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Dan DeWitt, Hernando Times Columnist

Dan DeWitt

Dan DeWitt has worked as a reporter or columnist for the Times in Hernando County since 1989. He and his wife, Laura, live with their two sons south of Brooksville.

DeWitt previously worked for the Newport News (Va.) Daily Press. A Cincinnati native, he attended Kenyon College in Ohio and received a master's degree in journalism from the University of Michigan.

Phone: (352) 754-6116

Email: ddewitt@tampabay.com

Twitter: @DDewittTimes

  1. DeWitt: Norman-Vacha set Brooksville on a path to success

    Local Government

    Because Jennene Norman-Vacha has taken heaps of criticism from her former bosses lately, and because complaints about the city she used to lead are pretty much eternal, let's remember Brooksville as it was before she took the job as city manager.

    Let's look at what she did to make the city better.

    Previous leadership was so focused on approving new developments that it was content to leave the old downtown as a ghost town. No tumbleweeds, maybe, but several firmly rooted varieties growing through cracks in sidewalks a few blocks from Main Street....

    The Brooksville City Council recently decided not to renew the contract of City Manager Jennene Norman-Vacha.
  2. Hernando teachers get much-needed computer upgrade



    Lorraine Armstrong, a math teacher at West Hernando Middle School, said that only the night before, she had been thinking about how nice it would be to have decent laptop for work.

    "I was doing my lesson plans, and my old one quit like five times. It just powered down by itself," Armstrong said. "I had to save every five minutes, and I didn't save, so it was a little bit distressing."...

    The purchase of 1,541 laptops for teachers throughout the district cost $950,000.
  3. Absentee rates at Hernando schools: high but showing improvement


    BROOKSVILLE — West Hernando Middle School posts its latest attendance figures every day on the cafeteria wall.

    When students begin to miss school days more than 10 percent of the time, which disqualifies them from participating in sports and other extracurricular activities, teachers talk to them and reach out to parents.

    If the trend continues, the conferences include guidance counselors, academic team leaders and administrators....

    Middle and high school students who don’t attend school at least 90 percent of the time are disqualified from participation in band, sports and similar activities.
  4. DeWitt: Education funding gives Ingoglia a chance to prove he's not a politician


    It's been one of the major head-scratchers of the run-up to this year's session of the Florida Legislature:

    Doom-and-gloom budget forecasts, especially from the House of Representatives, at a time when Florida's economy seems to be humming along.

    What gives?

    How did we go from a budget surplus of $636 million this year to the forecast of $7.5 million for 2017-18 and, far more concerning, big deficits in the two years after that?...

  5. Hernando schools will not seek new funding for StarFISH


    BROOKSVILLE — The Hernando County School District will not seek additional state funding for Project StarFISH — a program designed to address underserved students with mental illnesses — because of forecasts of a tight state budget and incomplete data about its effectiveness.

    "We are going to hold off on adding StarFISH" to the list of budget requests for this year's session of the Florida Legislature, Karen Jordan, the district's spokeswoman and legislative liaison, wrote to School Board lobbyist Brady Benford on Jan. 13....

  6. DeWitt: Dinner at Beasley Brooksville farm is 'outstanding'


    Most of the diners, the ones who could spend $190 on a five-course lunch, weren't from around here.

    Neither were the tattooed and pierced industry pros who prepared the meal and brewed the beer and staged the event last week at Joann Beasley's farm 5 miles east of Brooksville.

    Outstanding in the Field, a Santa Cruz, Calif., company that bills itself as a "restaurant without walls," had set up a long table laid with white linens and wine glasses between rows of neatly tended chard and mustard greens....

    About 80 guests sit down to eat during an Outstanding in the Field lunch Wednesday at Beasley Farm, about 5 miles east of Brooksville.
  7. DeWitt: Outgoing judge has conflict as he prepares to return to previous job


    The career plans of Hernando County Judge Donald "Sonny" McCathran Jr. will be no surprise to defense attorneys who have appeared before him.

    When his term ends in January, McCathran will become an assistant state attorney, the same job he held for 14 years before being appointed to his judge's job in March 2014 — and, to hear some lawyers tell it, a job he practically continued to perform on the bench....

    County Judge Donald "Sonny" McCathran lost his primary election race in August to Kristie Ruppe.
  8. Plan calls for lease of former golf course to Florida Blueberry Festival

    Local Government

    BROOKSVILLE — The Brooksville City Council is moving ahead with a controversial plan to lease the former site of the Quarry Golf Course to the Florida Blueberry Festival for 60 years.

