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Reporters praised for exposing "business as usual'

Editor: The local reporters in Hernando County have been doing a very good job of exposing "business as usual" goings-on in Hernando County and helping put a stop to it through public pressure.

It began several years ago when the press first exposed that Commissioner Len Tria was going to buy the $7-million Seven Hills Golf Course with unnamed investors. When this came out in the newspapers, the deal mysteriously soured, and Len Tria was then hired by Raymond James Co. The press also reported that County Commissioner June Ester's daughter was hired to work in the Supervisor of Elections office - I don't think she still works there - could it be because it was exposed to the public?

Not too long ago the press exposed the fact that ex-County Commissioner Tom Lyon's private security company (under his wife's name) was getting county and School Board contracts without competitive bidding. After it was exposed, he lost the contracts and was underbid on others.

The recent exposure of the $300-million bond issue was also interesting. What I don't understand is that out of $17-million interest why did Snow and the rest get a total of $15.5-million in fees and the County received only $1.5-million _ seems like someone wasn't looking out for the county's best interests on that one. Besides what does one actually do to receive $450,000 as a lawyer's fee? Didn't Raymond James attorneys draw up the bond issue?

The recent coverage of the accident by a sheriff's deputy was another good piece of reporting. Would the outcome have been the same if the press never reported the story in the newspapers? One interesting thing that was reported during this episode was that the paper said that a criminal research analyst for the sheriff's office is making $28,000 per year and a street detective earns only $19,000 per year. Something isn't right when someone in an office makes almost twice what a deputy who risks his life in the street makes.

I think the press should get a hand for reporting the above and continue the good work.

I also think the Hernando County Tax Watch Group or maybe an ambitious reporter should get a list of all job titles and salaries for those titles from every constitutional officer: sheriff, tax assessor, tax collector, supervisor of elections, clerk of the court, etc., and check those job titles and salaries against who is working in these offices and the salaries they are really earning. There may be many people who are working out of title or getting high salaries at the expense of the Hernando County taxpayer.

Tom Jacobellis

Spring Hill

Official explains

school construction

Editor:

In a recent editorial, the Hernando Times addressed the partially constructed concession stand at Springstead High School. The gist of the editorial was that, due solely to the intervention of one School Board member, Diane Rowden, the School Board of Hernando County had averted spending $11,400 on unnecessary architectural/engineering fees. Purportedly, the district was able to obtain these services "free of charge" from the Florida Department of Education. By intervening, the board member had supposedly prevented another typical bureaucratic blunder.

The editorial concluded by stating that "a nagging little question (remains): How many similar costly, but unnecessary, projects are slipping through and not being caught by someone like Rowden?"

The editorial was, at best, misleading. At worst, it gave people a totally erroneous impression of what happened. This response will set the record straight.

The recommendation on the Springstead High School concession stand that was brought to the School Board on April 9 resulted from the school's request for assistance. The school and the volunteers who had helped in the construction of the partially completed concession stand were anxious to complete the project in a legal and technically appropriate manner.

Upon receiving the school's request, I asked Mr. Marty Yungmann, our director of construction, to investigate the situation and prepare a recommendation. After a thorough inspection, Mr. Yungmann contacted the Florida Department of Education for clarification and assistance. This was necessary because the structure was partially completed, did not meet numerous codes and regulations, and would likely be affected by 1990 Florida legislative changes regarding mandated procedures for handling minor capital projects.

Mr. Yungmann then proceeded to carry out the recommendations of the D.O.E. architectural/engineering staff. To comply with its directions, he arranged for the project architects (currently designing major renovations and additions for Springstead High School) also to assess the concession stand and submit a proposal for completing the project. It was this proposal that staff submitted to the superintendent and School Board on April 9. The proposal indicated that corrective design and supervision costs would be kept to a minimum but would not exceed $11,400 for a variety of related services.

