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Varied field slugs it out in GOP race // COUNTY COMMISSION: DISTRICT 5

Published Jul. 6, 2006

If Hernando County Commissioner John Richardson had decided to seek a third term, he could have faced the biggest political fight of his life.

Months before Richardson announced his decision, six Republicans, a Democrat and a no-party candidate had filed prequalifying papers.

Their enthusiasm was fueled by the revelation that Richardson, a former commission chairman, had used his position to circumvent coastal construction rules requiring that his rebuilt house be put on stilts.

A grand jury recommended that Richardson resign.

Though he refused to quit and kept mum about his plans, newcomers and established politicians alike lined up to challenge him if he chose to run again.

In fact, Richardson chided a speaker at a County Commission meeting when the speaker said he assumed Richardson would not seek re-election.

In the end, Richardson decided not to stick around to fight.

His departure has left a bevy of GOP candidates slugging it out for the right to run under their party's banner in the Nov. 5 general election.

Because of the six-person race, the nominee probably will be decided in an Oct. 1 runoff after the Sept. 3 primary. To avoid a runoff, one of the six must get at least 50 percent of the vote.

After the nominee is decided, the real political slug fest will begin, with the winner facing Democrat Joseph Lentini of Hernando Beach and Diane Rowden, a former Hernando School Board member, who is running as a no-party candidate.

For now, the six Republicans are trying to make themselves stand out from the pack with campaign signs, brochures and appearances at political forums.

The field is made up of a varied cast of characters: two former state lawmakers, a fast-food manager, a former home builder, a retired firefighter and a retired lighting company employee who is a fixture at County Commission meetings.

In response to Richardson, many of the candidates are peppering their speeches with phrases such as "ethics in government" and "restoring the public trust."

As in the other two commission races, county officials' push this year for an increase in the property tax rate has taken center stage as the primary campaign issue.

Candidates also have talked about the need to repair crumbling residential roads. They have differing views on how to pay for it.

Economic development, impact fees and the performance of County Administrator Chuck Hetrick also have taken up part of the debate.

William M. "Bud" Crane, a Timber Pines resident and former New Jersey state representative, leads the list in contributions.

Crane has raised $7,314, with just $1,500 in loans. Paul Sullivan, a county utilities employee and former Connecticut state representative, is second, with $5,352 in his war chest, followed by former builder David Love, who has collected $4,741.

Carl Franklin, a former lighting company employee who attends most commission meetings, has raised $2,785. John Paul Hite, a retired Clearwater firefighter and contractor, has raised $2,178. Richard McDermott, the last candidate to enter the race, reports $2,085 in contributions.

For the most part, public attacks have been few, with candidates focusing their criticism primarily on the current commission instead of on each other.

However, Sullivan said he decided to run because he did not like the field of candidates.

"I looked at the other individuals that were running for this seat and decided I couldn't let some of them win," he said, adding that Richardson "didn't represent many of the things I stood for."

Franklin has accused Sullivan, who has worked for the county for seven years, of running for office so he can protect bureaucrats.

"What is his reason for running other than so he can protect what's going on in that building?" Franklin said.

Sullivan, 51, touts his experience as a county employee and two years as a Connecticut state representative and a School Board member.

"I felt this county could either go forward or drop back," he said. "I felt I could provide something maybe the other candidates couldn't."

Sullivan said he opposes relying on referendums to make controversial decisions. For example, he pointed out that commissioners do not need voter approval to increase the gasoline tax, which they already could have done to help pay for residential road repairs.

He dislikes the sales tax, which must have voter approval, calling it regressive.

He supports using the gas tax to give the public works department small increments of money, _ perhaps $500,000 a year _ to prove to residents that the road repairs are being made. The department would get more money if it handled what it was given wisely, he said.

"I don't think we need to pile up large amounts of money," he said.

Sullivan is the only candidate who favors an increase in the property tax rate, though not as much as Hetrick has recommended.

