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Columnist delighted with role to explore

By ANDREW SKERRITT
Published October 30, 2005


I've been handed the best seat in the house. And perhaps the hottest seat, too.

Since Jan Glidewell retired in 2003, the role of columnist for this region has largely gone unfilled. For more than 20 years, Glidewell weighed in on the chaos, stupidity, foolishness, and sometimes the goodness, in the world. Even in retirement, he still visits to delight us with his offbeat insight. I'm not replacing Glidewell, and I'm not the second coming (God forbid). But in taking his place, I aspire to keep readers engaged as much as he did.

This will not be a humor column, although it's clear that a healthy dose of humor is necessary when you look at some of the decisions by local political leaders.

For the past two years, I've been an editor in the St. Petersburg Times Brooksville office, where I've been mostly confined to a desk. There I saw much of the world secondhand, through the eyes of the reporters and photographers. Before becoming an editor, I was a columnist in Rock Hill, S.C., for six years.

I'm delighted to return to my passion. I feel liberated. I'm back on the road again, getting my shoes dirty, toting around my notebook, talking to people again, hearing their stories, asking questions, discovering the world firsthand. Many nights when I go home to my wife and kids, my first words will be, "You will not believe what I heard today."

Soon after I received my new assignment, retiring Tallahassee bureau chief Lucy Morgan spoke about her life and work at the Times. Morgan talked about a memo she got from her boss in February 1968 that outlined her job as a reporter.

"Your basic beat will consist of Pasco County School Board (plus elections for it), Pasco County Commission (plus elections for it), Hernando County School Board (plus elections for it), Hernando County Commission (plus elections for it), Brooksville City Commission (plus elections for it), Hernando County Airport Authority, . . . Southwest Florida Water Management (plus all of its related basin boards), New Port Richey Chamber of Commerce . . . .

"Your beat will also include all of Pasco County Courthouse office, all Hernando County Courthouse offices plus city courts in Port Richey New Port Richey, Dade city and Hernando."

When I heard Morgan describe her responsibilities, it struck an immediate chord. As columnist, I will be paying attention to everything that's said and done in the three counties. Demographically, that's about 690,000 people; geographically, that's 1,807 square miles, the size of a small country.

While geography will define the area I will cover as a columnist, county boundaries will not limit my scope. My terrain is cultural, social, political, philosophical, religious, and, occasionally, personal.

I have license to tackle issues of faith, the contradictions between private life and public words, poverty and the complexities of race in our society.

I expect to spend time in courtrooms to see what passes for justice. The recent case of William Thornton IV before Judge Ric Howard in Citrus County suggests that readers need to see more. I plan also to spend time in classrooms to learn why some students fail while others succeed.

This three-county area we call the North Suncoast is developing rapidly. Townhouses are replacing farmhouses and cul-de-sacs are supplanting crops at an amazing rate. This region is a portrait of the old making room for the new. And this relationship of accommodation isn't without tension - tension over who pays and how much; tension between economics and the environment; tension between coping for today and planning for tomorrow.

I've set myself an ambitious task. With feedback from readers (and of course, my editors) we will cover much ground. But as we embark on this journey, from week to week, from Sunday to Friday, this column will be about a search for meaning, making sense of the news I encounter in the daily paper.

Sometimes I'll succeed, sometimes I won't. But I always expect to advance the debate, provoke reasoned thought and or rational action. But most of all I pledge never to be petty.

Andrew Skerritt can be reached in central Pasco at 813 909-4602 or toll-free at 1-800-333-7505, ext. 4602. His e-mail address is askerritt@sptimes.com

[Last modified October 30, 2005, 01:12:10]


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