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Business group to be too big, critics warn

A Business Advisory Council would be Hernando County's largest consultative group, with 26 members, under a proposal to be considered by the Hernando County Commission today.

The county first approved the creation of the group in January, complementing its move toward internal handling of economic development, rather than contracting with a private organization.

They decided that the group would consist of 19 to 20 public and private sector leaders, ranging from the School Board chairman to representatives of the manufacturer's association and the NAACP. In addition, seven members were to be appointed "at large."

Today, the commission is to appoint the at-large members, which would allow the council to start meeting.

However, some county staff members say they are worried that the business advisory group may be too large and unwieldly. Currently, the Elder Affairs Advisory Board is among the largest advice-giving groups, with 19 members, while the Health Care Advisory Board has 15 and the County Ordinance Advisory Team has nine, county spokeswoman Brenda Frazier said.

Mike McHugh heads the Office of Business Development and would direct the committee. "It's a large group, and I have concerns about managing it," he said. Twelve people applied in late February and early March to be on the council. McHugh said his agency had been busy getting itself grounded as well as setting up the Board for the Enterprise Zone Development Agency. It has just found time to finish setting up the Business Advisory Council, he said.

The Office of Business Development is recommending that the following people be appointed to at-large positions on the council, based mostly on their experience, McHugh said:

+ Dominick Cabriele, who worked in advertising and is now chairman of the Hernando Democratic Executive Committee.

+ Glenn Claytor, a housing consultant who was a contender for the Office of Business Development director position earlier this year.

+ James Greig, a career manager and an adviser at Pasco-Hernando Community College.

+ Al Sevier, a member of the Planning and Zoning Commission.

+ Vincent Vanni, public relations specialist, who provided public relations services in 1999 for the Economic Development Commission, the private agency that used to provide the county's economic development.

+ Pamela Vergara, a civil engineer.

+ Steven Zeledon, a retired information director of Litton Laser Systems and also a member of the Democratic Executive Committee.

Cabriele and Zeledon have engaged in a number of public disagreements _ culminating with a battery charge last year _ in their work together for the Democratic Executive Committee.

These seven members would serve terms of two or three years, with 19 permanent members making up the rest of the advisory council, which is to meet at least quarterly. They will discuss and recommend ways to boost economic development in Hernando County, as suggested by a previous University of Florida study.

The group reports directly to the county and would be monitored under open records laws.

In May 2001, the county canceled its contract with the privately run Economic Development Commission, citing poor accountability, and used that money to fund the in-house Office of Business Development, which would concentrate on helping existing businesses survive and thrive.

_ Information from Times files was used in this report.