"I think they should have increased them three or four years ago instead of playing politics with residents," he said.

He could support a half mill, he said, in order to replenish the dwindling cash reserve that commissioners have dipped into to balance the budget and avoid increasing the tax rate.

"I think the kitty needs to be expanded," he said.

Sullivan said he thinks the Economic Development Commission, a public-private partnership run by business leaders primarily with taxpayer money, is a good concept to attract more business and industry to Hernando. But he thinks the bulk of the support should be private instead of public.

Sullivan also wants to sell some government-owned property to put it back on the tax rolls in order to raise revenue.

Downsizing is the mantra of Crane, a 74-year-old former state legislator who is focusing his campaign on his Timber Pines neighborhood and several other key districts.

Crane thinks the county could save money, avoid a tax increase and fix the roads by privatizing tasks done in-house by the public works and engineering departments.

"Private industry is generally more efficient," he said.

The commission's failure to raise impact fees on new construction this year angered Crane, who says newcomers should pay their fair share for infrastructure.

"Hernando County is like a club you're joining," he said. "It's like buying a membership."

He accuses commissioners of selling out to builders and says he does not think impact fees affect home sales.

He opposes the proposed property tax rate increase and says commissioners rely too much on Hetrick for information. He disagrees with the way department heads couch the budget as a crisis each year.

"To have Chuck Hetrick trot out his hobgoblins at budget time, that's the oldest trick in the hat," he said.

Southern States Utilities also is a sore spot with Crane, who pledges to continue the effort to take over the utility and lower rates for Spring Hill customers who are subsidizing other utility systems.

Crane, the oldest candidate in the race, says his health is excellent and his doctor has cleared him to run.

Love, 32, is a former owner of David Love Homes Inc., a Hernando County builder. He closed the business in 1994, citing poor profits, and now makes his living in investments.

He said impact fees are one reason among many for the decline of the housing business. Impact fees are necessary, he said, but should not be raised.

Love is opposed to a sales tax to pay for road repairs and opposes increasing the property tax rate. He suggests offering bonuses to county employees who come up with innovative ideas to cut costs.

"In the business world, companies are always looking for faster, better, more efficient ways to operate the company," he said.

Love also says development will broaden the tax base and sees the Economic Development Commission as a "step in the right direction."

"We need industry here in the county where young families have a good income to raise their families," he said. "Give it a little time and see what it can do."

Though Spring Hill has been mainly a retirement community, those days are ending, he said. Commissioners need to be more attentive to the needs of younger people as well as retirees, he said.

If elected, Love would give Hetrick some time to see how well he could work with the commission before passing judgment on him. He said the blame for the county's problems rests partly with commissioners, who give direction to the administration.

A church deacon, Love has a reputation as a dynamic stump speaker that other candidates find formidable. Two candidates in the race said they saw him as their toughest opponent.

McDermott, 25, is the youngest candidate in the race, but he said his youth is an asset. A father of two young children and a training manager for Wendy's International, he said he is dissatisfied with the direction the county has taken.

"I believe we're living beyond our means," he said.

He opposes the proposed property tax rate increase, saying it should be "a last resort." He also wants to look at charging impact fees on resale homes as well as new construction.

He supports downsizing county departments through attrition and working with other governments such as the School Board and Brooksville City Council to buy supplies at cheaper bulk rates.

In addition, he thinks county departments need more oversight.

"I don't believe department heads have enough accountability," he said.

McDermott also criticized Hetrick, saying the administrator lacks flexibility.

"I don't see him looking at other options or solutions," he said.

He said Hetrick should be able to present his own views to commissioners and should have exercised leadership "a long time ago."

McDermott is opposed to the Suncoast Parkway, saying it would harm the environment and lead to overdevelopment.

"It's taking away from our natural habitat," he said.

Franklin, 61, occupies the right front bench at almost every County Commission meeting and speaks out during public hearings on a variety of issues.

He was among the first to start politicking, handing out campaign literature at meetings shortly after the controversy began swirling around Richardson.

