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: dewitt@tampabay.com

Twitter: @DDewittTimes

  1. Westside Elementary's problems are shared by the entire district


    Nothing says run-down like a leaky roof.

    Water comes in and a building is failing at its most basic job: keeping out the elements.

    And when it happens at a school, it means a structure built for educating kids can't even shelter them.

    That's why Westside Elementary School is such a sad case.

    Water stains spread across ceiling tiles during storms. Some of those tiles have collapsed under the weight of accumulated water (not, fortunately, when school was in session). To protect against potential water damage, teachers cover computers the way other people cover azaleas on cold nights....

    The Hernando School District is deciding whether to close or repair Westside Elementary. The dilemma highlights a much bigger problem with school maintenance in the county.
  2. The best reason to make solar an issue: It will pay off


    Depending on your preferred cliche, solar is either hot right now or enjoying its moment in the sun.

    It became a big part of the race for governor last week, when Democrat Charlie Crist played to a pro-solar rally in Tallahassee.

    The week before, there was the nervy move on the part of state Rep. Ritch Workman, R-Melbourne, to block us from voting on a tax break for businesses that install solar....

    Solar panels
  3. Hernando shouldn't bank on rock mining for its economic future


    The tall berms that hide rock mining in Hernando County, a government-imposed regulation, actually do the mines a big favor: Very few people see how bad they really are.

    Trees, grass, topsoil, everything alive, is stripped away to get to the rock. West Virginia coal mines do mountaintop removal. Florida rock mines do ridge removal, because that's where the best rock is.

    And, as has been shown by the few feeble, local efforts, reclamation should not be confused with restoration....

    Mexican company Cemex, which has a plant in south Brooksville, wants to conduct rock mining on land west of Brooksville, but mining isn’t a big source of jobs for the community anymore. The industry employs 69 people in Hernando, according to most recent statistics available from the state Department of Economic Opportunity. A meeting Wednesday will discuss the proposed mine.
  4. Hernando's fair lives on, and needs to thrive


    You can't kill a fair.

    Your records can be so sloppy that you're scolded by an accountant who reviewed your finances and even by members of your own board.

    You can alienate volunteers and tick off the parents of those earnest children in white shirts and string ties who raise hogs and steers. Your dealings can be so suspect that it inspires a criminal investigation.

    Yet, people still come....

    Fairgoers ride the wave swinger during the Hernando County Fair & Youth Livestock Show in Brooksville on Friday. The fair continues through Saturday.
  5. David Russell should be remembered for weakening helmet law


    David Russell, now serving his final term as a Hernando County commissioner, helped repeal the state's universal, mandatory motorcycle helmet law way back in 2000, during his second session as a state representative.

    People haven't forgotten.

    "It's the thing that revisits me more than anything else I did in the Legislature," he said.

    That's because this issue fell right into the middle of a national debate that never goes away — the one about how big and how intrusive government should be....

  6. Brooksville can transform blighted land from liability to an asset

    Local Government

    You know buildings are in bad shape when blue roofing tarps would be an upgrade.

    At the Brooks Villas apartment complex, which has been abandoned for six years, the tarps that once covered the roofs have been worn to tatters. Several of the roofs have started to collapse. Some of the others have collected so many dead, rotting leaves that they support thickets of ferns.

    Despite the spooky beauty of the place — the towering pecan trees, the camellias and Mexican petunias planted by residents who, apparently, tried to make it a real home — these apartments need to go....

    The Brooks Villas apartments east of downtown Brooksville have been closed for about six years. The county has looked into buying the property from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
  7. Hernando Rep. Rob Schenck is missing on springs issue


    Where's Schenck?

    That's always a valid question when it comes to Rep. Rob Schenck, who has a reputation for elusiveness — even invisibility — in his Hernando County district.

    But his absence has never been more noticeable than it is now, with a big political push on to help the state's springs and a related, nar­row­ly targeted effort to fund improvements at the county's best-known landmark, Weeki Wachee Springs State Park....

    The Friends of Weeki Wachee Springs State Park have yet to hear back from State Rep. Robert Schenck on a request for funding for the attraction.
  8. Sen. Simpson's green claims take a hit with bill sponsorship


    Some environmentalist.

    Sen. Wilton Simspon, R-Trilby, talked like one, you might remember, before the start of the legislative session.

    Long term, he wants to be known as a champion of reclaimed water, he said, and discussed plans for a statewide system of reservoirs that would help spare our aquifer from excessive pumping.

