Farmer to protest loss of agent over dress code
By BRIDGET HALL GRUMET
© St. Petersburg Times, published January 23, 2001
INVERNESS -- Local farmers are upset about losing University of Florida agricultural extension agent Andy Rose to Sumter County, and one of them plans to let the County Commission know about it today.
Lynn Hicks, owner of several citrus groves, said he will tell commissioners at their 1 p.m. meeting today that Rose has provided crucial guidance to local farmers for the past 16 years and should not be sent away over a dispute grounded in the county's dress code.
"What I'd really like is to make them apologize to Andy and leave him alone," Hicks said. "The government's job is to serve the people, and he's been doing a good job. Why should a couple of middle-ground bureaucrats be running him out?"
Rose and county officials have been at odds for about a year over the requirement that men wear neckties while working in county offices, except during the summer months from May 1 to Oct. 1.
Rose could go without a tie while consulting with crop farmers in the field, but officials expected him to wear a tie while working out of the county's extension services office on U.S. 41 S.
Rose said he tried to comply by clipping on a black bow tie at the office.
But Community Services Director Heidi Denis said Rose often wore the tie "dangling" from one side of his collar, or went without a tie altogether.
After sending Rose a series of memos about the dress code and giving him an oral reprimand, Denis told Rose onJan. 10 that she planned to give him a written reprimand.
Denis left Rose's office, and a short standoff ensued as Denis repeatedly knocked on Rose's door and told him to leave the building.
Rose remained inside, behind a door that automatically locks, talking on the phone with his UF supervisor. He said he did not hear Denis at his door, but emerged within 20 minutes and went home.
The county placed Rose on paid administrative leave, and interim County Administrator Richard Wesch asked the university to transfer Rose elsewhere.
Wesch said Rose had routinely violated the county guidelines that all employees are expected to follow.
Sumter County eagerly offered an office for Rose, who will move there next month. Because the state and federal funding for Rose's position goes with him, it is unclear when funding will be available for a replacement in Citrus County.
Rose's UF supervisor has told him to direct all calls from Citrus County farmers and gardeners back to county officials, who will forward those requests to other university specialists or the Citrus County Master Gardeners.
Hicks said he does not know where he will turn for farming advice.
"(Rose) is well respected in the community," Hicks said. "That's why I can't understand why these people are treating him this way."
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