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Hetrick exits with advice for county

Chuck Hetrick had nothing to lose.

The departing Hernando County administrator _ fired in August _ took a professional, polite swipe at county commissioners Tuesday, the last commission meeting before his Nov. 15 exit.

His farewell speech, titled "On Prudence in Local Government", listed the county's accomplishments under his direction and offered six guidelines that he said prudent commissioners should follow.

He told them what they've probably heard from their parents: that you must think before you speak, because words can wound and imply things not intended.

He said their role and functions, and those of county staff, must be clearly defined on paper and then honored when commissioners deal with staff.

"To be straightforward, political rhetoric affects department directors and employees. It destroys more than morale. It destroys the organization," Hetrick, 65, said.

He urged them to listen to the public but encouraged them to consider the whole picture when balancing individual interests.

"Prudence in local government is challenged by all manner of special-interest groups and strident individual fixations," Hetrick said.

"Care must be taken to listen, but these challenges must be placed in the much larger context of the general public good and the general public senses. Our nation's long history of democracy has succeeded in large part because of our abilities ultimately to keep matters in perspective in the midst of many small and large interests."

Using the controversy over internal audits as an example, Hetrick said the audits have been used by commissioners, residents and news reporters to discredit departments. He called for a "change in attitude and a dispelling of personal agendas."

When he was done, most of the audience, consisting largely of department directors, responded with a standing ovation, which included several county commissioners.

"Extremely professional," was how County Commission Chairman Ray Lossing described Hetrick's speech during a break in the meeting. Lossing had voted to retain Hetrick.

"Points well taken, and it could be a good example for the new administrator and the board."

Commissioner Paul Sullivan, who cast one of the three votes to fire Hetrick, did not share Lossing's appreciation for Hetrick's advice, but acknowledged Hetrick's accomplishments during his 13 years with the county.

Those include financial and strategic planning "from scratch," as Hetrick said, and include everything from the new government center to an award-winning Utilities Department.

"As the county continues to grow, much will be accomplished in the next 13 years," Sullivan said. He added that commissioners discussed a formal document defining the roles of the commission and administration last January, but Hetrick never drew it up.

"Maybe if he had been as concerned about that (in January) as he was today, he wouldn't be leaving," Sullivan said.

The other two commissioners who voted to fire Hetrick, Nancy Robinson and Pat Novy, set aside the reasons for firing him and expressed their admiration.

"Good words for us to remember for future years," Robinson said.

"He brought up some beautiful points," Novy agreed, adding she wouldn't oppose Hetrick's call for a document defining roles for the commission and administration "as long as it doesn't violate the Constitution of the United States of America."