The Hernando County Commission needs new leadership. The reckless majority has gutted county reserves, slashed public services, gotten even cozier with special interests and dumped the cost of servicing growth onto existing taxpayers.
Two seats are up for grabs in November and the electorate should pick candidates motivated to tackle a broad spectrum of concerns instead of focusing exclusively on cutting spending. Commissioners must reside in their district, but they are elected by voters countywide.
District 2, Jimmy Lodato
Commissioner Wayne Dukes, 69, is concluding his first term as a destructive office-holder who pandered to the tea partiers and routinely put special interests before the public's best interests.
He obstructed progress by voting against an application to seek funding for drone research at the county-owned airport. He dismissed the needy by voting against an expanded homeless shelter and later a grant to help people renovate and move into foreclosed homes. He stymied public debate by allowing fluoridation opponents to speak at a meeting, but wouldn't give the same courtesy to proponents. He sabotaged quality of life attributes by blocking agreed upon user fees to help finance parks. And he championed the moratoriums on transportation and school impact fees that provided a $4 million bonanza to developers, home builders and their customers, but punished current residents who had paid their own impact fees in good faith. He needs to go.
Dukes didn't respond to an interview request. His arrogance and narrow-minded approach to governing provided the motivation for one of his opponent's campaign themes — "Jimmy listens.''
That would be Jimmy Lodato, 72, who moved to Hernando County 14 years ago to become a gentleman rancher. He is making his second run for the commission having lost a Republican primary in 2012. This year he is running as a Democrat. Dukes won his seat in 2010 as a Republican after previously running as a Democrat.
Lodato was a successful entrepreneur and businessman who retired at age 39 and then became active in the Tierra Verde community in southern Pinellas County. His private-sector experience would be an asset for economic development, and Lodato points to industries the county should pursue to complement existing corporations here. He has been active in assisting companies seeking to relocate to the county airport and he advocated for children's safety by lobbying the Hernando School Board to extend courtesy bus rides to elementary school students. Lodato cares about his community. Dukes has not demonstrated a similar commitment.
The third candidate in the race is Brian Moore, 71, running with no party affiliation. Moore, is making his sixth run for elected office in the past dozen years. He has a high intellect and believes the county should grow organically rather than through public incentives to private concerns. However, he opposes the proposed sales tax referendum, the defeat of which would be detrimental to Hernando's public schools.
For Hernando County Commission District 2, the Tampa Bay Times recommends Jimmy Lodato.
District 4, Dan Oliver
Democrat Dan Oliver, a 24-year county employee, and Jeff Holcomb, who won the August Republican primary, are the major contenders to succeed Republican Commissioner David Russell who is retiring after two terms on the board. Perennial candidate H. David Werder's name is also on the ballot. He is running with no party affiliation and is not a realistic alternative.
Oliver, who turns 60 later this month, is the better choice. He displays a greater understanding of the issues Hernando faces including its past reluctance to invest in quality of life services like parks and libraries while simultaneously granting impact fee waivers to private businesses as a supposed economic stimulus.
"We need to stop giving money away,'' Oliver said correctly.
Holcomb, 44, a software consultant, is from the no-new-tax wing of the Republican Party and has focused his limited platform on improving the local economy. Unfortunately, he offers little innovation on how to do that and said he opposes impact fees. It's short-sighted and simply repeats the failing policies of the current regime.
In the District 4, Hernando County Commission race, the Tampa Bay Times, recommends Dan Oliver.
Opportunity to reply
Candidates not recommended by the Tampa Bay Times are given the opportunity to respond. Responses are limited to 150 words and should be sent by noon Tuesday to C.T. Bowen, Pasco/Hernando editor of editorials, via email to firstname.lastname@example.org or by fax to (727) 869-6233.