"Justice has a first name, and they call him Carl," Franklin said in a questionnaire submitted to the Times.

He often points out that he is the candidate who attends meetings most frequently.

He accuses other candidates of stealing his ideas.

"My opponents are taking my platform for themselves," he said in his questionnaire.

Franklin's platform centers on raising impact fees and keeping the property tax rate steady.

"I met with the builders and got grilled about impact fees," he said. "This county is in a bind. The way I see it, if both of us are going to have to bleed, we're going to bleed together."

Franklin said he campaigned against the 15-year sales tax proposed for fixing residential roads but supports a five-year plan.

Franklin also opposes proposed 5 percent pay increases for county employees, saying it would be too difficult for retirees living on fixed incomes.

Like Crane, Franklin supports downsizing in the engineering and public works departments.

He also suggests getting state lawmakers to redistribute alcohol and tobacco taxes.

Franklin also favors a hiring freeze.

Hite, 59, is a general contractor and a retired lieutenant from the Clearwater Fire Department.

He has been a Hernando taxpayer for 28 years and cites that as one of his chief qualifications for office.

"I've seen the economy go down and taxes keep going up," he said.

Hite offers a general platform but few details, basing his assessments on "gut feelings" rather than citing facts.

"I have a gut feeling that something needs to be done," he said. "We need to do something about the economy."

Promoting growth is an area in which Hite has strong feelings. He praises the idea of the Economic Development Commission and hopes it will work.

"We have to lure some small-business people here if we're going to see any kind of growth in Hernando County," he said.

He opposes raising taxes "in any shape or form" and thinks impact fees should not increase.

"We need to build business to the point where we don't have to have them," he said.

Hite also thinks the county needs an independent audit to determine where costs can be cut.

"I have a gut feeling we need to retain an outside source," he said.

Despite his opposition to taxes, he opposes any cuts in services.

Hite also opposes a sales-tax increase to pay for roads.

Water is a big concern for Hite, who says he has been among those lobbying for desalinization in Pinellas County.

Though Hernando still has enough water, he says officials must continue to guard it diligently.

"We're not in a critical situation yet, but the county's going to grow," he said.

William M. "Bud' Crane

William M. "Bud" Crane, 74, has lived in Spring Hill for nine years. Born in Detroit, he graduated from Rutherford High School in Rutherford, N.J., in 1939. He attended Fairleigh Dickinson University in Teaneck, N.J., from 1959 to 1963 and the University of Virginia in Falls Church from 1974 to 1975 but did not receive degrees. He was elected to the Paramus, N.J., Borough Council in 1964 and served until he was elected to the New Jersey Legislature in 1968. He served there until 1972. In 1985, voters elected him to the Monroe Township Council in Middlesex County, N.J. During his tenure with the Paramus Council, Crane also was appointed fire commissioner to help supervise a department composed of 125 volunteers. He also was appointed to supervise the borough's building permitting and inspections. Crane and his wife, Charlotte, have been married 51 years. They are the parents of a daughter, Cheryl, who died at age 38 of breast cancer in 1985.

ASSETS: A house, a car, bank account and certificate of deposit, life insurance, golf equipment.

LIABILITIES: Home mortgage.

SOURCE OF INCOME: State and private pensions, Social Security.

Carl Franklin

Carl Franklin, 61, is a native of New York and moved to Hernando County in 1992 with his wife, Matilda, after retiring from New York's Long Island Lighting Co., where he worked for nearly 20 years. Franklin's only elected office was an 18-month period on the Board of Education in Babylon, N.Y., before getting married and moving in 1962. Franklin also served in some appointed county positions, including traffic supervisor and engineering aide for eight counties in southern New York and as a bipartisan commissioner of estimate and condemnation in Suffolk County, N.Y. Franklin attended State University of New York at Farmingdale and took business administration, personnel management and labor relations courses at Cornell University. Franklin lists memberships in the Spring Hill Civic Association, Greater Hernando County Chamber of Commerce, Florida Sheriff's Association and First Hernando Republican Club, among others. Franklin and his wife have two adult daughters.

