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The time is right for Sylvia Young to bow out

Sylvia Young's retirement from the Pasco County Commission is the appropriate decision after 20 years in office. Her tenure sets a modern longevity record locally, an achievement she crowned during her final term with the completed restoration of the Historic County Courthouse, an antique-laden jewel in the heart of Dade City.

But finishing the courthouse _ Young personally shopped for the antique furnishings and picked the interior decorations _ left Young with no goals to accomplish. Charting the county's future didn't generate the same enthusiasm she has for preserving its past. She always has been a peripheral player on the more complex issues confronting the commission, and with a long-term debate over growth management looming, the county will be better served with a more progressive voice in east Pasco.

That wasn't always the case. Young can legitimately stake a claim to being synonymous with Pasco's progress. She and Sandra Werner broke the gender barrier on the commission in 1980, becoming the first women elected to the board.

Young is the last link to that scandal-tainted panel, which saw its chairman jailed amid a grand jury investigation. But she helped move the county from political corruption to consideration of its infrastructure policies. She, along with other board members, championed the need for parks, libraries, better roads, a trash-burning plant and expanded water and sewer services. The board as a whole endorsed higher gasoline taxes, new impact fees and property tax increases to get it all accomplished _ something not likely to be repeated in today's anti-tax climate.

Young also was the most vocal advocate of preserving the coastal land in Bayonet Point that now will become Pasco County's first state park.

But while she helped improve Pasco's quality of life, she also presided over the cronyism that permeated the government center five years ago when she and Commissioner David "Hap" Clark rushed through hiring Democratic power broker H. Clyde Hobby as the county's water lobbyist.

It sparked a three-year period in which she and Clark accepted campaign contributions tied to Hobby, then looked the other way while his clients benefitted from dubious decisions by the county staff. The list included the county's one-of-a-kind $400,000 purchase of Oakley Boulevard in Wesley Chapel and construction of a nine-story apartment building in a coastal flood zone.

Hobby resigned when his contract expired in 1998, but not before Young staunchly defended her friend, saying he and his family had been put on trial by the Times. Later, when a fellow commissioner publicly questioned a Hobby-backed project, Young characterized the scrutiny as a crucifixion.

Consideration of ethics wasn't her only shortcoming. Frankness often gave way to a mean-spirited attitude toward the public and other commissioners.

Her insensitivity toward the Hispanic community surfaced just two weeks ago when she rejected a request to add Calle de Milagros, Spanish for "Street of Miracles," to the Lock Street name. Sadly, it was not out of character. She once suggested county staffers "Jew down" an opposing negotiator. Even her genuine affection for the restored courthouse begat a sense of exclusive ownership that offended the community.

For the most part, she has been a strong advocate for the interests of Dade City and east Pasco at a time the county's population growth made the west side of the county its political base. She lobbied top county staffers to set aside time weekly to work in Dade City, and she often reminded transportation planners that road needs stretched east of Interstate 75.

Her parochial views extend to regional water issues, yet she abandoned the interests of her core constituents two years ago and remained strangely silent when the Crystal Springs Preserve closed to the public, but was allowed to keep a property tax break. That preference for special interests brought at least one candidate into the race this year.

Young was entrenched among the Democratic Party's leaders when it was the dominant party in Pasco. That, plus campaign contributions from development interests and a steady stream of mostly forgettable political opponents, allowed Young to remain in office despite her weaknesses.

She would remain a formidable campaign opponent, but she is wise to leave office now. The path to the Government Center is littered with former contemporaries who attempted re-election once too often.

Allow Sylvia Young her due. Pasco County is a nicer place to live now than it was 20 years ago. But the chore of ensuring it is an even better place to live in the future rightfully deserves to fall to someone else.