- Numerous citizens (supplying lists of petitions) spoke out against the recent sale and subsequent rezoning of county lands — originally designated by the Deltona Corporation as park lands — to local developer and Hernando County’s state representative Blaise Ingoglia. One speaker even pleaded for the commissioners not to simply ignore the residents of Hernando County and vote to approve the rezoning despite protests. Members of our community were forced to use their time to speak not on issues, but to speak up about not even being heard by their elected representatives. “Behave yourself, or we’ll take you out. Be a man.” — Commissioner Dukes after stating the board’s common refrain that folks should buy land they like, and the crowd not taking too kindly to the idea we only deserve green space if we can pay for it. This was one of the many points at which the BOCC refused to engage with the citizen’s pleas for an opportunity to buy the land. Their complaint regarded not only the selling of the land for undesirable purposes, but the lack of advertising or opportunity for citizens to have a say or make a purchase themselves. While the BOCC wanted to make the issue about following the laws or not, the public was begging them to use their judgment, within the law, to make the best decision for Hernando County residents.
- Commissioner Holcomb introduced a project to revitalize the veterans monument at Veterans Memorial Park. He provided a powerpoint presentation arguing that the monument was overgrown, poorly located, not ADA accessible, and overshadowed by plaques honoring sponsors rather than veterans. He also took issue with the incorrect display of military flags. Mr. Holcomb has already received donations for this project and would like the entire $40,000 project to be funded by donations to the newly founded Friends of Hernando County Parks, Inc. Withlacoochee River, Turner, Cemex, and Seggie are working with P&R, so this will come at no cost to the county.
- Keith Laufenberg, Democratic candidate for District 35 of the FL House, spoke well over his allotted time during citizens’ comment and spoke regularly throughout the meeting. After being reprimanded by Commissioner Mitten, Commissioner Champion took an opportunity to “expose the character of this person,” and note that Mr. Laufenberg was violating F.S. 106.15(4) by soliciting campaign donations within a government building via his campaign literature.
- The inland lots that Hartland Homes is seeking to rezone are mostly surrounded by homes. Each of the 6 lots was discussed and approved individually, allowing for hours of comment and response. Commissioner Holcomb argued that this rezoning was really a nonissue as a total of 15 properties have been sold, but only these 6 are contentious because of coverage in the Tampa Bay Times. He accused the TBT of writing about the issue to get clicks and sell papers, inadvertently calling attention to the value of local reporting. “The media can make a narrative,” sputtered Commissioner Holcomb. He criticized the media for claiming that Blaise Ingoglia crashed the housing market in Hernando County — something they did not say. His loathing of the media shouldn’t excuse him from scrutiny for any decision he makes as a representative of the people of Hernando County.
- All 6 rezoning requests were approved, with few modifications. Commissioner Dukes reiterated that he felt that they had every right to to sell and rezone this property, but that perception of wrongdoing is the same as wrongdoing. After the sale and subsequent rezoning process was complete, Commissioner Mitten inquired as to whether a better mechanism could be used to help promote surplus land sale — and offer adjacent landowners an opportunity to purchase the land before others.
- Keith Laufenberg continued to question the cost of an impact fee study. Garth Collier clarified that a study of impact fees is carried out to ensure that the BOCC doesn’t overcharge. Commissioner Allocco made the point that they are only following state law.
- Chris Linsbeck, Code Enforcement Director, presented the first public hearing to consider an ordinance amending land development regulations regarding marine construction code. If passed, this new ordinance would update regulations regarding docks, moorings, and moored vessels on perimeter channels. Planning and Zoning recommended the updates 5-0. The ordinance intends to increase ease of navigation and safety.
- In response to the potential spread of COVID-19 into Hernando County, Administrator Rogers proposed waiving a policy that forbids newly hired employees from taking time off in the first 90 days of their employment for any reason. The policy would be suspended for 60 days before requiring reapproval of suspension. Taking time off in the first 90 days, regardless of the amount of accrued time that an employee has, counts against that employee and requires administrator approval. Rogers fears that employees would pretend to be well in order to avoid perceived repercussions of asking for administrator-approved time off in the event of a medical emergency. Rogers also proposed revising the policy regarding the donation of sick leave and shot down the idea of giving employees with no accrued time leave without pay. The difficulty of treating arbitrary calculations of deserved time off as a finite resource appears to be quite time consuming for county administration and may well endanger the public by causing our public servants, who are the most exposed and cannot always telecommute, to show up to work dangerously ill. Commissioner Champion reminisced on how the corporate world just wouldn’t pay you if you were sick and hadn’t accrued leave. “Why does it have to be so complicated?” Again, perhaps this is why government shouldn’t be run like a business –it isn’t one.
- Administrator Rogers noted that this is the last week of the legislative session, and we will most likely not have a state law regarding vacation rental legislation. Therefore, the county can move forward with an ordinance regulating and taxing vacation rentals like Airbnb.
- As fertilizer continues to pose a threat to our water ecosystems, especially on the canals in Hernando Beach, a fertilizer ordinance workshop has been scheduled for April. Experts will provide scientific solutions and updates to our ordinance will be worked out.
- James Wunderle, Purchasing and Contracts Manager, led a discussion on the Self-Service Fuel Facility at the airport. Sentinel Fuel Services was awarded the five year contract.
- Public Works received approval to apply to Florida Department of Transportation’s Small County Outreach Program (SCOP) to receive 75% funding to repair and rehabilitate portions of local roads. If received the funding would go toward projects within the Ridge Manor subdivision and along Ft. Dade Ave. “Can some of those trees fall down in the middle of the night?” quipped Commissioner Dukes about Hernando County’s prized canopy running along Ft. Dade.
- Commissioner Champion asked Scott Herring, Public Works Director, to reassess a local light on Elgin Blvd and near Challenger K-8 School, after admitting to running red lights near the school at night, because the light isn’t fast enough and no one is at the school anyway. What a role model for the children!
The ostensible revenue-generating project of junking our county and selling it off in parts fails to critically think about the use of land in Florida. Residents of Hernando County are facing increased development, rapid growth, and numerous sales of public land. Could more be done to assess the value of the land? Yes. Could more be done to inform the public of land sales. Yes. The real question is: What do we want from our land and for our county? How are our policies making Hernando County a good place to live? As was on full display, there was little the public could do at this point in the process; the problems residents are fighting today started years ago. Before Commissioner Champion, as he bragged at this meeting, suggested that the county start identifying and selling off surplus land. Before commissioners started routinely lambasting the local media as “fake news” and dismissing the residents. Before the land had been sold to Hartland Homes, or even before Ingoglia’s initial interest in these particular properties.
The aforementioned, and more, are the products of unchecked momentum by “business professionals”, “developers,” and “entrepreneurs.” The powerful elite have used their exorbitant resources to solidify power over decades. They have aligned themselves with the local Republic Party. They have their own agenda, and a few pesky residents asking to be heard at an occasional commission meeting are not on it. The residents of the county have no power in isolated, tiny groups. We need a movement! In a campaign to unseat elected Democrats, the subsequent Republican leadership has ignored a majority of residents because they think they have the votes. We need honest representation. The transformation of our local government didn’t happen overnight, and neither will winning power back. The folks of Hernando County need an alternative, which will require coalition building and long-term organizing. In essence, we must unite and then fight if we are to win.
You can view this meeting’s materials here.