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A small blow to petty politics

On Tuesday Jeff Stabins offered an idea that would take partisan politics out of the process used to elect the chairman of the Hernando County Commission. He could not have predicted that his colleagues would spend a good portion of their morning meeting proving his point that the way it is done now inherently creates hard feelings.

Stabins, a former state representative who was elected to the commission just two months ago, proposed abandoning the divisive practice of nominating and voting on a new chairman each year. Instead, Stabins suggested drawing lots as the first step in creating a system that would rotate the chairman's job every year, regardless of which political party represented the majority on the board.

Stabins' idea was met with surprise, then anger and an accusatory overreaction, followed by insults, pettiness, exasperation and a postponement. Eventually, the board reached a reluctant compromise, but not before some commissioners proved they are more concerned about offending their party's leadership than they are the leaders on the commission.

Stabins' proposal was reasonable and fair. Most important, it would have been the genesis of a long-term policy from which future commissions would have found it difficult to retreat.

Stabins, a Republican, also should be commended for promoting bipartisanship because his idea would have given Commissioner Diane Rowden, a Democrat, the guarantee of becoming chairwoman within this year or next. The other Republicans on the commission, Robert Schenck and recent convert Nancy Robinson, were not as open-minded. They, like Democrats Rowden and Commissioner Chris Kingsley, would vote only along party lines.

But Stabins had them over a barrel when he refused to support anyone because he wanted them to embrace his plan. That's when the commission agreed to delay making a decision for a few weeks and leave Robinson in the middle chair.

But a few hours later, the commission reopened its discussion. That's when Rowden, who was stung by being passed over earlier in the morning, emerged as the commissioner most willing to compromise by offering to nominate Schenck. That is even more selfless because Rowden already has been vice chairwoman for the the past three years, and her willingness to withdraw her name from consideration as chairwoman will bring that total to four.

The board finally agreed to elect Schenck as chairman, with a promise that Rowden would assume the post in 2006. The board also agreed to revisit the selection process later this year. We hope they keep that promise because, as Stabins plainly put it, the current system brings "egos into play and problems ensue. And to deny that there have been problems with egos on this board is a lot of crap," Stabins said. "I'm trying to set aside the egos so that every veteran member of the board gets a chance to serve (as chairman)."

That is an accurate assessment, and when the time comes to discuss it again, the commission should not forget the awkward, time-consuming episode they created for themselves Tuesday. All the commissioners deserve a chance to demonstrate their acumen as chairman, and they owe the public the opportunity to evaluate their leadership skills. Party politics have no place in that process.

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