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COUNTY SPENDING CRITICIZED: Nonpartisan candidate Steven Ashmore and Republican Mark Cattell charge spending should be checked. Democrat Diane Rowden says those who say spending is wild are misinformed.

Published October 26, 2004

The District 3 Hernando County Commission race features a nonpartisan candidate, Steven Ashmore, Democratic board member Diane Rowden and a lawyer making his first run for office, Republican Mark Cattell.

Ashmore charges that commissioners hold a false image of Hernando. They pretend that the county is a sister to more developed, urban areas of the state, he said, and are bent on a deluded expansion of county government.

"Let's just be ourselves," he said. "We are not Duval and we are not Dade."

Ashmore argues that the rate of growth in county spending has exceeded inflation and population increases in recent years, and he holds that the county should check itself and turn to the private sector to provide certain services. The county's public transit system, THE Bus, he said, is an example of wasteful spending on a job best handled by private business.

The county is not developing as quickly as some think, Ashmore said, and he sees no need to raise impact fees or enact tougher growth ordinances. The current comprehensive plan is adequate and should simply be followed, he said.

Ashmore is a member of Landmark Baptist Church in Brooksville, several of whose members made bids for local office this year. Biblical principles would play a decisive role in his policymaking if elected, he said.

While Ashmore said he would not impose his moral views on others as a commissioner, he is convinced that certain rules some may consider a burden, such as antinudity ordinances, are needed.

"There are certain community standards that have to be adhered to by everybody just for decency," he said.

Cattell is also a critic of county spending, which he said has increased 75 percent in the last four years, far outstripping the rate of population growth. He maintains it is time the county put the checkbook away.

If elected, Cattell said, he would call for a moratorium on county building projects, such as the $5-million emergency operations center now being designed, so that cost savings could be explored.

Cattell would also seek to revamp the county's ordinance process. Commissioners, he said, often bow to a vocal minority, then direct their staff to develop ordinances with little regard for consequences. The result, Cattell said, is laws that often infringe on personal liberty.

Cattell supports prohibiting development in large areas of eastern Hernando critical to drinking water supplies. Under the county's current comprehensive plan, there is adequate space to handle residential growth for decades, he said, and the plan should be strictly enforced.

Rowden, who was elected to office in 2000, is a self-styled advocate for the people with a reputation for being outspoken and tough on developers.

She has championed an ordinance that requires so-called "big box" retailers to build stores with more pleasing architectural features and another that encourages developers to use drought-resistant plants that need little water.

Rowden argues that the business of government is providing services to people, and she says those who say county spending is wild are misinformed. Growth in enterprise funds, such as those that feed the development and utilities departments, is responsible for a large portion of recent expenditure increases, she said.

If re-elected, Rowden vows to continue to demand more from developers, respond to the needs of individual residents and create a call system for the public that would track their complaints to ensure issues are resolved.

Some, including her opponent Cattell, say Rowden grandstands and is unable to build consensus. Also, Cattell said, Rowden "gives the impression of an anti-commerce, anti-business stance."

Rowden has heard such criticism before and said she is in office to represent her constituents first and foremost, not outside special interests.

"People know that I am not afraid to stand up on issues that I feel strongly about," Rowden said. "Even if it means I have to get beat up by people."


MARK CATTELL , 31, was born in Oldsmar. He is single. Cattell is a member of the Brooksville Kiwanis Club, the Greater Hernando County Chamber of Commerce and the Young Lawyers Division of the Florida Bar Association. He graduated with a bachelor's degree in history from the New College of Florida in Sarasota and received his law degree from the University of Florida in 2001. He then went to work with the state Department of Children and Families, where he represented abandoned, abused and neglected kids. He is now a private attorney and lives in Brooksville. ASSETS: home. LIABILITIES: mortgage, student loans. SOURCES OF INCOME: earnings from law practice.


DIANE ROWDEN , 55, was born in St. Petersburg, where she was raised. She moved to Hernando County in 1985. She is married and has a son and a daughter. Rowden is a member of the Spring Hill Rotary Club. She served on the county School Board in the early 1990s and has sat on the County Commission since 2000. For 32 years, she was a flight attendant for Delta Air Lines. Rowden graduated from St. Petersburg High School and attended St. Petersburg Junior College, but did not receive a degree. She lives near Weeki Wachee. ASSETS: home, savings. LIABILITIES: mortgage, vehicle loans. SOURCES OF INCOME: salary, pension.


STEVEN ASHMORE , 49, was born in Tampa and raised in Brandon. He moved to Hernando in 1999. Ashmore is married and has four children. This is his first run for public office. Ashmore owns and operates AGM Mortgage in Brooksville. He is a member of the Florida Association of Mortgage Brokers and the National Association of Mortgage Brokers. Ashmore attended Brandon High School, Hillsborough Community College, St. Petersburg Junior College and Florida Bible College, where he received a bachelor's degree in Christian education. He lives in Brooksville. ASSETS: homes, business. LIABILITIES: mortgages, vehicle loan. SOURCES OF INCOME: business income.


County commissioners are elected to four-year terms by the county at large but must live in the district they serve. Commissioners adopt ordinances governing the county and the budget. Commissioners are paid $51,058 a year.

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