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Embattled Hernando County commissioner not present at Tuesday’s meeting

BROOKSVILLE — Hernando County Commissioner Nick Nicholson was absent from Tuesday’s regular meeting, but he was still the subject of much conversation.

Commissioners, stung by the nationwide publicity about Nicholson’s arrest last week on three prostitution-related charges, stripped him of his vice-chairmanship and agreed to send a letter to Governor Rick Scott, asking him to suspend the commissioner. They also said Nicholson should resign or retire to allow the county to move forward.

Commissioner Jeff Holcomb said Nicholson should resign. In 2015, Holcomb encouraged Nicholson to give up his chairmanship of the commission after a previous incident involving Nicholson, a stripper and drugs. Nicholson was not charged in that case and didn’t step aside.

People searching online for Hernando County these days don’t see mermaids, the local adventure course or new businesses, Holcomb said. "You see mugshots.’’

Commissioners cannot remove a fellow commissioner, Chairman Steve Champion said. He said he didn’t condone Nicholson’s alleged behavior, but noted that it is the governor’s decision to act on Nicholson’s position.

"It’s beyond our scope,’’ he said, adding that Nicholson should retire.

"Obviously this is uncomfortable for us to talk about,’’ said Commissioner John Allocco. "This is not business as usual for most counties and Hernando County.’’ He urged Nicholson to resign.

Commissioner Wayne Dukes said Nicholson should step down, saying the charges deface the commission’s work.

Several citizens also urged Nicholson to resign. Jimmy Lodato, who ran against Nicholson two years ago, urged him to resign and remove the black mark placed on Hernando County because of his behavior.

He should do it before the governor acts to suspend him, Lodato said, because that would be "too embarrassing.’’

Nicholson could not be reached for comment on Tuesday. He has not made a public statement since his arrest.

The former stripper who lived with her husband in Nicholson’s Spring Hill home said she was paid for having sex with him. Valerie Surette and her husband, Kendel Surette, said she also had sex with other clients at Nicholson’s house.

She told the Tampa Bay Times she was assured she would not face charges if she cooperated in the investigation.

No charges were expected against her or another woman alleged to have been paid by Nicholson for sex, a Sheriff’s investigator said last week. Sheriff Al Nienhuis said he didn’t have direct knowledge about any assurances, saying it could only happen with the approval of the prosecutor.

"Our office did not make any agreements with any of the three witnesses during the course of the investigation," said assistant State Attorney Mark Simpson, who is prosecuting the case. "I cannot speak to whether any assurances were made by the Sheriff’s Office, but I am not aware of them making any.’’

If Nicholson resigns by July 16, his seat would be up for election this year, according to Shirley Anderson, the county’s supervisor of elections. Even that date would require a special qualifying period for candidates and possibly a special primary, she said.

If Nicholson leaves the seat after that date, the governor would appoint someone to fill the rest of the term, which ends in 2020.

Commissioners on Tuesday elected Allocco the new vice-chairman and Dukes the new second-vice chairman for the rest of 2018.

Contact Barbara Behrendt at [email protected] or (352) 848-1434.

>>>Previous coverage:> Hernando County commissioner arrested on prostitution charges>>

>>>Previous coverage:> Woman says Hernando County commissioner kept her as "sex slave">>

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