Had staff known prior to the April 9 board meeting that the D.O.E. had reversed its position on the project as a result of the board member's inquiry by granting an exception to this particular project, then staff could have reviewed its recommendation accordingly. The D.O.E. has since apologized, in writing, for not coordinating with us in a timely manner.

The implication of the editorial, in quoting the assistant superintendent for operations, was that staff had erred. For the record, Mr. Yungmann could not have been more conscientious in his handling of this matter! The quotation taken out of context from my correspondence to D.O.E. was, in fact, making that very point. The difference was that D.O.E. responded to staff with one answer and to a board member, who apparently presented the matter as having only one option (demolition), in a different manner.

The official inspection by the Florida D.O.E. architect resulted in a list of 24 mandatory items that must be corrected. Some of these items are complicated and will require architectural certification, particularly since the concession stand is a two-story structure. For example, several of the mandatories deal with wind-loading and structural stress requirements, and with electrical, plumbing and fire rating code requirements. These mandatories carry significant liability to the School Board if they are not certified properly.

Of course, liability could be accepted by the School Board without expending any funds for a certified design. But by so doing, the School Board would be in the position of having prior knowledge of code violations and would thereby accept the risk of possible future liability for failing to remedy such violations.

I would also point out that the "free services" provided by the D.O.E. confirmed, in the form of the 24 mandatory requirements, the problems we had already identified and had begun assessing with our project architect. The D.O.E. is simply not in a position to provide "free" corrective design services to Hernando County and 66 other school districts in Florida.

Another outcome of the board member's contacting D.O.E. after staff had already done so is that the D.O.E. reversed its previous position on the partly completed project by agreeing to treat it as an "exception." This is contrary to previous written instructions from D.O.E. on minor construction, as well as to the advice given to Mr. Yungmann upon his initial contact with D.O.E. on this particular project. Regardless, granting exceptional status to the project still does not waive liability of the School Board. Only the procedure that must be followed to meet D.O.E. requirements was changed.

It is unfortunate that the intervention of a School Board member in an administrative matter resulted in conflicting D.O.E. communications to the school district. It is even more unfortunate that your editorial, by virtue of oversimplification and by ignoring information that was apparently made available to you by the board member, cast doubt on the competence and professionalism of district staff. This seems to be the message your editorial was designed to send.

The support that is received by our schools from parents, booster groups, and businesses is phenomenal. They deserve to know that we have professional, competent, and conscientious staff members who care and who do their best for the school district and those who support it.

T.J. Runkle, Jr., Ph.D.

assistant superintendent

for operations

Gays should not suffer because of prejudice

Editor:

It is a disgusting thought...making love to one of my sex.

But as an author who seeks empathy through research, I now understand why.

None who are homosexual arose one morning and decided that henceforth they would no longer be heterosexual.

Who is it that would choose to adopt a lifestyle that would bring them persecution, ostracism and emotional pain?

From the beginning of time there have been homosexuals. The figure now is more accurately estimated at 10 percent of the world's population _ about the same percentage as those who are left handed.

And just as those who are left-handed, the condition existed at birth.

One's sexual orientation is not a matter of choice. As with many characteristics significant to behavior, we are each different because of the unique chemistry of our bodies.

In the years to come, we will obviously learn more about individual deficiencies and how change can be effected through pharmacology.

Until then, we must not allow our prejudices to cause others to suffer because they were not created as we, in our image and likeness.

If a male neighbor in his 30s has never dated and associates only with males, is it your moral responsibility to shout to the world about living in sin?

Hope not, for this is the lifestyle attributed to Jesus.

To adamantly oppose homosexuals on religious grounds is perhaps not as the creator would have us act. During His lifetime, Christ had no comments about sexual orientation.

He did, however, say, "Let him who is without sin, cast the first stone."

Richard N. Diggs

Homosassa

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Send your letter to Hernando Times, 201 Howell Ave., Suite 301, Brooksville 34601.

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