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Thursday, Oct 30, 2014
Tom Jackson Columns

Jackson: Workshop pebble cast in Oct. ripples toward 2014

Published:

Having made an absolute hash of restructuring their city hall organizational flow chart a couple of months back, Dade City commissioners have scheduled a series of workshops with the goal of figuring out what to do next. The first workshop arrives Monday.

Anyone who cares even a little bit about how their town is managed will want to attend because, as we witnessed at the flash point back in October, when it comes to Dade City Commission workshops, anything can happen.

It was then a bare majority of the board — Jim Shive, Eunice Penix and Mayor Camille Hernandez — connived to split the jobs of city finance director and clerk. About that: The complaint now, as it was then, wasn’t that the majority was tampering with tradition (both assignments had been run out of the same office for more than a half-century), or that separating them wasn’t the right course for Dade City.

The beef was, and remains, how the trio went about it, and what their methods reveal about their regard for their constituents.

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As we gaze back in these pages over the events of 2013 that helped shape Pasco County, Dade City’s workshop subterfuge is a tiny pebble that casts ever-widening ripples. We anticipate hearing repercussions in the run-up to April’s municipal elections in all six of Pasco’s cities and towns, as well as in November’s county commission and school board races.

Here’s a two-fold question every candidate for local office must answer: “Under what circumstances do you believe it is acceptable to make policy or pass laws while conducting workshops? Do you believe ‘legal’ is the same thing as ‘acceptable’?”

And the follow-up: “Will you oppose any changes in policy or law being made without ample opportunity for public comment?”

It is astonishing, to say the least, that such questions now must be woven into the campaign fabric, because, at least until October, the idea that any local board would behave otherwise was unthinkable. Then, at the tail-end of a workshop convened to hash out details linked to dividing the chores of the city’s clerk and finance chief, the majority who favored the move from the outset — again, Shive, Penix and Hernandez — voted to do just that, nevermind the heated, gape-mouthed objections of commissioners Scott Black and Bill Dennis.

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The minority’s complaint — taking a vote at a workshop and without public input was underhanded, nefarious, odious business that could only invite their constituents’ disdain and mistrust — was dismissed with an imperious sniff. They’d checked and it was legal, so there.

It speaks for itself what this suggests about a collusion among the majority to skirt Florida’s Sunshine laws.

The moment has passed for the scandal to have achieved “-gate” status (possibly because “workshop-gate” stumbles awkwardly off the tongue). But the fallout endures and expands. On Dec. 10, the fellow at the center of the uproar with the Dickensian name — Jim Class — announced he was taking a job with the Pasco County School District (are there no wronged public employees for whom Kurt Browning can’t offer safe harbor?), leaving two gaping holes in the majority’s rush-to-judgment plan.

Unwilling to endure further humiliation under leadership that found his performance lacking, Class is leaving. Unwilling to shoulder the larger workload that came with the promotion from deputy to department head, clerk candidate Joanna Akers not only declined the job, but, for personal reasons, is seeking fewer duties.

Rarely is karma quite so instant. Come the new year, we will learn whether karma also has legs when Hernandez, alone among the majority-makers, stands for re-election. By then, we’ll have lots of candidates all across Pasco County expressing for the record what they think ought to be the limits on what happens at workshops. What’ll you bet none of them side with the mayor of Dade City?

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