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A Times Editorial

Rowden was wrong, but she's not alone

© St. Petersburg Times
published April 20, 2003

Hernando County Commissioner Diane Rowden put the board's liability, and her personal credibility, at risk recently when she made a mean-spirited and immature remark about Human Resources Director Barbara Dupre. In a flareup that defies logic, Rowden told Dupre's husband that, depending on who's telling the story, she either "hated" Dupre, or "hated" her job performance.

One comment is just as inappropriate as the other, and Rowden made matters worse when she repeated her opinion after being confronted at Tuesday's commission meeting about her previous misbehavior. In addition, it was revealed that Rowden dressed down Dupre and Assistant County Attorney Kurt Hitzemann a week earlier because she thought they were being too noisy during a meeting where the topic of unionizing county employees was being discussed.

By taking it upon herself to intervene and offer unsolicited comments, Rowden circumvented the chain of command, which dictates that she talk directly to County Administrator Richard Radacky about concerns she has with his employees.

Rowden also opened the door for Dupre and Hitzemann to file complaints that could allege they were being forced to work in a hostile work environment. That possibility apparently has been averted, at least temporarily, because Dupre accepted Rowden's apology for exhibiting such "poor judgment."

The opportunity for Rowden or another commissioner to interfere in that way is greatly lessened now because the board formally adopted a policy that requires the elected officials to funnel all their business through the only three employees who have contracted positions: county administrator, county attorney and the emergency management director.

Rowden and Dupre have been at odds for a long time, and their differences about the upcoming union vote have amplified those hard feelings. Relations between Rowden and Radacky also have been strained for some time.

It now appears, however, that others are reaching the end of their rope with Rowden, and that their agenda went beyond addressing the problem, and included demeaning Rowden.

County Attorney Garth Coller and commission Chairwoman Betty Whitehouse joined Radacky, Dupre and Hitzemann in ambushing Rowden on Tuesday. Some, perhaps all, of them had known for up to a week what Rowden had said. Radacky apparently interviewed several people about the circumstances to verify what happened and then informed Whitehouse a full five days before the next commission meeting. Others also had been briefed on the situation.

Yet, he did not ask Rowden privately for her side of the story, and neither he nor Whitehouse saw fit to place the matter on the agenda that the commission uses to guide its weekly discussions. That was just plain sneaky, and any commissioner who can't see that is the case need only reverse roles to understand it.

Another indication that they were trying to keep their pretext secret is that none of the e-mails about the incidents were copied to the public records file where reporters and the rest of the public could view them. That's a violation of board policy and one that occurs routinely.

What Rowden did was clearly wrong. To make such a remark, especially to an employee's spouse, was unthinking, unkind and will not be easily forgotten. She bears full responsibility or her mistake.

However, her actions did not merit being blindsided. Such a sneaky maneuver is contrary to good government, and it shows that Rowden's not the only one who needs to keep her irritable tendencies in check.

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