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Watchdog group loses founder, vocal member

Some of her critics say Claire Richter's departure will make the county "a better place in which to live." Others don't agree.

For years, she has raised questions and voiced suspicions about goings-on in county government, sometimes annoying county commissioners and staffers with her persistent probing.

That's about to end. Claire Richter of Spring Hill is leaving the county after 17 years.

Richter and her husband, Robert, are moving to Port Orange, 10 miles south of Daytona Beach and not far from her son's home.

"I've always wanted to live near the ocean," she said.

Richter, 65, is a close friend of Commission Chairwoman Pat Novy, whom she has advised for years. Though she sat in the audience, Richter had Novy's ear in private. She also often expressed her views in letters to the editor.

Richter, a co-founder of the watchdog group Good Government League, said voters will re-elect Novy next year "if they have an ounce of brains." Novy and Commissioner Bobbi Mills, she said, are the only commissioners genuinely interested in helping the community.

The other three, she said, serve mainly to collect the $42,000 salary or to use it as a political steppingstone.

Nor is Richter fond of County Administrator Bonnie Dyga, who is resigning effective Oct. 10. Richter said Dyga intentionally spread "incorrect information," adding that her departure is the "best thing" for Hernando County.

"Thank God she's leaving," Commissioner Paul Sullivan said of Richter. "Now if she could take (Good Government League president) Ray Erickson and a few others with her, this county would be a better place in which to live."

Richter said she will miss her friends but not what she called the county's "plantation mentality."

"There are a group of people who have lived here for many, many years that act as if they owned all the land and control all the people," she said, putting the McKethan family in this category.

Dyga and Clerk of Circuit Court Karen Nicolai both criticized Richter, a former administrative assistant, for taking up staff time with the same questions time and again. They said Richter's suggestions of financial mishandling were based on a misinterpretation of the budget.

But one fellow member of the Good Government League said she always did her homework.

"From what I know of her, she never just said anything off the top of her head," Joe Fox said.

So will Richter now delve into Volusia County government? No. Not yet, anyway.

"I have no intention, hopefully, of getting involved politically," she said. "I think maybe I would like to sit back and play tennis a little bit and do tai chi before I become politically active again."