- The first BOCC meeting of February moved swiftly to citizen comment with two residents of the Topic RV park pleading for help with the entrance and exit to their community on County Line Road. The county has been advocating for some improvements to this heavily travelled road, but has struggled to get support from Pasco County, as they have different priorities. Hernando County is not willing to be solely responsible for the improvements.
- Chuck Greenwell, a Hernando Beach resident, spoke out against Administrator Rogers’s proposal to reduce staff time spent at port authority meetings in Hernando Beach. Rogers highlighted his limited staff — a result of slashing government — and suggested that his staff attend port authority meetings less often in order to focus on projects funded by the RESTORE Act. Mr. Greenwell worried that this would reduce the ability for Hernando Beach residents, who can only attend these evening meetings, to provide input — a situation many working residents, parents, students, and caretakers within Hernando County already face.
- Administrator Rogers provided an update on Representative Ralph Massullo’s legislation that would declare an aquatic preserve along Citrus, Hernando, and Pasco counties, making the existing aquatic preserves around the state contiguous and allowing for protection of our seagrass meadows. This bill has been created with the assistance of PEW Charitable Trusts. A local expert noted that the west coast of Florida has the largest, most pristine seagrass meadow, while the world continues to lose about two football fields of seagrass per day. HB1061 would allow Hernando County to maintain our local seagrass meadow (without affecting existing projects), and open up grant funding. The commission expressed distaste for not only this bill, but any state or federal oversight in general. Commissioner Mitten, while denouncing this bill, commented, “We’ve been vigilant in trying to do things that are good and right for the environment.” Such input would be believable if not coming from a board that approves mining expansion, supports unneeded Roads to Ruin, and yearns for unending development.
- Planning and Zoning Director, Ron Pianta, brought forward a plan to conduct a study of our impact fees. There is no regulation dictating how often the board must validate impact fee rates, but counties are not allowed to overcharge. Commissioner Champion denounced the study as the first step toward raising impact fees. In a 3-2 vote, he and Commissioner Dukes opposed the study. Administrator Rogers noted that many projects within the BOCC’s Capital Improvement Plan could not be funded with current revenues. Such projects include a vital emergency radio system and a new government building. Previous board policy was to conduct a study every 2 years; the current policy is to conduct a study every 5 years. The last study was conducted 7 years ago.
- As has been a common theme amongst conservatives, Chair of the Hernando County Republican Party, Commissioner Holcomb, giddily offered “free advice” to Democratic voters: “I have free advice for the Democrats in Vermont voting today…say no to socialism, because we will destroy you in the November election.” While the Democrats in Vermont may or may not heed such pro bono wisdom, the Democrats who were voting on 2/11/2020 were in New Hampshire.
- Administrator Rogers addressed some concerns about the recent cancelling of glass recycling services and the closing of the service center at the Walmart on SR50. He cited a dwindling market for glass and contamination at the Walmart facility as the respective reasons for each decision.
With the 50th anniversary of Earth Day just two months away, the environmental concerns of this board, or lack thereof, were on prominent display for the residents of Hernando County. As they opted to scale back our ability to recycle, as they failed to support the establishment of aquatic preserves along our coast, and as they heaped praise on a State of the Union speech that did not mention climate change even once, this board showed that they either don’t understand our situation, or they just don’t give a damn. With this January being the hottest on record — and the previous three Januarys being the runners up — if re-elected, how will these commissioners serve their constituents when they cannot find it in themselves to eschew the socialism strawman and address the real threat of climate change?
You can view this meeting’s materials here.
- The board and Fire Chief Hechler conferred special recognition upon first responders for going above and beyond in 2 recent incidents. After a number of individuals thanked our first responders, Commissioner Allocco used the opportunity — without details or examples — to suggest that our first responders are under attack. Perhaps he is referring to the “attack” that is the public demanding police accountability. While many officers go above and beyond, many also take advantage of the power their station gives them.
