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Mean-spirited feud must come to an end
By A TIMES EDITORIAL
Published January 16, 2008
Interim County Administrator Larry Jennings minced no words.
"Your conduct has embarrassed me, the commissioners, the county's residents and all of your fellow employees."
That admonition succinctly summed up the sentiments of most people regarding the recent remarks by Hernando County Human Resources Director Barbara Dupre about Commissioner Diane Rowden. Jennings' written reprimand included a five-day unpaid suspension for Dupre, who speculated publicly that Rowden or an associate had searched her office to find candidate petition cards. Rowden, acting on a tip, did inform former County Administrator Gary Kuhl that the cards existed, and once he confirmed that fact he wrote a letter scolding Dupre for poor judgment. But for Dupre to imply without substantiation that Rowden searched her office was wrong.
It is not surprising, however, that Dupre lashed out that way. There is a long history of ill will between her and Rowden, and the commissioner has made comments in public and in private about Dupre that also were unprofessional and bad-tempered. Rowden once told Dupre's husband that she "hated" his wife, and more recently accused Dupre's involvement in the search for a new county administrator a "joke" and charged that "most county employees don't trust her." Even if Rowden thinks that, it served no purpose to state it publicly.
Make no mistake; this is a feud, and Rowden wants Dupre gone from her job just as much as Dupre would like to see Rowden un-elected. But both women overestimate the public's tolerance for such a mean-spirited grudge match.
Unfortunately, this high-profile rivalry reinforces what too many people already believe about government employees - that all the bosses and politicians are more interested in advancing their agendas than they are in serving the public's needs. That certainly is not true of the majority, but it becomes more difficult to make the argument in the face of such clear evidence.
Dupre's conduct, and ensuing reactions, were reckless. Unless she had proof, on which she was prepared to officially act, it was malicious conjecture. The suspension, coupled with a six-month probationary period and the knowledge that it will follow her for the remainder of her career, was an appropriate punishment.
That said, it would be hypocritical for Rowden to savor her role as victim.
Jennings earns credit for taking a firm stance and drawing a line that other county employees can see clearly: No politicking on the job and no maligning your co-workers.
In the meantime, if Rowden and Dupre can't get along, the least they can do is leave the rest of us out of it.