    That ties in perfectly with protecting Florida's springs, his main goal this session, which is why he joined other senators to sponsor a bill setting aside $378 million for that purpose....

  9. Hernando County bus system gains riders, loses critics

    Local Government

    Everybody's on board with THE Bus, probably because more people are boarding buses.

    The County Commission agreed last week to spend $385,000 on a new bus for Hernando's mass transit system.

    The money comes from the federal government, meaning it won't cost the county a dime, which would seem to make this an unremarkable decision. That would be true, except that it's a complete reversal of a 2009 vote, when the commission had a chance to replace most of its fleet with five new buses, but — wary of accepting a politically poisonous federal handout for the equally toxic local transit system — turned down $1.5 million....

    Ridership on THE Bus system in Hernando County is growing and the County Commission recently approved buying a new bus.
  10. Hernando commission needs to ask: Do we really need all these judges?


    I've wondered about this for a while.

    When I arrived here 25 years ago, two judges — aided only by an occasional visiting judge — handled all of Hernando County's court cases.

    Now, we have eight of them — one shared with Citrus — and, probably, one more on the way in the short term. Long term, in another 25 years, the number of judges is expected to double.

    I know. It's a much bigger county than it used to be, and all you have to do is drive around and look at the billboards for personal injury lawyers to see that it's also more lawsuit-happy....

  11. Come to Hernando and Pasco to see our glamorous songbirds


    We don't need the "Bollywood Oscars" in our semi-rural counties; we don't need to offer glimpses of Indian movie stars.

    We have the Nature Coast Birding & Wildlife Festival and the chance to see sights that, to at least some people, are much more thrilling.

    "There he is!" said Marion Monahan, 71, of Ormond Beach, focusing her binoculars on a yellow-throated vireo — stripes of bright white on its gray wings, a namesake swath of canary yellow at the base of its neck....

    Andy Wraithmell of Tallahassee works as an informational specialist with the Great Florida Trail and gave the Wings Over Florida session during last year’s weekend celebration of the Nature Coast Birding & Wildlife Festival. The Nature Coast Birding & Wildlife Festival celebrates the rush of migrating wings north along the Atlantic Flyway over inland Pasco, Citrus, and Hernando counties.
  12. In Hernando, it's still hard to find a job

    Working Life

    Here's a news flash from Spring Hill resident Victoria Hill: Despite what you might have heard about the gradually improving economy, the job market in Hernando County still stinks.

    Hill, 35, has a history of mostly steady work since graduating with an associate's degree from what is now Pasco-Hernando State College.

    For nine years, she dispatched trucks at the Walmart Distribution Center in Ridge Manor. After being laid off in 2008, she worked at hospitals from Zephyrhills to St. Petersburg, sterilizing and wrapping surgical equipment....

    Victoria Hill, 35, of Spring Hill searches through a jobs database at CareerSource in Spring Hill on Wednesday. “I don’t want to be home, I want to work.”
  13. Hernando's schools need help more than its judges

    Local Government

    The news is that we might — I repeat, might — get state money for another judge in the county and an expansion of the drug court program. That means, according to a representative of the 5th Judicial Circuit, which includes Hernando County, that we need to start finding space right now!

    Lots of space.

    The drug court requires offices for a program manager, counselor and law clerk, as well as a conference room big enough for 15 people. The judge needs a hearing room for 12, a waiting room for 15, a private work area for a judicial assistant, and, of course, we can't expect him or her to get by without a private kitchen and restroom....

  14. DeWitt: Hernando doesn't need the RV rally


    Gobble, gobble. Gimme, Gimme.

    Shockingly, the representatives of a hobby that equates fun with crass consumption has presented the county with a list of lots and lots of stuff it wants.

    Sorry, needs.

    Jim Duncan, president of the Southeast Area Family Motor Coach Association, sent Hernando County a letter recently cataloging the group's demands, a letter in which the word "need," or "needed," appears five times in two brief paragraphs....

  15. Hernando School Board member John Sweeney could use a lesson in democracy


    What's the role of public education?

    That's the first question my fellow judges and I asked every one of the most recent candidates for Hernando County Teacher of the Year. And, as open-ended as it might seem, it's a great question, because there's a right answer, or at least a best one:

    Public education advances the cause of democracy. It grants all kids a chance to learn and succeed. It lets them be judged by the same standards as their peers. It gives them a fair shake....

    Hernando County School Board member John Sweeney is caught up in controversy surrounding a grade change for his son.