ASSETS: A house, a retirement account, money market and certificates of deposit, bank accounts and an individual retirement account.

LIABILITIES: None listed.

SOURCES OF INCOME: Pensions, money market and certificate of deposit, his wife's Social Security.

John Paul Hite

John Paul Hite, 59, is a native of Nashville, Tenn., and has been a building contractor for 25 years. He owns John Hite General Contractors. Hite graduated from Clearwater High School in 1954. He was a firefighter in Clearwater from 1958 to 1980 and retired as a lieutenant. He is a member of the Elks Club Lodge 2582 and a member of Hernando Environmental Land Protectors. Hite lives with his wife, Carol Ann, in the Weeki Wachee area.

ASSETS: Two houses, van, pickup, camper, recreational vehicle, backhoe, tractor, transport trailer.

LIABILITIES: Bank loans.

SOURCES OF INCOME: Pension for the city of Clearwater; his contractor's firm.

David Love

David Love, 32, was born in Belleville, Mich., but moved to Florida in 1970. He graduated in 1982 from Springstead High School, where he finished in the top 5 percent of his class. He attended Pasco-Hernando Community College, where he received an associate's degree with an emphasis in business finance in 1984. He and his wife, Rhonda, live in Spring Hill with their two young daughters. Love is former owner of David Love Homes of Spring Hill, which he said he closed last year because of poor profits. Love says he is an investor in stocks and real estate. This marks his first foray into politics. He was elected as a deacon at Emmanuel Christian Church in 1989 and is a former director of Living Hope World Evangelism Inc., an inactive, non-profit organization based in Spring Hill.

ASSETS: A house, a mortgage, a brokerage account.

LIABILITIES: Personal loans.

SOURCES OF INCOME: Proceeds from the sale of a house; stocks sales; interest and dividends.

Richard McDermott

Richard McDermott, 25, was born in St. Petersburg. A high school graduate, he also studied at Nebraska Tech Community College from 1987 to 1989 and at the University of Nebraska from 1989 to 1991 but does not hold degrees. He also took courses at Pasco-Hernando Community College in Brooksville between 1993 and 1995. McDermott, who has worked since he was 17, has been a training manager for Wendy's International for the past 2{ years and assists in his parents' businesses. According to campaign literature, he was a member of the U.S. karate and wrestling teams and has won national titles. He also was recognized for his work as a lifeguard during college. McDermott is a member of the International Athletes for Peace. McDermott lives in Spring Hill with his wife, Carey, and their two young children. This is his first involvement in politics.

ASSETS: a Ford Explorer, a Dodge pickup.

LIABILITIES: Auto loan, student loan.

SOURCES OF INCOME: His salary from Wendy's.

Paul H. Sullivan

Paul H. Sullivan, 51, of Spring Hill, was born in New London, Conn., and moved to Spring Hill in 1986. He has worked as development-permitting manager in the county Utilities Department since 1989. Sullivan attended Mitchell College in New London from 1963 to 1964 and from 1968 to 1969, but did not receive a degree. He took courses at Pasco-Hernando Community College in 1986. A retired Air Force major, Sullivan served 23 years in the military and also worked as a real estate associate for three years before becoming a county employee. Sullivan has twice run for the Hernando County School Board: as a no-party candidate in 1988 and as a Republican in 1992. He served as chairman of the Hernando County Republican Executive Committee for six months in 1994. In Connecticut, he won election to the New London School Board from 1972 to 1974 and was elected to the Connecticut General Assembly in 1973, where he served for two years. He served on both the public bodies simultaneously, which state law allowed at the time.

ASSETS: A house, a 1996 Toyota Camry.

LIABILITIES: Home mortgage, auto loan.

SOURCES OF INCOME: His salary as an employee of the Hernando County Utilities Department.