    The challenges of continuing to stage the festival downtown, especially the presence of two state-maintained highways, will keep the event from growing, backers of the plan say. The move to dedicated grounds, where festival organizers plan to build an amphitheater, would allow the nonprofit organization to host several other events each year. And it might help fend off blueberry growers from Polk County who have sought to lure the festival away from Brooksville....

    Under a plan being discussed with the Brooksville City Council, the Florida Blueberry Festival could be moving to the site of the former Quarry Golf Course in Brooksville.
  9. DeWitt: Despite disputes, Hernando School Board has made progress


    There was a nasty discussion at a Hernando County School Board meeting last month.

    Board member Beth Narverud said she had heard from parents and teachers about the chaotic situation at Moton Elementary School — now on its third full-time principal in less than six months — and wondered what the district was doing about it.

    Board member Gus Guadagnino, a steadfast ally of superintendent Lori Romano, responded by blasting Narverud for "basically crucifying our superintendent without knowing all the details."...

  10. Bike trail projects in Hernando move forward


    BROOKSVILLE — With broad-based support locally and statewide, three portions of a network of paved walking and cycling trails in Hernando County have hit or are approaching crucial milestones.

    And former Brooksville Mayor Lara Bradburn can hardly believe the level of official backing.

    "We've gone from a house full of non-believers to a house full of believers," said Bradburn, a trail advocate for about 20 years....

    With wide support from officials, Hernando County’s bike trail plans seem to be moving forward. [Times files]
  11. Tour of Chinsegut spurs thoughts of what could be



    Howard Dunn, like a lot of people who had gathered at the top of Chinsegut Hill, looked down into the grassy valley and imagined what might grow there.

    Calves were first on his list.

    "I'm a cattleman," said Dunn, who is president of the Florida Black Farmers and Agriculturalists Association and whose profession could be guessed by his jeans, denim shirt, cowboy boots and cowboy hat....

    Florida A & M University forum participants tour the buildings and facilities in the sprawling Chinsegut Hill property.
  12. Brooksville must reapprove budget to comply with state law

    Local Government

    BROOKSVILLE — The city of Brooksville, which held what was billed as its "final budget hearing" in September, will have to reboot the process after the state said its property tax rate was not quite as low as advertised.

    The Florida Department of Revenue sent the city a letter dated Oct. 17, saying it had failed to advertise its adopted millage rate, 6.6426 mills, as a tax increase....

  13. Hernando elections office offers remedy for incomplete Brooksville ballots


    BROOKSVILLE — It was only after Brooksville resident K.O. Smith cast his early ballot that he noticed something had been missing.

    After leaving the polling place at the Sarah F. Davis Community Center in south Brooksville last week, Smith and his wife, Lynne, saw Brooksville City Council candidate Frankie Burnett sitting nearby in a lawn chair, surrounded by campaign signs.

    "I said, 'I need to go over and talk to Frankie.' And my wife said, 'Hey, he wasn't on the ballot,' " Smith said....

    Frankie Burnett is running for City Council re-election.
  14. DeWitt: Smear campaign dooms Hernando to weak leadership

    Local Government

    The signs are up at the county's busiest intersections; the brochures have gone out in the mail.

    They are ugly forms of communication that direct eyeballs to an even uglier Internet destination, lennytheliar.com, an aggregation of negative news and baseless insinuations about three county commissioners and County Administrator Len Sossamon.

    The overall thrust is that a political insider who has long been in the travel business, Tom Barnette, is the unseen hand behind county government and that Sossamon is his enabler and beneficiary....

  15. County slams sheriff's appeal to the state for more money

    Local Government

    BROOKSVILLE — Hernando County sent a provocative response to Sheriff Al Nienhuis' appeal of his 2016-17 budget to the state last week, saying the county didn't have the money to provide the added $1.7 million the sheriff requested — and that his office didn't really need it.

    The sheriff's appeal, the county's response said, is not so much a legal argument as a "series of angry, hopeful, cathartic screeds against what he perceives as slights. … Trying to identify substantive, relevant arguments from the din of his anger in the petition is a task as difficult as nailing jelly to a wall."...

    Sheriff Al Nienhuis says his department needs several new workers, including a 
K-9 deputy.