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One Hernando County leader sworn in, another is not

The District 2 County Commission seat held for 14 years by Hannah "Nancy" Robinson sat empty Tuesday. A blank space replaced her name on the dais. Rose Rocco says the spot is hers.

Rocco wasn't sworn in to the disputed seat Tuesday as scheduled. A judge's order Monday evening bars her from taking the oath of office until the legal wrangling over the seat is resolved.

Rocco beat Robinson by 1,444 votes. But Robinson challenged the win in court, claiming Rocco wasn't qualified to be on the ballot because she didn't live in the Spring Hill district on Election Day.

Rocco lived a block from district lines and signed a contract to purchase an in-district house on Nov. 10, three days after the Nov. 7 election. Robinson says that disqualifies her opponent, but Rocco claims she didn't need to move into the district until the election results were made official Nov. 17.

That dispute appeared no closer to resolution Tuesday evening. Rocco's lawyer asked for an immediate hearing, but none has been scheduled.

The dispute could drag on for weeks, even months. Attorneys for both women promise to continue the court battle all the way up to the state Supreme Court.

Rocco, as she has for years, queued up to address the crowd from the public podium, painfully few feet from the seat she's tried twice to win.

The Spring Hill Democrat introduced herself as "Commissioner-elect" and gave a tearful and impassioned speech. Voters are "disgusted and confused" with an electoral process where their votes don't seem to matter, she said.

"I think we need to send a message to the people in this country that our vote does count," Rocco said to a standing ovation from her supporters.

Robinson, 61, didn't attend.

Commissioner Dave Russell, a Brooksville pool contractor and former state legislator, took his oath of office and his seat on the dais.

It isn't the first time in recent years the commission sat short one member. In 2004, the death of Betty Whitehouse left a vacancy later filled by Tom Mylander. Rob Schenck's abrupt departure in July left a seat later filled by the appointment of Tom Hogan Sr.

Asjylyn Loder can be reached at aloder@sptimes.com or (352)754-6127.

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