The “County has declared an intentional and overt WAR on the City’s attempt to expand its borders consistent with the natural development of the areas surrounding the City,” says a document sent certified mail to the County.
In February, Hernando County government attorneys filed a lawsuit against the City of Brooksville over the latter’s attempt to annex four properties which included two churches, a single family home, and a Hernando Housing Authority property. The lawsuit made headlines because it accused the City of having a history of “Generational Racial Discrimination” in the areas surrounding the annexations (South Brooksville).
The lawsuit also used references to a local ‘Times’ opinion writer as an authority concerning the long time discrimination. Several attorneys we spoke with said that using such a reference was unusual.
More on this in a minute.
In the months since then, business leaders have tried to help the City and County reach some amicable solution out of concern for the community. That effort resulted in an informal meeting on March 4th, 2016. According to City representatives, the meeting appeared to be very productive. The parties agreed to a basic outline of a new inter-local agreement concerning city growth, including annexations. It was productive enough that future meetings were planned.
Attending the meeting for the County was Commissioner Wayne Dukes, County Administrator Len Sossamon, and Assistant County Administrator Brian Malmberg. City Manager Jennene Norman-Vacha and City Community Development Director Bill Geiger were there for the City. Cliff Manuel from Coastal Engineering Associates moderated the meeting.
Unfortunately, City officials now believe County Participants present at the meeting (with the possible exception of Wayne Dukes) were acting in bad faith and they point to a County resolution that was approved 4 days later as proof. City Officials assert that County Administrator Len Sossamon was fully aware at that meeting of the planned legal move which was designed to delay negotiations.
Now comes the City of Brooksville who, Monday, passed their own Resolution in a 5-0 vote demanding that Hernando County dismiss their lawsuit. The Resolution approved by City Council Members also demands an apology for the “slanderous aspersions” concerning racial discrimination in the lawsuit. And lastly, it demands that every individual in County government responsible for writing or approving this unwarranted attack on the city be terminated, and that the person(s) responsible “should no longer remain employed by, or associated with, any governmental position within Hernando County.”
City Mayor Natalie Kahler said of the Resolution, “The City is legally required to answer County Resolution 2016-37. We worked hard to make sure our resolution contains only verifiable facts and understandable emotion. We are eager to focus our attention on more positive issues – like expanding economic development and creating less-confusing City boundaries.” Kahler goes on to say, “I firmly believe that we will be able to do so once the County has dropped its incendiary lawsuit against us. This resolution will provide them the facts they need to unreservedly drop the lawsuit so we can move forward for the betterment of our people.”
The Resolution the City sent to the County states that no further negotiation will take place between the government entities until the County terminates those responsible for the racial allegations in the lawsuit and the County publishes an apology.
After reading a copy of the City’s Resolution, County Attorney Jon Jouben stated in an email, “As I have said before, I believe that the City Council will look back on its decision to bypass the opportunity to negotiate directly with the County Commission for an all-encompassing agreement as a missed opportunity.”
However, the City argues that fault lies with Hernando County concerning the issues and problems facing South Brooksville. And, they point to a fact overlooked by the ‘Times’ articles written so many years ago and referenced in the lawsuit filed by County. What is that fact? The City maintains that South Brooksville residents haven’t asked to be annexed into the City and therefore the County is legally responsible for maintaining the infrastructure in those areas.
This is important say City Officials in the Resolution, because “Rather than chiding the City for why the enclaves exist, the County should take responsibility for why the area has been neglected. While the County has promised improvements to the citizens of the area, it has not fulfilled its promises. These facts are important, because on the one hand the County chides the City for keeping enclaves which property contains problems of lack of infrastructure and pollution that the County created, all the while criticizing the City for not annexing this same property with its financial burdens.”
NAACP President Paul Douglas confirmed to us several months ago that South Brooksville residents in general didn’t want to be annexed into the City over concerns of paying higher taxes.
A copy of the Resolution follows:
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