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New commissioners ready

Published:   |   Updated: May 7, 2013 at 07:08 PM

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On Nov. 20, two new county commissioners will be sworn in with much pomp and fanfare.

After the well-wishers congratulate Republican Nick Nicholson and Democrat Diane Rowden, both will take their seats and begin their plans to move Hernando County forward.

Nicholson said he has changed his mind about only serving one four-year term. Given the enormity of his work, he says now he will stay on as long as the people wish.

Rowden said she will remain the same "people person" she has always been.

They join re-elected Commissioner Jim Adkins. Board members Wayne Dukes and Dave Russell have two years remaining on their term.

Hernando Today talked with Nicholson and Rowden on Thursday and learned what their main missions will be from day one.

Nick Nicholson

Nicholson has already sat in one of the board seats, albeit in his capacity as a planning and zoning commissioner, for many years.

Being familiar with most of the department directors and staffers, Nicholson believes he can hit the ground running with his plans to create jobs.

Nicholson said he will follow up on his pre-election promise to weed out bad department managers. He will sit down with Sossamon and go over the qualifications of each employee and find out if there are avenues of cross-training to save money.

Nicholson said he knows there are some managers not putting in full eight-hour days and not properly supervising their employees. Many directors are not qualified for their positions, he said.

At the very least, each department head should have a bachelor's degree, Nicholson said. If not, he or she will have to get one or be demoted, he said.

It will be up to Sossamon, he said, to take charge of the department heads.

"I'm his boss," he said. "I'm supposed to know what he's doing, how he's doing it, if he's supervising his department heads and he is making sure they're doing their job and that employees are being treated equally."

Nicholson said previous administrators have not received the level of oversight needed for that job and he will correct that deficiency.

"Someone has to look over (Sossamon's) shoulder and if it's me, then so be it," he said.

Nicholson added that he is impressed with Sossamon's personable demeanor, but it has to be backed with proper action.

Nicholson said he plans to review the county's budget and employee staffing numbers from about 2002 to see where Hernando County was in terms of current staff and population.

Even though the county reduced almost half its work force, there may still be room for further cuts, as long as they don't affect public safety and welfare, he said.

Nicholson doesn't think the elected constitutional officers have done enough to cut costs or staffers and believes commissioners must come down harder on them this year to get out from under a projected $9 million budget shortfall.

Nicholson said he realizes he doesn't have the authority to cut elected officers' employees. But commissioners do have the hammer when it comes to their budgets and if the county cuts that supply line, they will be forced to make needed reductions, he said.

Nicholson said he will work with Sossamon and Budget Director George Zoettlein on a five-year budget plan and eliminate recurring expenses.

Finally, Nicholson said he will work from the start to streamline the county commercial permitting process.

Nicholson said he realizes he has a Herculean task ahead of him.

"I can't get this done in four years," he said. "It's not going to happen. I will stay as long as the people want me."

Diane Rowden

Rowden said she plans to make small business growth a priority when she takes her seat.

Attracting new business is important, she said. But the county cannot forget the needs of those business owners already here who may want to expand.

Studies have shown that the expansion of existing businesses is a key factor in job creation.

Only last month, Accuform Signs announced it will build a new 304,000-square-foot building at the airport industrial park and employ more than 550 people by early 2014.

"We want to keep bringing in more business," Rowden said. "But at the same time, we have existing businesses already here and we (need to) concentrate on helping their business grow. That's going to help with jobs. It will help with the economy."

Rowden also wants to look into the possibility of bringing in more business that deals with international commerce. Getting their products loaded and unloaded at the local airport, where rates and fuel costs are cheaper, would be a huge incentive for those companies, she said.

Rowden calls the Hernando County Airport a "diamond in the rough" for Hernando County's economy.

Rowden said she has no plans to shed her populist label. Throughout her previous tenure on the commission (from 2000-08) she fancied herself as the "people's candidate."

She likes to get in the trenches and talk to the residents about the issues, she said.

Even when she was not on the board, she took up the cause for monetary help for the shrimpers in Hernando Beach whose livelihood was affected by the BP oil spill.

She also hired on with Republic Services to serve as a liaison between the company and the community during the difficult first several months when the hauler became the sole franchisee in Hernando County.

Rowden said being the sole Democrat on the board doesn't intimidate her. On the contrary, she welcomes the challenge.

The board has been in need of diversity, she said, and she hopes to engage her colleagues in stimulating discussions on agenda items.

She said partisan politics is not her style and she will vote for the betterment of the community, regardless of party stance.

Rowden said she will make it clear to residents that she will let County Administrator Lenard Sossamon do his job and will not micromanage. Sossamon, she said, is working on a comprehensive strategic plan for the county, and it is imperative he be allowed the freedom to draft that document.

"It's not about me, it's about we," Rowden said. "We all have to work together to help Hernando County.

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