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Candidate touts her insight

In her campaign literature, in public appearances and in interviews, Diane Rowden stresses the role she has played in helping run her husband's machine-tool brokerage firm and the business insight she has gained. "I've worked the financing end; I handled the books for a while," she said in an interview last week. "I'm not an outsider."

During an Oct. 4 candidates' meeting sponsored by the Spring Hill Civic Association, the Democrat candidate for Hernando School Board in District 1 compared the school administration's financial performance with that of Rowden International, which her husband, Jay Rowden, said brings in $6-million to $8-million a year in revenue, and proclaimed: "If we managed our business the way the School Board manages the school's, we would be on welfare."

But Rowden International, which matches worldwide buyers and sellers of sophisticated machine tools, does not have an unblemished financial record itself.

In 1987 and 1988, court records show, the company was slapped with Florida Department of Revenue warrants for collection of $135 in delinquent income tax. Although both warrants were later made good, the company was charged with a third warrant in May of this year for collection of delinquent excise tax totaling $214 with penalties and interest.

Asked in an interview whether he was often late paying his bills, Rowden replied: "Not consistently."

More recently, Rowden says he was forced to ask most of his staff, including his brother-in-law, Tom Lester, to leave for what he called a "breach of confidence." Rowden declined to elaborate, citing potential litigation, but said that since the walkout this summer revenues had fallen "dramatically."

The Rowdens' financial holdings also extend to Hawaii, where they are 61 percent owners of a 74-acre macadamia nut farm. Campaign financial documents put the total value of the farm at $1.1-million.

The farm has been mired in litigation for about a year, ever since the Rowdens filed suit against another couple who own the other portion of the farm for allegedly not paying their share of the $3,500 in monthly expenses.

"It's kind of a crazy deal that you often wish you hadn't gotten into," Jay Rowden said. He said he and his wife met the other couple on a cruise ship.