BROOKSVILLE — Hernando County is going to lose a "significant tourism generator'' if it doesn’t stop the state Legislature’s move to disband the incorporated city of Weeki Wachee, population 13.
That’s what the city’s long-time attorney, Joe Mason, told Hernando County Commissioners on Tuesday.
Weeki Wachee is better known than the county’s only other city — Brooksville — Mason argued. Brooksville sports 8,000 residents.
Mason said he was working against his own best interests. He would love to see the county forced to pay him what the city owes him — upwards of $1 million — which could happen if the city goes away. But instead, Mason asked commissioners to approve a resolution that would stop the state House of Representatives from disbanding the city. Commissioners should approve it for tourism’s sake, Mason said.
Commissioners said that idea was as substantial as the mythical mermaids who first put Weeki Wachee on the map in the 1940s.
"Respectfully,'' said Commissioner John Allocco, "everybody knows that mermaids are not real.''
"Just the name Weeki Wachee is enough,'' he said, and disbanding the city won’t affect tourism.
Commissioner Steve Champion also spoke against Mason’s request to keep a city that is not operated like a city.
"Hopefully it will be dissolved,'' Champion said, And city or not, it will still be Weeki Wachee, the city of mermaids, he said.
The effort to disband the city has been pushed by an advocate of the Weeki Wachee River restoration, Shannon Turbeville. He has documented what he considers significant conflicts of interest involving members of the Weeki Wachee city commission. The three commissioners also are employees of the Weeki Wachee Springs State Park.
Their jobs as state park employees is to protect the critical natural resources at the park, including the Weeki Wachee River and its head springs. But as commissioners, they may have been making decisions instead based on keeping the city afloat, Turbeville has argued.
Mason’s legal bills topped $1 million during the last audit of the city six years ago. Weeki Wachee doesn’t raise enough in property taxes from the handful of businesses within its one-mile-square city limits to settle that bill.
Commissioner Wayne Dukes, whose district includes Weeki Wachee, said he has spoken about the city disbanding with Robyn Anderson. She is the mayor of Weeki Wachee, a state park employee and also former mermaid.
"I talked to the lady in charge,'' Dukes said, "and she said we’ll go with whatever happens.''
It is not clear how much of the legal bill could become Hernando County’s responsibility. State Rep. Blaise Ingoglia, R-Spring Hill, sponsored the bill to disband Weeki Wachee and made it clear that only legitimate expenses would still be owed.
Ingoglia has lead the bill through several subcommittees. In each meeting, someone has asked how the mermaids feel about the disbanding. His answer is always the same.
The mermaids, he says, are just as under water as the city.