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Commissioner's Web proposal voted down

County Commission freshman Robert Schenck hit a wall Tuesday when he tried to make good on a campaign promise to revamp the board's Web site and make members more answerable to the public.

That wall was commission veteran Nancy Robinson.

Schenck had hoped to add an account of each meeting to the county Web site that would include a summary of issues and the voting record of board members. Commissioners also would be given space to explain their votes to the public.

INSIDE: County commission update. PAGE 3

Facing opposition in recent weeks from a skeptical Robinson, Schenck had said each commissioner could choose whether to use the proposed format. But the entire board was asked to consider making the change as a group.

"I think this is a great way to bridge the gap between commissioners and the public," Schenck said.

After his pitch, Robinson announced she had researched every county Web site in the state of Florida and concluded that a better search engine was needed. Robinson said that all relevant information already could be found in the minutes of board meetings, which can be found on the current county Web site. The real issue, she said, is that information in the minutes is hard to access.

Robinson expressed particular concern, backed by County Attorney Garth Coller, that any comments commissioners made about their votes on Schenck's proposed Web site could lead to legal squabbles if they contradicted the official record of the minutes.

"I have a concern about that if there is a future litigation event," she said.

Robinson then asked commissioners to consider adding a statement to the county Web site in support of the U.S. military, similar to the ones she had seen on other county Web sites while doing her research. The matter was soon taken up by the board.

Commissioner Diane Rowden then expressed dismay over how a discussion of Schenck's proposal had devolved into such flag-waving considerations.

The final resolution, proposed by Robinson and supported by a three member majority that included commissioners Whitehouse and Aiken, not only killed Schenck's proposal, but also prohibited any board member from adopting the proposed format on their individual Web sites.

"I should have a right to put up on my Web site what I think about an issue," said a dismayed Rowden after the vote. "I should not be inhibited in any way from doing that."

Schenck was receptive to Robinson's idea of a better search engine, which staff was asked to explore, but found her arguments unpersuasive.

"I do not understand why this format should not be available . . . to the public," he said.

_ Will Van Sant covers Hernando County government and can be reached at 754-6127. Send e-mail to vansantsptimes.com.

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