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A Times Editorial

Honor commissioner, but do it thoughtfully

© St. Petersburg Times, published November 8, 2000


When the Pasco County Commission convenes this evening in New Port Richey, it will be the penultimate meeting for 20-year Commissioner Sylvia Young who, along with Sandra Werner, broke the gender barrier on the board in the 1980 election.

Despite her previously detailed shortcomings, Young is known as an advocate for better roads in east Pasco and a champion of preserving coastal land in Bayonet Point that will become Pasco's first state park. She was a member of the board that significantly upgraded the county's infrastructure and quality of life through new parks, libraries, central sewer and water utilities, a trash incinerator and a jail. She crowned her career with the multimillion-dollar restoration of the Historic County Courthouse in Dade City.

As the Young era draws to a conclusion, we expect temptation among commissioners to find a suitable way to acknowledge her service to Pasco County with an emphasis on the positive. But, considering the haphazard way four of the current commissioners authorized renaming a county office building in Land O' Lakes after a sitting commissioner in 1998, we would encourage the commission to consider a formal policy in naming publicly owned facilities.

Procedures used by the Pasco School Board are a suitable model. After public criticism for naming new schools after Superintendent Tom Weightman and his top assistant, Mary Giella, the board put its policy in place in the early 1990s. It states: "If the name of an individual is chosen, the name proposed should be that of a person of either local or national prominence recognized for his/her outstanding civic or educational contribution. If such person is an elected official or a Pasco School Board employee, he/she shall have left public office or employment in the Pasco County School District for a period of two years."

Such a policy precludes spur-of-the-moment emotions from the process and would have prohibited the commission from naming the Land O'Lakes building after Commissioner David "Hap" Clark Jr. That suggestion came from Young on a whim after Clark joked during a public meeting that he deserved the honor for casting the tie-breaking vote to buy the structure.

It is a recurring situation. The commission renamed its emergency services building after retiring director Amador Gonzalo in 1995 on a surprise proposal from County Administrator John Gallagher. Likewise, Young two years ago asked commissioners to add the names of football linebacker Darren Hambrick and former major-league pitcher Jim "Mudcat" Grant to the welcome signs on Pasco's roads. The impetus? Hambrick's draft day selection by the Dallas Cowboys. It was a poorly conceived plan approved by the commission, but as yet not executed by the staff.

A formal policy also could eliminate a repeat of a recent situation in Hillsborough County. There, the commission named the county center for former administrator Fred Karl because the first building tabbed for the recognition has been scheduled for demolition.

Honor Sylvia Young? Of course. If Clark, who leaves office next week after eight undistinguished years, deserves recognition, then Young merits it, too.

Just don't do it on a whim.

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