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Attorney's forgiving his fees could help "Save Their Tails'

Hernando County's state legislators finally called Weeki Wachee on the carpet, but they stopped short of pulling the rug out from under the little city by the spring.

Too bad. They would have been doing the city a favor if they had revoked, rather than amended, the city charter, the document that allows a tourist attraction to masquerade as a municipal government.

If the legislators, who gathered at a public hearing in Brooksville on Wednesday, had decided to seek passage of a bill to annul the charter, the City Commission would have been freed from all the rules and regulations that are a necessary part of government. Not that the city commissioners were making much of an effort to comply anyway, but if they lost their designation as a city, they would no longer have to worry about some bureaucrat or nosy reporter holding them accountable for their shortcomings.

What a relief it probably would have been for Robyn Anderson, mermaid-turned-mayor, to drop that official designation and its built-in frustrations, and concentrate on her job as general manager of the attraction and water park.

But, while the legislators could have offered relief to Anderson by revoking the city's charter, they performed a greater service to Hernando County taxpayers by leaving it intact.

Rep. David Russell Jr., R-Brooksville, is chairman of the four-member delegation. He said if the charter was taken away, Hernando County would assume responsibility for the city, including its mounting debt. That could have cost county taxpayers more than $300,000, most of which is legal fees Weeki Wachee has accumulated in the past year in its fruitless attempt to buy Florida Water Services for $53-million.

More than $100,000 of that $300,000 is owed to Joe Mason, the part-time attorney who also represents the attraction the city owns. He, and some high-priced law firms in Tampa and Miami, are the ones who conceived and perpetuated the elusive notion that Weeki Wachee should take over Florida Water, the utility system that serves most Spring Hill residents.

Now that the bid to buy Florida Water is dead, and legislators intend to amend the city's charter to limit its taxing authority and its power to condemn land and oversee its finances and elections, Weeki Wachee taxpayers have been left holding the bag. Like an old house in need of costly repairs, Weeki Wachee has become a money pit.

The time has come for the people who dug the hole to help the city claw its way out.

Sure, the city commissioners are ultimately responsible for the decisions they made. But they did so with faith that their "wise counsel," as Mason referred to himself and his legal brethren on Wednesday, would prevail. Why else would the commission have continued to spend money it didn't have?

The lawyers, in particular Mason, who clearly was the inspiration and trusted adviser to the commission in this venture, should forgive the bulk of his fees. He wasn't successful. Heck, he hasn't even bothered to submit a bill.

Anderson has asked all sorts of people to help the mermaids Save Our Tails by making donations to the attraction. Why not ask Mason to do the same?

If he won't agree, the commission should fire him at its next meeting.

How much worse could things be if the city had no lawyers?