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A Times Editorial

Sikes for tax collector

© St. Petersburg Times, published October 24, 2000


Since she began working there 27 years ago, Juanita Sikes has done just about every job in the Hernando County Tax Collector's Office. From waiting on customers at the front desk, to validating the tax roll, to budgeting the office's expenditures against its revenue, Sikes has done all that is expected of her.

What makes that accomplishment even more impressive is that she has done it all quietly in the shadow of her boss, Leona Bechtelheimer, who also happens to be Sikes' older sister and who has been regarded for more than two decades as one of the most efficient and well-liked constitutional officers in the county. Along the way, Sikes, who was working there before Bechtelheimer took office, has had to endure her share of criticism from those who tried to diminish her skills by making unfounded charges of nepotism.

That's the kind of character-building trial that only a strong, confident and forgiving individual could survive without it affecting her work or attitude. It also is in keeping with the low-key, gracious temperament Sikes has displayed during her campaign to become the county's next tax collector.

And, because of Sikes' exemplary record of public service, her involvement in the community where she was born and raised, and her intimate knowledge of the tax collector's operations, she receives our recommendation to voters in the Nov. 7 general election.

Sikes, a lifelong Democrat, is running against Republican Garry Allen, the county's technology services director. In that job, Allen worked closely with the tax collector to update the office's computer competence, and that is what he's pegging his candidacy on. He wants to further that effort by making more services available over the Internet, making it less necessary for taxpayers to visit the office or make transactions by mail.

Sikes favors that sort of modernization, too. But she also understands there are many people in Hernando County who are not computer users and who still prefer to deal with a person when they renew their automobile or boat registrations, buy a hunting or fishing license, or use a host of other services her office provides. Continuing to provide that kind of personal service is a priority for Sikes and is indicative of the understanding she has of the community, where she has volunteered as a member of the Hernando County Education Foundation, the Junior Service League of Brooksville, and the Cattlemen's Association. (In the interest of disclosure, readers should note that Sikes' husband of 28 years, Sam, is the uncle of Hernando Times advertising manager Lori Bainum).

Sikes also cites her familiarity with other government agencies and businesses as an advantage. Because of the personal contacts she has established through the years, she is better prepared to assume the job without undergoing "on-the-job training," as she asserts Allen would have to do.

Yet, there is one plank in Allen's platform that we wish Sikes would consider; he proposes extending the office's hours of operation by an hour or two, one or two days per week, so it will be more convenient for working people.

Sikes believes that would be an unnecessary expense because the demand is low and it might necessitate hiring a guard for security of the workers who would be responsible for occasionally sizable sums of cash. While Sikes' concerns are valid, it would be worth a trial to determine if the need is warranted.

Sikes also promises to step up efforts to diversify the 32-employee office, which currently employs no minorities and only one man.

Beyond that, we have no concerns that Sikes will do less than she always has, which is to apply the same diligent work ethic as Bechtelheimer exhibited during her long -- and decidedly non-controversial -- tenure.

It's not always the case, but maintaining the status quo, which Sikes has helped define in the tax collector's office, is advisable in this instance. Her dedication and unassuming personality equip her with the potential to lead and enhance an already tip-top operation. We recommend Sikes to voters on Nov. 7.

Opportunity to reply

Candidates not recommended by the Times are invited to respond. The reply should be no more than 250 words and must be received no later than 4 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 26. Deliver to 161 E Jefferson St., Brooksville, or fax to 754-6133, or e-mail as a text-only file to hernando@sptimes.com.

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