    If you believe the budget war between the Hernando County Commission and Sheriff Al Nienhuis is over, you have to believe there really was a war.

    This idea was pushed by sidelined Commissioner Jeff Holcomb, who is serving an active-duty deployment with the Navy but who seems to haves plenty of time and energy to devote to local politics by way of Facebook.

    Not only did Holcomb apply this overly dramatic comparison to a dispute that involved less than $2 million, he made it clear who he thought fired the first shots: the County Commission....

    Hernando Sheriff Al Nienhuis’ top deputies earn $82,194,  more than Pinellas’.
  8. DeWitt: Texas is the inspiration at Brooksville's new MOPAC BBQ

    Retail

    The mahogany color of the brisket circling slowly in the smoker at MOPAC BBQ promised intense flavor once the meat ended up on a plate — or, actually, in Texas barbecue fashion, on a paper sheet spread over an aluminum tray.

    So did the smell of charcoal-and-cherry wood smoke that trickled from the stack of the custom-made grill.

    So does general manager Kevin McDougal's description of the cooking, which had started nearly 12 hours earlier — each cut, about the size and shape of a schoolkid's backpack, had been rubbed with a spice mix so finely tuned that an extra teaspoon of salt can throw off the entire process....

    Cuts of Texas-style slow-cooked brisket plus macaroni and cheese are displayed at MOPAC BBQ.
  9. Recent Hernando School District decisions raise questions of transparency

    K12

    BROOKSVILLE — When the Hernando County School Board gathered last week for a retreat at a gated community, it was required by state law to notify the public of the event, said Barbara Petersen, president of the Tallahassee-based First Amendment Foundation.

    It didn't.

    To double-check her interpretation, Petersen said, she consulted with Pat Gleason, special counsel for open government at the Florida Attorney General's Office, "and she confirmed that there are no exceptions for these retreats or team-building exercises."...

    Recent moves by  superinten?dent Lori Romano have also raised transparency questions.
  10. Closing of SunTrust branch will make Ridge Manor more "lonely."

    Banking

    RIDGE MANOR — Ridge Manor residents have long felt shunned by chain stores and county government.

    "We do feel like we're treated like the stepchildren — out on the edge of the earth," said Anne Buckingham, 64, who has lived in the unincorporated community of 4,500 east of Brooksville since 1972.

    Now, she said, Ridge Manor feels even more "lonely."

    SunTrust Bank sent letters to customers last week informing them that its Ridge Manor branch in Sunrise Plaza — the community's only bank branch — will close at noon on June 13....

  11. Hernando to provide more free meals for young students

    K12

    BROOKSVILLE — The Hernando County School Board has moved ahead with a federally funded plan to provide free meals for most the county's elementary and middle school students, regardless of need, starting next school year.

    Adoption of the program, called the Community Eligibility Provision, is expected to increase the Hernando County School District's federal reimbursement for food service from $6.1 million to $8.3 million annually, said Lori Drenth, director of food and nutrition services for the district....

    Lori Drenth, food services director, said the program would guarantee four years of funding.
  12. DeWitt: Hernando commissioners again ignore voters' will

    Local Government

    A lot of people are worried these days about creeping autocracy and dwindling democracy in Washington.

    But, really, we don't have to look that far. It's happening in Brooksville.

    Once again, this has to do with the County Commission's favorite slush fund, the roughly $6 million that remains in the Environmentally Sensitive Lands Fund.

    But this isn't about that, or not just about that....

  13. Hernando's new trail makes paddling coastal marsh simple

    Local Government

    Our canoe slipped under the Shoal Line Boulevard bridge and past the fishing pier at Jenkins Creek Park and into an unpopulated expanse of blue water, blue sky and black-tipped needle grass.

    So, after all these years, we'd made it. We had transported ourselves into one of the most inviting parts of Hernando County but also, until recently, one of the most intimidating.

    All that coastal marsh looks great from behind a car windshield. But it's not quite land, not quite water. You can't walk on it. And how could a regular person, one of us with just a kayak or canoe and without charts and fancy navigational equipment, hope to find his or her way through the maze-like channels of open water? ...

    Only a cellphone was harmed in columist’s Dan DeWitt’s first paddle on the Bayport-Linda Pedersen Paddling Trail, which opened this week.
  14. Hernando to end its contract with private dropout-prevention program

    K12

    BROOKSVILLE — The Hernando County School District has terminated its two-year agreement with Catapult Academy — a private dropout-prevention program — citing the district's improved capacity to serve at-risk students and Catapult's low graduation and high dropout rates.

    Nearly 30 percent of the girls at the academy and more than 40 percent of the boys dropped out of the program last school year, according to the district, while only 1.2 percent of the students graduated....

    Superinten?dent Lori Romano said Catapult data fell short.
  15. Hernando to end its contract with private drop-out prevention program

    Blog

    BROOKSVILLE — The Hernando County School District has terminated its two-year agreement with Catapult Academy — a private drop-out prevention program — citing the district’s improved capacity to serve at-risk students and Catapult’s low graduation and high drop-out rates.
    Nearly 30 percent of the girls at the academy and more than 40 percent of the boys dropped out of the program last school year, according to the district, while only 1.2 percent of the students graduated.
    Catapult, in a storefront on Kass Circle in Spring Hill, serves struggling students from the district’s high schools and students who had previously dropped out and wanted to return to receive a standard high school diploma.
    Though the graduation rate has improved this year, according to statistics Catapult provided the district, more than half of its students have dropped out.
    “Had we had good data around the contract, we could have continued it, but the data didn’t support that,” said Superintendent Lori Romano....