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Rowden has the right to raise questions

By JEFF WEBB, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published February 24, 2002

It's open season on county commissioners.

Check that. It's open season on commissioners named Diane Rowden.

In an apparent reversal of the sports idiom, Hernando County Administrator Paul McIntosh apparently has decided that the best defense is a good offense. In that vein, McIntosh, who is only a week away from his two-year anniversary in the job, has challenged Rowden several times in the past few months. A few examples:

He accused Rowden of bragging to him that she was instrumental in the departure of former School Board Superintendent Dan McIntyre, fearing she might try to repeat that history with him.

He no longer will meet with Rowden unless he brings a witness, fearing she will misconstrue or misuse the information they exchange.

And, most recently, he accused Rowden of interfering with his authority, apparently fearing her questions about about how he is managing the Emergency Management Office staff.

That's a lot of fear for a guy who stands 6-foot-4 and runs the the second-largest corporation in the county.

That said, his instinct for self-preservation is well-placed. Rowden has made no secret that she'd like to see McIntosh move on. She doesn't trust him. She believes his management staff is divided against him. She believes he has irreparably harmed the morale of rank-and-file employees.

Wisely, McIntosh is not dismissing the significance of her criticisms. He's a good enough judge of character to know that regardless of Rowden's faults, she does not operate in a vacuum. Rowden's a talker, but she's a better listener, and that means if she is confident enough to express those concerns, you can bet lots of other folks feel the same way.

Evidence of how seriously McIntosh perceives Rowden as a threat came a little more than a week ago when he and a couple of his cheerleaders seized an opportunity to try to discredit her.

Emergency Management Director Bill Appleby and Human Resources Director Barbara Dupre complained to the press that Rowden was interfering with how they do their jobs. They claimed Rowden bypassed the chain of command by making inquiries about the embarrassing dysfunction of the Emergency Management Office.

Let's break this down:

First, Dupre's and Appleby's rants are a transparent attempt to divert attention from their own mistakes and take down the boss' nemesis in the process.

Second, Rowden's questions and/or suggestions are completely within her purview as a commissioner. Other commissioners, present and past, have meddled more than that.

Third, any advice Rowden might have offered about the situation in the Emergency Management Office couldn't hurt. Appleby and Dupre couldn't mess up things much more than they already have.

Finally, who the heck do they think they are? It is truly remarkable that a couple of staffers, whose performance and objectivity are currently in question, feel insulated enough to attack a commissioner without fear of its being chastised by McIntosh or other board members.

No one expects any staffer to agree with commissioners, much less like them. But, like it or not, Rowden is one of five people whose position commands the staff's respect.

Other commissioners have watched the reprisals against Rowden with indifference, conveniently characterizing it as an unresolvable personality conflict with McIntosh. That's a cop-out, and it is insulting to Rowden and the growing number of people who believe she usually does a good job of asking questions and taking risks the others won't, at least not publicly.

One wonders whether the other commissioners would be such isolationists if they suddenly found themselves in the crosshairs of McIntosh and his impudent devotees.

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