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Differences clear in commission race

In District 3, the candidates offer a study in contrasts, both in terms of style and substance.


© St. Petersburg Times, published October 30, 2000

Voters choosing between the two candidates for Hernando County Commission District 3 should have little trouble discerning which one they like.

Those who prefer a laid-back, business-friendly Republican will gravitate toward Carey Carlson, a 45-year-old concrete company executive. Those with a bent toward a hard-charging Democrat who focuses on social issues will lean toward Diane Rowden, a 51-year-old Delta Air Lines flight attendant.

From campaign pledges to speeches to style, Rowden and Carlson offer stark differences. Here's but one example:

Carlson promotes government partnerships with industry as a way to push the county forward as it grows. Rowden challenges the influence that businesses such as cement plants have with government and has refused to meet with their interest groups to discuss issues.

Thecandidates'top priorities underscore their differences. Carlson says he would push for a streamlined building-permit process. Rowden suggests she would work to create an elder affairs advisory committee to advocate for senior citizens.

Carlson, making his first attempt to win public office, defeated incumbent Bobbi Mills in September's Republican primary, capturing 57 percent of the vote by presenting himself as a visionary professional and Mills as a shortsighted micromanager. He wants to do the same with Rowden, whom he considers impulsive and divisive.

"I've dealt with the (Florida) Department of Transportation on hundreds of road projects. I've been in negotiations for $53-million road projects. I've been involved in dredging projects. . . . My qualifications for this job far exceed my opponent's," Carlson said.

People, not commerce, should push the agenda, argues Rowden, who has run for County Commission twice before. She also served three years on the School Board before Gov. Lawton Chiles suspended her in 1993 for violating the state's open meeting law.

"One thing that is really important is that this community recognize the retirees of this community," she said. "They are the economic engine that drives this county.

She barely talks about Carlson, feigning to have forgotten his name when voters ask her who she isrunning against. But she makes clear the distinction between them in her own terms.

"I don't tell them I'm going to be a director. I'll be out there full time, listening to the people," Rowden said, taking a jab at Carlson's statements that the commission should be run like a board of directors. "I'm not making him an issue. Period. Or anything he does or doesn't do. I'm focusing on what I can do."

And that, she said, is getting things accomplished, either as a player or behind the scenes. Rowden points as an example to the county's recent battle to draw state and federal attention to its health insurance plight. A group of residents saw they soon would be without insurance and turned to Rowden for advice. She helped them organize, find meeting places and print and distribute fliers.

"Let me make myself very clear. I am not trying to take credit for this solution. I would characterize myself as giving direction and assistance," she said. "I find that there are people who really do want to do something, but so many times they just don't know what to do. This is where I come in."

She offers ideas for controlling the quality of future development, stressing that projects should have to provide infrastructure improvements before winning approval. Too often in the past, she said, new construction outpaced the roadway improvements needed to serve it.

She also calls for changes to the county's comprehensive land use plan, as well as a new way of doing business as a county.

"We can't keep compromising . . . on what's going to be best for everybody, not just a small group of people in your neighborhood," Rowden said.

Carlson contends that Rowden's brand of leadership is wrong for Hernando County. He equated it with the increasingly unpopular solo style of outgoing Commissioner Pat Novy, who lost her re-election bid.

"We'll have the same kind of thing we had before," Carlson said.

Rowden rejected the comparison. Different issues arise quickly, she said, and she responds in kind.

"There's people who make things happen and people who watch things happen," Rowden said. "I don't watch things happen."

Rowden shows caring

On the campaign trail, Rowden strives to let people know she cares.

Dressed in her trademark red T-shirt, white shorts and canvas tennis shoes, she made her third trip to the High Point horseshoe pit last Monday, armed with coffee and doughnuts, to play a round with the group of people she had converted into supporters and friends.

"She just likes to come here," said regular Jack Sumerix, who tossed the red horseshoes with Rowden in the first round. "It's not just a campaign stop. She enjoys it."

George Clark, another horseshoe regular, said people had joked that Rowden might be lucky to get 12 votes from her continued appearances at the pit.

"But that's probably not true," Clark said. "I think her objective is to get the word spread out. Because we were talking about her."

Exactly right, Rowden said.

"With this job, it takes being a people person, not just telling people what you think they want to hear, which isn't as important as letting people see how you will be," she said. "I don't think I need to sit here and talk issues with them to let them know."

Carlson supporters say they know exactly what kind of commissioner Rowden will be. They consider her loud, abrasive and shameless.

