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A Times Editorial

Radacky deserves reprimand for gift

© St. Petersburg Times
published April 13, 2003

It has been only a little more than a year since Hernando County Administrator Paul McIntosh was pressured to resign because, among other serious lapses in judgment, he accepted freebies.

Now we learn that his replacement, Richard Radacky, sought a special favor from a high-profile businessman at about the same time he attempted to expedite that person's quest to gain a commercial zoning variance.

Radacky's mistake is not as intolerable as McIntosh's, who accepted free tickets to sporting events and rounds of golf at private clubs from people who were doing business with the county. All Radacky did, according to Times reporter Will Van Sant, was ask prominent banker Jim Kimbrough to use his friendship with former University of Florida coach Steve Spurrier to acquire an autograph on a football.

That is not illegal, or even dishonest. And, depending on the interpretation by the county's legal staff, it may not even be a violation of the policy that forbids employees from taking gifts from people who have business relationships with the county.

But, by intervening on Kimbrough's project and urging two department managers to hasten their review of a zoning variance, Radacky could be accused of granting special treatment to the same person from whom he sought a favor, and who also has an incentive to stay in the administrator's good graces.

Radacky denies there was a connection. The public will have to take his word on that. But he should have known that his actions, and particularly the timing in this instance, created the appearance of a conflict of interest. Had he recognized it then, as surely he does now, he would have avoided it.

As the county's top public servant, who also served as assistant to McIntosh, Radacky should have learned from the mistakes of his predecessor. Erring on the side of caution is the high standard the public expects from him, and one the commissioners -- his bosses -- should insist upon.

After the McIntosh controversy, commissioners revamped the policy regulating the acceptance of gifts. But they squandered their opportunity to make the policy as simple and effective as possible: Accept nothing, from anyone, at any time. Because they would not take such a direct and fearless stance, they now find themselves debating again what constitutes a gift, how to determine its value, and who is allowed to accept one.

Hernando has evolved from the days of the back-scratching brotherhood that once pervaded county government. But this sort of coincidence, if that's what this set of circumstances truly is, opens the door for criticism unnecessarily.

The commission should question Radacky about the incident and, barring any new information or extenuating circumstances, admonish him for exercising such poor judgment.

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