It's a race of record and spunk
By WILL VAN SANT
Voters will determine Nov. 5 whether the time has come to alter the County Commission's political landscape by bringing a Republican into the all-Democratic fold.
The District 2 commission contest pits incumbent Nancy Robinson, who has been in office since 1992 and is the current commission chairwoman, against Republican Rose Rocco, who aims to implement a platform that has economic development as its centerpiece.
Rocco moved to Florida in 1993 after developers' presentations on Long Island caught her attention. The reality of life in Spring Hill did not deliver on the pitches made by developers, Rocco said, and she quickly went about making things right as a member of the Forest Oaks Civic Association.
She eventually became president of that organization and in 2001 started the community group Operation PRIDE, which has organized countywide cleanups.
That can-do spunk, the same passion she says she brings to her favorite pastime, cooking, is what Rocco maintains is lacking in her opponent and the County Commission in general. And for those who question whether spunk can be a substitute for political experience, Rocco has a message:
"I'm a strong person. Don't underestimate me. I am not a weak individual when it comes to leadership ability."
Robinson is running on her extensive record and name recognition.
What Rocco and others might criticize as a lack of decisiveness, Robinson said, is a talent for balanced decisionmaking honed in her many years as an emergency room nurse in Philadelphia-area hospitals and rendered as a sharp instrument as a political leader.
"I prefer the reasoned, methodical approach," Robinson said. "I don't make snap judgments."
At the heart of Rocco's platform is a call for greater focus on economic growth and job creation.
More vigorous marketing of Hernando County as an attractive destination for light industry -- particularly clean, technology-oriented businesses -- would expand the tax base while ensuring that residents can both work and live in the area, she said.
She fears the county will become predominantly a bedroom community for those working in metropolitan centers like Tampa.
As a way to lure industry here and create local jobs, Rocco suggests that payment of impact fees on new construction be incremental to lessen the burden on businesses.
Concerns over a looming budget crisis are certain to require difficult financial planning decisions by the county in the coming year, a problem tailor-made for Rocco's fiscal conservatism, she says.
According to Rocco, commissioners have spent recklessly on consultants and programs such as a new public transportation system whose success is uncertain, while disregarding more pressing needs.
What's required is an evaluation of each county department and a quarterly review of the budget to ensure that spending is controlled, Rocco said.
"There has been a lot of money going out," she said. "We really need to tighten the belt a little bit."
Unlike her opponent, Rocco is unconvinced that the pending sale of Florida Water Services to two Panhandle towns was orchestrated illegally.
With the county now spending to fight the deal in court, money is being wasted due to poor leadership, Rocco said. In keeping with the jaded and reactive nature of the current commission, commissioners waffled as the utility was bought out from under them, she alleges.
The challenger advocates going into negotiations with the two towns to ensure that a fair rate structure is maintained.
Of the four candidates running for County Commission, Rocco has brought in the least money from donors. Her total contributions as of mid October were $5,073.50, roughly a quarter of the amount raised by Robinson. Most of Rocco's money came in small donations from residents.
Looking back over her decade on the commission, Robinson points with pride to helping organize the 1998 sale of bankrupt Brooksville Regional and Spring Hill Regional hospitals to HMA Corp. and lobbying both locally and in Tallahassee to make the gas tax a viable means of repaving county roads.
At present, she views protection of county water resources as her top priority.
"Without water resources you won't be able to have a community," she said. "That's the lifeblood."
While Rocco feels it is time to negotiate to soften the impact of the Florida Water sale, Robinson is backing legal challenges to prevent the utility from falling into the hands of the Panhandle towns.
"The county is protecting the community," she said. "We know the lawsuit is appropriate because we know they have violated the law."
After protecting water, Robinson said crafting an intelligent comprehensive plan to guide growth and development in Hernando over the coming decades is paramount. She said the process would involve considerable public involvement.
Specifically, Robinson said linking preserved land with corridors of green space would attract new residents to the county and boost property values in adjacent residential areas.
"People will come here for the quality of the community that we have," Robinson said.
Robinson ranks economic development third on her list of priorities. Programs are in place that are attracting business and providing job training to residents, she said; all that's needed is continued stewardship.
She scoffs at Rocco's charge of wasteful spending, pointing to stable property taxes and several years of balanced budgets.
To make sure the trend continues, Robinson said she would work on crafting a business plan that will shape the coming budget, which she said may be more "conservative" than those developed in past years.
She did not rule out the possibility of tax increases.
"When you cannot balance your budget for the level of service you really need, you have to consider all your alternatives," Robinson said.
As of mid October, the incumbent had raised $19,374.25 for her campaign.
The Florida Action Committee for Rural Electrification, the Florida Manufactured Housing Association and other development interests have made $500 contributions to Robinson.
-- Will Van Sant covers Hernando County government and can be reached at 754-6127. Send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org .
PERSONAL: Born June 9, 1945, in Philadelphia. Moved to Spring Hill in 1987. Robinson is married and has two daughters and a son.
EDUCATION: Graduate of Lansdale Catholic High School in Lansdale, Pa. Completed nursing degree at St. Agnes Medical Center School of Nursing in Philadelphia.
POLITICAL: Registered Democrat. Elected to the County Commission in 1992.
PROFESSIONAL: Worked as nursing supervisor and staffing coordinator at St. Agnes Medical Center in Philadelphia and as head nurse in the emergency departments of hospitals in Philadelphia and Florida.
Highlights of Robinson's platform
Maintaining county control of water resources.
Holding the line on property taxes.
Providing a high standard of service to citizens.
PERSONAL: Born May 5, 1941, in Brooklyn, N.Y. Moved to Spring Hill in 1993. Rocco is married and has two daughters and a son.
EDUCATION: Graduated from East Side High School in Paterson, N.J. Attended Stony Brook College on Long Island but did not complete a degree.
POLITICAL: Registered Republican. Has never held elected office.
PROFESSIONAL: Worked in the accounting and customer service divisions of utility companies in New Jersey and New York, then as a sales representative for import distributors in New York City. Founder of the civic organization Operation PRIDE.
Highlights of Rocco's platform
Curbing county spending.
Improving communication between county government and residents.
Pending sale of Florida Water Service
ROBINSON: Says deal is not legal. Supports court challenges to block the deal.
ROCCO: Says the deal is legal. Supports negotiations with towns to keep rates from increasing.
Road paving program
ROBINSON: Says the program must continue after the 3-cent gas tax is reduced to 1 cent per gallon in 2006 but thinks increased population may adequately fund the program even with the tax reduction. Advocates evaluating the situation as the deadline nears.
ROCCO: Supports giving voters the choice on whether to reinstate the full tax.
Construction of affordable housing
ROBINSON: Voted to approve bonds for the controversial Spring Haven Apartments. Now says developers did not communicate well enough with residents. Says affordable housing is needed but is unsure whether it should go in Spring Hill.
ROCCO: Says there needs to be affordable housing in the county but is not convinced the place for it is in Spring Hill, where the proposed Spring Haven Apartments would go.
Township 22 Fire District
ROBINSON: Supports the county's effort to take over fire service in the district, saying the issue is one of public safety and is about who can provide the best service.
ROCCO: Says voters in the district should have been able to decide whether the county could take control.
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