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Joe Fox, county government watchdog, dies at 82

A founder of the Good Government League, he was known for being civil even in disagreements.

Published July 6, 2005

Joe Fox was never shy about speaking out.

After serving in the Navy during World War II, he went to New York and plunged into public life. He became president of the Village Green Homeowners Association in Clifton Park, president of the Clifton Park Republican Party, president of the Clifton Park Teen Activity Council.

But it was only after his retirement in the 1980s from his job as a branch manager for John Hancock Insurance Co. that Mr. Fox became a fixture in the halls of the Hernando County government. As the co-founder and president of the Good Government League of Hernando County, Mr. Fox was not shy in questioning the way the county conducted its business.

Mr. Fox, who lived most recently in Weeki Wachee, died Wednesday (June 29, 2005) in hospice care at the age of 82. On Tuesday, his family and friends had a funeral Mass and buried him with military honors at Florida National Cemetery near Bushnell.

His death marks the loss of another member of a generation of gadflies who spent their retirement years agitating for better government in Hernando. They were once dubbed the "peanut gallery" at weekly County Commission meetings.

In 2003, John Tenini, who spent 20 years fighting for a range of issues, passed away. Al Pagano, another activist, died in January.

Like Tenini and Pagano, Mr. Fox monitored many government decisions, not just one or two issues. He lobbied against an increase in the gas tax and spoke out against large raises for top county officials. He criticized the way the county went about building a Spring Hill library.

He ran for property appraiser in 1992 but lost in the Republican primary. It didn't keep him from continuing to play a role in public life.

Jay Rowden, president of the local Democratic Executive Committee and a founding member of the Good Government League, recalled Mr. Fox's scrutiny with respect.

"They did a lot of good," said Rowden, the husband of county Commissioner Diane Rowden. "They opened up some eyes in the county."

He said Mr. Fox was an early advocate of raising impact fees on construction so the county could keep up with growth.

"They never gave up on it," he said.

County Commissioner Chris Kingsley said Mr. Fox's group helped him get elected to his post. He remembered the way Mr. Fox came to meetings well dressed, even when he wore a "little blue hat" to cover medical treatments for his head. He said Mr. Fox was civil, even when he disagreed with commissioners.

"He was a very professional and nice guy," Kingsley said. "He was one of the last of the group who used to come to every (commission) meeting."

In a 1994 guest column published in the Times, Mr. Fox described why his group paid such close attention to county government affairs.

"The (Good Government League) was founded on the premise that people have politics and political mashed potatoes force-fed to them every day in every way," he wrote.

"A small group of people met and discussed how we could disseminate information and not have it be political or partisan. A consensus was reached that we do it with knowledge of what was happening and by using our individual experience and backgrounds, which are quite diverse."

Abhi Raghunathan can be reached at or 352 848-1431.

[Last modified July 6, 2005, 00:49:15]

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