Pasco County Commission Chairman Mike Wells abruptly announced late Tuesday night that he will not seek re-election in 1992. Wells broke the news during a debate over whether the county had limited how much medical waste could be burned in a proposed incinerator in Gowers Corner. His statement came in response to a Shady Hills resident who suggested that commissioners who did not oppose all incinerators would be voted out.
"Ma'am, you're not going to have the opportunity to vote for me again because I'm done, okay?" Wells said as the woman left a crowded County Commission meeting. "I don't have to put up with people like you any longer."
Wells, a two-term Republican with a reputation for speaking his mind, said after the five-hour meeting that he had intended to announce his plans in a more "dignified" setting but that the opportunity presented itself sooner.
Wells said he has been thinking about his political future for several months.
"My agenda's complete, and I'm going to be looking for new challenges," said Wells, who first ran in 1984 on a platform of building parks, libraries and the waste-to-energy incinerator that soon will open in Shady Hills.
Wells did not rule out running for another office, but he would not discuss his plans further.
"There are going to be a lot of political opportunities in 1992," he said. In recent weeks, Wells has said with certainty that he never would consider running for sheriff, but he has left all other options open.
Asked whether his response at Tuesday's meeting was harsh, Wells said, "I try to be good as chairman and I try to be understanding, and I think that I'm pretty damn good at it. But sometimes I just get fed up with it."
Wells voted with commissioners Ed Collins, Ann Hildebrand and Bonnie Zimmer to decide that Bon-Bar Leasing's zoning does not allow the company to burn more than 800 pounds of medical waste per hour. Commissioner Sylvia Young indicated just before the vote that she opposed any incineration on the Gowers Corner property, and she voted against the motion.
Wells' announcement came during a public hearing in which speakers debated for more than three hours. At one point, Wells stopped the meeting and ordered a bailiff to remove an unruly protester who repeatedly interrupted the proceedings.
Later in the meeting, Wells found himself in another sharp exchange when a representative of the Council of Neighborhood Associations told commissioners that the council supported Zimmer's request for a computer terminal on her desk.
In February, Zimmer asked to have a terminal put on her desk so that she could have access to county records, but commissioners voted 3 to 2 not to grant her request. Since then, officials have installed computers on the desks of secretaries who serve the commissioners.
Wells has said that he opposes putting a terminal on any commissioner's desk because it would allow a commissioner to circumvent the county administrator, who acts as liaison between the board and its staff. That arrangement was made after a bribery scandal in the early 1980s when a corrupt commissioner pressured staff members to give his friends special consideration.
Wells said either Hildebrand or Young could bring up the matter for reconsideration. Neither did.
"We have made every provision for it to be on the secretary's desk for anyone to use," Young said. "If I can use it off the secretary's desk, anybody else can use it."
Wells said, "I never had any problem in seven years of being a commissioner getting my hands on information in this county system. I get on the phone and I say, "Mr. Gallagher, get it.' It's done. Period. The matter's closed. I don't want to discuss it any further."
Wells then began to adjourn the meeting, which had lasted beyond midnight, but Collins noted that someone else wanted to address the board. Zimmer also had a comment to make.
"You know, I don't appreciate not getting to say something, Commissioner Wells," she said.
"Commissioner Zimmer," he said, pointing at her, "I'm tired of listening to you and your computer problems. It's over. You ain't getting a computer until you can get one of us three to switch it. I'm tired of it, okay? Period. How many times do you have to be told no?"
"It's not fair," Zimmer said.
"Oh," Wells said, "(it's) not fair. A lot of things in life ain't fair."