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Hernando County attorney's job is cozy, costly

Published Oct. 13, 2005

Hernando County's story reads like a novel by William Faulkner, the famed Southern writer who chronicled the politically incestuous doings of the mythical Mississippi county he dubbed Yoknapatawpha. Through birth and inter-marriage, three families virtually ruled Faulkner's imaginary domain.

The names are different in Hernando, but the clamp on power is the same. Almost anyone who makes a rule _ a rule that counts, that is _ is related to some other rule-maker, even if it's sometimes a tenuous "once or twice removed."

These cozy relationships are rationalized to no end. "Why, we keep giving business to that company (or firm or person) because they've been around soooo long, they really know Hernando County," officials say.

Nowhere is that more obvious than in the office of the Hernando County attorney, where Robert Bruce Snow holds sway, even though his real office is two blocks down the street from the official county attorney office in the courthouse.

(Want to win a sure bet? Try challenging someone _ including a member of the self-proclaimed Peanut Gallery of courthouse watchers _ to give the names of the two full-time attorneys who actually work in the courthouse and are on the county payroll.)

Strangely, despite having these two full-time employees, Hernando County officials continue to give full attorney's power to Snow. Never mind that neighboring counties, including one with a smaller population, require their county attorneys to give up all other clients and serve only one master, the taxpayers. Hernando allows Snow to keep all the clients he wants, even if it means he has to be absent from County Commission meetings to take care of them.

But, hey, it's a good deal _ for Snow, that is.

Where else can an attorney manage to set up a complicated $300-million bond pool on behalf of the county, push commissioners to approve it and then collect $435,000?

Where else can an attorney arrange other bond sales and collect more than $250,000 in fees that probably would have gone into county coffers if a regular county attorney had arranged the deal, instead of an "outside consultant" such as Snow?

Where else can an attorney arrange a deal with the county for one of his private clients?

Snow has done all of this, while collecting up to $72,000 a year in retainer fees besides _ and all of it is perfectly legal.

The problem is, it destroys public confidence in government. And it is amazing that it has been allowed to go on and on as though nothing were out of the ordinary.

Then, again, this is Yokna-Hernando County _ where Snow is part and parcel of the ruling tribes: son of a former county commissioner, business partner with the president of the largest bank in the county and related by marriage to the man whose firm is the perennial recipient of county engineering contracts.

The time has come for this expensive and conflict-laden arrangement to stop and for Hernando County to demand that Snow either pledge full allegiance to the county and its interests or get his business elsewhere.

Snow may be charming and intelligent, and he may or may not have more knowledge of Hernando County than any other attorney around at this time, but that's no excuse for commissioners to let this outrageously costly and potentially compromising arrangement continue.