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New appointee is immediately ousted

To Janey Baldwin, it was as though she had flunked out of school before taking her first test.

Mrs. Baldwin, a longtime activist in county politics, volunteered and was appointed in December by the Hernando County Commission as an alternate member of the East Hernando Fire District Advisory Board.

Before she went to her first meeting in January, board member Bob Kazmierski warned her that some of the people on the board didn't care for her, she said. But Mrs. Baldwin decided to show up at the meeting anyway. She asked members if they had any problems with her being there. They said they didn't, she said.

Then, Mrs. Baldwin said, she got the same warning before the second meeting, on Wednesday night, and when she arrived at the meeting she found that the first item of new business was a recommendation that the County Commission dismiss her from the board.

The motion passed unanimously; Baldwin professes to be mystified.

"I was more disgusted than hurt," she said. "It was like the Salem witch hunt. That's what it reminded me of."

Actually, board members say they considered her a too-controversial influence on what is a peaceful and productive organization.

There also was residual resentment from statements Mrs. Baldwin made two years ago while she was on a task force that recommended a countywide professional fire department. At least three of the current board members had some affiliation with the former East Hernando Volunteer Fire Department, which the task force criticized as inadequate.

The motion Wednesday night asked that the County Commission remove Mrs. Baldwin from the board "before the next regular meeting due to past performances on other boards and adverse newspaper notoriety."

"This is in no way a reflection on her character and in no way meant to embarrass or humiliate her," the motion read.

"Basically, I don't want to work with her," board member Jim Parkhill, who introduced the motion, said Friday.

"I think that it would be a mistake to have a person on there that I don't want to work with and other board members didn't want to work with."

"I have had a negative personal history with her," said John McDowell, a volunteer firefighter and the board's secretary.

The County Commission created the taxing unit establishing the professional fire district in December 1990. It began to function last October.

Mrs. Baldwin said she is puzzled that Parkhill would come out against her, because she had supported him when he wanted to create the professional district.

She also said she suspects County Commissioner Harold Varvel, in whose district she lives, is behind the motion because he wants to undermine her politically.

Varvel said that he did not think membership on the advisory board was a substantial base of political power. And he said he did not contact board members, but they contacted him after Mrs. Baldwin was appointed. Varvel was absent from the County Commission meeting the day the commission appointed her.

"I was not the organizer," he said. "When she was appointed out there I had several of them call me saying they didn't like the idea because she apparently had caused some problems before."

Parkhill, meanwhile, took full credit for seeking Mrs. Baldwin's ouster.

"Oh come on, don't be ridiculous. I haven't spoken to (Varvel) more than once in the last month," he said. "This is my idea, James W. Parkhill's idea."