- Later Tobey Phillips, Deputy Administrator, took a moment to recognize first responders who bought food for a woman who had no money nor ability to travel. Why? This resident has so many medical bills that she cannot purchase ingredients for a meal. While commendable of the first responders, the applause of the commission muffled the larger, systemic issue affecting the folks of Hernando: many of us cannot afford the necessities of life without going into debt. This is why the nationwide Progressive Movement is fighting for Medicare for All.
- Dr. Michelle Sivilich, executive director of Save Crystal River, Inc., provided an in-depth presentation to the board about the processes her organization used to revitalize the waterways in Citrus County. The process included a highly effective system of removing invasive plants and detritus, replanting eelgrass that introduces oxygen and allows ecosystems to flourish, and protecting the restored ecosystem. Dr. Sivilich attributed their success to community buy in and the financial commitment of state and local government, and the various other resources that have been dedicated to their cause. The group presented at the bequest of Commissioner Allocco, but was of particular interest to Commissioner Dukes, who regularly interrupted to provide his tips and tricks and explain the process back to the director. Commissioners Holcomb and Champion mused about the treasure that could be found in the bottom of the bay, just like their favorite History Channel shows.
- Weeki Wachee Springs was named to the National Register of Historic Places.
- Commissioners took the time, again, to worry about the pressing issue of parking for boats in Hernando Beach. Despite a year long crusade against public sector workers and increasing the budget, they are more than willing to address the pressing need that is parking your boat by hiring a new county employee. If only commissioners were this committed to affordable housing, accessible public transportation, and conserving the natural resources that make a boat worth having.
- As the local election season continues to get underway, a question regarding Hernando County’s political sign code was brought up. Garth Collier, County Attorney, acknowledged that, apart from a sign’s size and placement, the county’s sign code does not regulate content. If the code were to regulate content, the board would likely face swift legal action.
- “There are ways to skin this cat”, said Mr. Collier when responding to complaints from Commissioner Dukes who felt that it was a waste of county staff’s time to listen to the residents of Hernando (complaints and all). Mr. Collier suggested that the county restrict staff to the Port Authority as a means of limiting meetings in which the public could question their local government.
- Commissioner Mitten regaled the public with his impressions from his recent trip to London, and took the time to pontificate on the dangers of secularism and the “intolerant views they don’t like.” He was referring to pastors and their representatives criticizing Franklin Graham (Billy Graham’s son), who has used his position to spout anti-Muslim and anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric. Commissioner Mitten opined that businesses are supposed to be focused on capitalism — and that is exactly what is playing out when private venues decline Graham event space, because it would be bad for their businesses. This monologue eventually meandered its way into the trope of incivility, specifically denouncing students not wanting their colleges and universities to promote sexist, racist, xenophobic, homophobic, etc. speakers. Commissioner Mitten, a proud supporter of President Trump, bemoaned without irony, that the “loudest one in the room, proliferated through outlets, is right.”
Recurring myths were on full display during this relatively short meeting. Every commissioner had a tale of woe concerning the ostensible rolling back of our freedom of speech. Commissioner Champion cried foul when a majority of our public schools thought it wiser to not advertise guns on their campuses. Commissioner Mitten lamented private businesses not wanting to associate with an openly anti-Muslim, anti-LGBTQ+ speaker. Commissioners Holcomb and Allocco bemoaned students’ and professors’ right to protest — itself freedom of speech. Each case brought forward was either absurd or a lie. For instance, take when Donald Trump Jr. was allowed to sell his snake oil at the University of Florida. The student body president of UF was impeached in the fall for violating a policy that prohibits using student activity fees to support a political party. Booking them was not the problem, but emails were obtained that showed the student body president coordinated with Trump Srs. campaign. Not only was Trump Jr. allowed to speak and promote his book, he was paid to do so! More locally, the Hernando County Republican Party, during the last election, paid $7,500 to Candice Owens to speak to its membership. Conservative voices are not being suppressed — they are being sponsored.
You can view this meeting’s materials here.