They look no further than Rowden's removal from the School Board for having illegal conversations with other board members.

A state Senate subcommittee recommended her reinstatement, stating, "At no time did anyone assert that Mrs. Rowden was motivated by anything but her concern for the well-being of the schoolchildren of Hernando County and the efficient functioning of the School Board."

"It is clear that Mrs. Rowden knew her actions were improper," the subcommittee continued. "However, she seemed to be motivated by her frustration with the existing system. She was refused access to documents to which she was legally entitled. . . . She was frustrated in her attempts to get certain School Board contracts bid out or even to get full School Board discussion on the bidding procedure."

Despite this recommendation, the full Senate turned down Rowden's bid.

Rowden said she acted in the community's best interest while on the School Board and had to work against a board and superintendent antagonistic to her efforts.

"I didn't do a bad job," she said, noting her success in getting an appointed superintendent for the county and in pushing through an anti-nepotism policy for the School Board. "I got a lot of things changed that did improve the school system."

Even so, she continued, she has learned from her mistakes and vowed not to repeat them.

"I was naive, and I'm not (anymore). I'm a lot more mature, and I understand the process a lot more," Rowden said.

Carlson stresses future

Carlson refuses to join the attack, leaving his surrogates to do so. He says the campaign should focus on the future and that he provides the better alternative.

"When you are in a leadership role like the commission, you have to be insightful enough to really take a proactive approach to problems," Carlson said. "We get ourselves in trouble when we're always reacting. I want to be positive and look forward. I understand how business works and projects get done."

He talks about creating a free-trade zone at the county airport and drawing cargo and commuter flights to the county. He wants to see county contracts examined more closely with an eye toward the future, so the county doesn't wind up with obsolete yet enforceable deals.

He calls for working with local companies rather than antagonizing them as a way to protect the environment and business climate of Hernando County.

The name of his Internet Web site,, shows Carlson's emphasis on financial issues facing the county.

"Business principle decisions, that's what you've got to bring," Carlson said.

In his advertisements, Carlson stresses his long-term residency in Hernando County and the support he has received from groups and organizations. He even mentions that Gov. Jeb Bush had confidence enough in him to appoint him to the Withlacoochee Regional Planning Council.

Yet Carlson did not attend his swearing-in ceremony for the planning council, leading Rowden and Mills to question how important the appointment was to him. Carlson explained that he had not completed the necessary paperwork in time, having received it just a day earlier.

Though he has lived in the county 30 years, Carlson only recently sold his coastal home in District 5, where incumbent Paul Sullivan also was seeking re-election. State Sen. Ginny Brown-Waite, a Sullivan backer, bought Carlson's home.

Carlson said he planned to move regardless of his candidacy, because his fiancee did not like his house. He now is renting an apartment in District 3 while looking for a new one.

To gain voters' attention, Carlson waves at cars from the corner of Mariner Boulevard and State Road 50 three hours daily. He wears his casual work clothes: khaki pants, a collared, long-sleeved shirt and loafers.

He also drives the county from corner to corner, stopping at shops and meeting halls to talk with potential voters.

On Tuesday, he met Dorothy Lane at Lake Lindsey Grocery. Initially wary of politicians -- "We're just out here in the county, and we don't count. But you want our votes, and you want our money," she said -- Lane quickly drew Carlson into a conversation about drainage problems in her neighborhood.

They walked to her nearby home, where Carlson spent 20 minutes talking about possible solutions. The two acknowledged that he alone could do little, and the county probably would not be able to help.

Yet Lane, a retired state employee, said she appreciated that Carlson listened.

"You might say, "What's one vote?' " she told Carlson. "But one vote might put you in."

After a year and more than $13,000 of campaigning, Carlson said he's ready for it to end with the Nov. 7 general election. Ever competitive, he dismisses Rowden's chances and expects victory.

Rowden called Carlson "bought and paid for" by his many contributors, who include Realtors, concrete and cement plants, and land developers. She said she plans to win based on her effort to work for individuals, who have donated the bulk of her $3,700 war chest.

Campaign issues


CARLSON: Says the County Commission needs to use appropriate zoning to ensure that spot zoning and usage of land do not occur. The commission also should re-evaluate its comprehensive land-use plan to better direct business and industry into areas that best suit long-term planning.

ROWDEN: Believes the county needs to promote quality growth that pays for itself and should not put the cost of growth on the backs of existing property owners.

