Second commissioner moves
BROOKSVILLE, Nov 30, 2012 (Hernando Today - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
First it was newly elected County Commissioner Diane Rowden, who announced soon after her election she didn't want to have a satellite office in her district.
She instead moved into an office in the downtown government center.
Now it's Nick Nicholson, who is in the process of converting his office at his engineering firm off Horse Lake Road into a place where people can stop and see him if necessary.
Nicholson said the office is closer to the downtown government center so he can keep better tabs on County Administrator Len Sossamon. It is also centrally located in the county, he said, to make it easier for constituents.
An added bonus would obviously be the ease of continuing to monitor his own engineering business from his own office at 7468 Horse Lake Road.
Nicholson said he never agreed with a previous board's decision to act on a recommendation from former county administrator David Hamilton to remove commissioners from the downtown office and put them in satellite offices.
Ostensibly, the reason was for county commissioners to be closer to constituents in their district and to free up space for the property appraiser, he said.
But Nicholson believes the underlying reason was that Hamilton wanted less direct oversight from commissioners. By spreading them around the county, he would accomplish that goal, he said.
Nicholson said commissioners represent the entire county and not just districts, so the whole idea of remote offices makes little sense.
Nicholson was scheduled to take over the Forest Oaks Government Center office formerly occupied by Jeff Stabins.
"I wanted to be more available to the voters in the county and be more accessible," Nicholson said. "Also, one of my jobs is to supervise the county administrator and that's kind of hard to do from Forest Oaks."
He said he has already paid to have an extra phone line installed in his office that would be accessible for constituents. He is also dedicating one of his secretaries to manage that line.
Rowden's remote office would have been at the West Hernando Staffordene T. Foggia branch library off State Road 50, where former commissioner John Druzbick was located.
Rowden didn't like the idea of taking up needed library space and wanted to be closer to staff downtown. She is now occupying an office on the fourth floor at the government center at 20 North Main St. in downtown Brooksville.
County Commissioner Dave Russell said Thursday there was never a formal vote taken on satellite offices and doesn't see a problem with commissioners conducting business wherever they want if it helps them connect with residents.
"It saves taxpayers money, it saves space (and) there's nothing wrong with that," Russell said. "If Nick believes he can better serve constituents at (his business), fine by me."
Russell said he plans to stay at his satellite office at the Hernando County Airport because it serves his needs. But if a tenant wants to rent his space there, he is willing to move elsewhere to be available to constituents -- be it at his pool business, the common meeting room at the government center or at an agreed-to location anywhere in the county.
County Commission Chairman Wayne Dukes said he disagrees with commissioners moving their offices away from the district but he is only one person on the board so there doesn't seem to be anything he can do about the matter.
"It worked fine the way it was," Dukes said. "They (Nicholson and Rowden) haven't even tried their remote offices so how can they make a judgment call "
Dukes said he disagrees that the original intent was for the county administrator to distance himself from the board.
Having commissioners too close to staff can actually be a problem, said Dukes, whose office is in the Forest Oaks veterans center in the government complex.
"It is a known fact, and it's still known, that some commissioners used county employees as their personal staff and that's inappropriate," Dukes said. "County workers do not work for commissioners."
Dukes said he wishes the entire board would have had input on this matter before the two new members decided on their own to make moves.
"I would have thought if they were going to make changes to the process there would be an open discussion," Dukes said. "Obviously, the other commissioners don't care."
Dukes said commissioners need to be near their constituency, even if they don't see many people in their satellite offices.
Commissioner Jim Adkins said this month he will stay at Department of Public Works, 1525 E. Jefferson St.
Adkins said he is happy there, but would bend to the board's will on whatever direction is chosen.
In an email to county commissioners, government watchdog Anthony Palmieri expressed his displeasure with Nicholson's move.
"Inasmuch as the proposed office on Horse Lake Road is not located in District 1, my question is why do we allow commissioner Nicholson to have an office outside his district " Palmieri wrote. "His office should be located in District 1 or in the courthouse building."
In 2009, county commissioners relocated to their satellite offices throughout the county.
All except then-commissioner Rose Rocco, who opted to stay at the downtown government center.
The move was part of a county reorganization plan to create room on the fourth floor for the property appraiser's office and get him out of a leased building at city hall.
The plan also was supposed to make commissioners more accessible to their constituency by having them situated in their district.
Rocco fought against the idea and chose not to move to her district, which covered mainly Hernando Beach. She believed it would be inconvenient to taxpayers and be harder for her to have access to staff members.
Druzbick said the idea behind the relocation was sound and it did free up space. But it didn't result in an increase in visitors.
"I thought it would make it easier for constituents to see us but it didn't happen," he said recently.
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