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Hernando Commission picks economic development group members

Several of the new committee members are well-known to county officials
Hernando County Government Center
Hernando County Government Center

BROOKSVILLE Hernando County has a new economic development technical advisory committee. Several members approved by the County Commission on Tuesday do regular business with the county.

Three commissioners supported creating the committee — Jeff Holcomb, John Mitten and John Allocco — the same three who supported firing Len Sossamon in 2019. Sossamon was both county administrator and economic development director, and his work in both jobs earned him their criticism.

Commissioners Wayne Dukes and Steve Champion supported Sossamon and did not want the new committee. On Tuesday, when it came time to approve the members, Dukes was the sole no vote.

Two of the members are Cliff Manuel, president of Coastal Engineering, and realtor Walter “Buddy” Selph. They have done business with the commission on numerous projects.

Two new names were added to the list after the close of applications — Wayne Johnson and Morris Porton.

The eight committee members will begin meeting after regular commission meetings resume, which will be after the current coronavirus emergency. Members include:

  • Bryan Blavatt, former Hernando County Schools superintendent. Blavatt left that job in 2013 and wrote on his application that he hoped to participate in the committee “to continue over 40 years in public service as a volunteer.’’ When he left the school district, Blavatt said he would miss helping the county develop vocational programs for students.
  • Ruth Lyons Delbert, automotive operations consultant for nine years, through December 2019. She also worked in real estate for Palmwood Realty and in several other sales and business jobs. She said she is recently retired and seeks “meaningful community involvement.’’
  • Wayne Johnson, of Brooksville, has spent more than 30 years with Accuform, the local sign-making business at the Brooksville-Tampa Bay Regional Airport. "I feel that I can add value to the committee as someone who has owned businesses in Hernando County and outside the state of Florida,'' he wrote.
  • Mathew Kline, chief operating officer of the nonprofit Mid Florida Community Services since 2017. Kline has a lengthy resume of community service work, a master’s degree in human services and business and a bachelor’s degree in health care management. He said work serving those in need and dealing with government programs would “add value to addressing the economic development of Hernando County.’’
  • Cliff Manuel, president of Coastal Engineering. Manuel’s company has participated in dozens of county projects for decades, including many at the Brooksville-Tampa Bay Regional Airport, the hub of the county’s economic development focus. He said he is “interested in participating and working with Hernando County on the economic benefits associated with a healthy partnership with the private sector on the direct benefits of a healthy and strong economy.’’
  • Morris Porton, a retired banker 47 years of experience is a long-time official in the Chamber of Commerce. He served on the Chamber’s government affairs committee for years with County Commission Chairman John Mitten. Porton also served on several economic development committees and said he wanted to give back his expertise to the county where he raised his family.
  • Walter E. “Buddy” Selph, a realtor with Tommie Dawson Realty since 1984. Selph said he wants to “contribute my 35 years of experience as a business owner in Hernando County, together with current business development in Hernando and adjoining counties.’’ Selph also helped with changes to the county future land-use plan and has represented multiple developments before county boards.
  • Sophia Watson, supervisor of adult and technical education with the Hernando County schools. “I work with the economic development office as part of my current duties,’’ she wrote on her application. “I believe I would be able to assist with knowledge of local training programs and providers.’’

Pat Crowley, president of the Greater Hernando County Chamber of Commerce, originally sought a seat on the advisory board, but dropped out.

The committee will provide input to the county economic development staff, including director Valerie Pianta. Members will address strategic planning, goal setting, prioritizing, policies, investments and incentives.

County Administrator Jeff Rogers wanted the committee to have seven to nine members with expertise in areas such as manufacturing and logistics, education, health care, real estate, financial services, construction and development, and community-based organizations. The board’s policy on the committee makes the diversity of the membership a priority.

The group is expected to meet at least four times a year. Rogers has said it will operate in public view, covered by the Florida Government in the Sunshine Law.

Pianta told commissioners Tuesday that “the applicants have very professional backgrounds."

"It’s a good group of individuals,'' Mitten said.

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