Economic Development Commission

CARLSON: Says the county needs to set realistic goals for the EDC and provide the incentives to meet those goals. The commission needs to provide a clear direction for the type of businesses it wants to attract. Public funding levels should be tied directly to performance.

ROWDEN: When recent questions about the EDC's accountability have been resolved, she says, the county should agree to match private donations to the EDC dollar for dollar, and eliminate any additional funding. Also, it should be clarified that one of the EDC's functions is to help local businesses that want to expand.


CARLSON: Says he would be "hard-pressed" to support an increase, but any proposed tax increase would have to be designated for a specific use with a definitive time line for its expiration. Budget surpluses could allow for a tax decrease or rebate, he says.

ROWDEN: Would support an increase only if absolutely necessary and all other options are exhausted. Has a goal to decrease the property-tax rate without jeopardizing the infrastructure or services.

Elder services

CARLSON: Proposes developing a partnership with service providers to assure that people can get their needs, such as shopping and doctor's appointments, met.

ROWDEN: Says it is time to establish a commission on elder affairs to examine current services compared to needs. It is time for local government to advocate for its senior population, she says.

Code enforcement

CARLSON: Says the county should promote and publicize a citizen outreach program to encourage all residents to report to staff any violations they see.

ROWDEN: Code enforcement statutes should be reviewed for modification, to make it easier for the officers and residents to work together to improve the county's look, she says.


CARLSON: Says Hernando County has numerous parks and recreational facilities that he feels meet the current needs of residents. Maintenance and upgrading of current facilities should be a priority, he says.

ROWDEN: The county should increase recreational offerings, she says, and pay for them with impact fees, which she would raise if necessary.


CARLSON: Says the preservation and protection of the environment will be "one of my primary missions." Encourages creation of a permanent educational program about water conservation, recycling and environmental protection.

ROWDEN: Believes the first step the county should take is to put a moratorium on mining expansion and cement plant expansion until officials have adequate scientific information on the impact these industries have on water and air quality.

Vital statistics

NAME: Carey J. Carlson

RESIDENCE: Lives at 1200 W. Fort Dade Ave. #22 in Brooksville.

AGE: 45 PROFESSION: Carlson is vice president-marketing and co-owner of Metro Redi-Mix Concrete in Tampa and president and owner of Evergreen Carlson, a stevedoring consulting firm in Brooksville. He previously worked for Independent Aggregate, Holman Cement and Florida Mining and Materials.

EDUCATION: He received a bachelor's degree in business management from St. Leo College in 1983. Carlson also attended the University of Florida.

MEMBERSHIPS: Chairman, Jerome Brown Community Center board of directors, and board member for the Florida Independent Concrete Producers.

PERSONAL FINANCES: Carlson reports a net worth of $990,479. His 1999 income included a $38,000 salary from Metro Redi-Mix Inc. and a $32,000 salary from Evergreen Carlson Inc. His assets included an office building at 26 S Brooksville Ave., $140,000; 40 acres east of Brooksville, $160,000; and his ownership in two businesses, $1.1-million. His liabilities include loans.

FAMILY: Carlson is divorced. He has two sons: William, 13, and Walter, 10.

HOBBIES: Sport fishing, golf, hunting.

CHILDHOOD AMBITION: To play professional football

MENTORS: father James Carlson

E-MAIL/WEB SITE: E-mail is; Web site is

* * *

NAME: Diane B. Rowden

RESIDENCE: Lives at 10350 Fulton Ave. in Royal Highlands, northwest of Brooksville.

AGE: 51 PROFESSION: Rowden is a flight attendant for Delta Airlines, a position she has held for 31 years.

EDUCATION: Rowden attended St. Petersburg Junior College but did not complete a degree program.

MEMBERSHIPS: Board of directors, St. Jude Children's Foundation and the Hernando County Human Rights Coalition; member of the county Tourist Development Council.

PERSONAL FINANCES: Rowden reports a net worth of $74,200. Her 1999 income included her $56,006 salary from Delta Airlines. Her assets included three cars, $17,500, and a home in Royal Highlands, $90,000. Her liabilities included a mortgage and loans.

FAMILY: She married her husband, Jay, in 1971. They have two children: Jay II, 26; and Dayna, 23. A third child died in 1993 at age 11.

HOBBIES: Traveling, snow skiing.

CHILDHOOD AMBITION: To be a nurse and a "mommy"

MENTORS: Nick Morana and Jay Rowden

E-MAIL/WEB SITE: E-mail is; Web site is

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