As we were saying…
Before our lives came to an abrupt halt last week to prepare for Hurricane Ian, Citrus County commissioners had just voted unanimously to hire an administrator.
Two things of significance:
On the second point, the vote was nearly NOT unanimous because Commissioner Ruthie Davis Schlabach didn’t want to support a motion that had Phillips as the only other choice if negotiations with the front-runner, Steve Howard, don’t pan out.
Let’s get down to it:
— All I know about Howard is from his resume and what I read online (including some interesting stuff about a spaceport) just like everyone else. He’s worked 15 years as administrator in Camden County, Georgia, on the Florida East Coast Florida. Its population is roughly a third of ours, so he’s going from little pond to not so little pond.
During his brief public interview with commissioners on Tuesday, he seemed zeroed in on effective planning that involves many voices, within government and outside of it.
“That’s visionary leadership. It’s not for everybody,” he said.
Commissioners Schlabach and Scott Carnahan were mighty taken with Howard.
“I’m very impressed with what you brought here,” Carnahan said.
Schlabach: “You ought to take your mic and drop it.”
We spoke very briefly after the meeting, as he was headed back to Camden County to prepare his community for Hurricane Ian. I look forward to our chats.
— Just when I think Chairman Ron Kitchen Jr. is going to bully his way through the biggest decision this board will make, instead statesman Kitchen shows up. And the timing couldn’t have been better.
Kitchen was, simply, at his best. A true chairman, encouraging others to say their piece, trying to find common ground.
While he caught flak for including District 2 NPA ghoster Paul Grogan in the interview process, he smartly blocked Grogan’s attempt to weigh in on the final selection by email.
You read that right. Grogan was in town Monday to interview the four finalists, but couldn’t stick around another day to participate in the actual discussion. Here’s his email, in part, untouched:
“All the candidates had documentation and shared qualifications and eligibility for the position I found that none of the candidates were completely qualified. Two of the candidates were outstanding to me because they didn’t have any conflicts from previous experiences these conflicts definitely are not the direction that I would like to go as a board and I don’t think that ethnically it would be advisable to carry on a long-term relationship with somebody who is currently engaged with another board of commissioners or individual commissioner.”
He then recommended a different finalist. Whatever.
On the other hand, District 2 Republican winner Diana Finegan and District 4 Commissioner-elect Rebecca Bays both offered concise rationale for choosing Howard.
Their opinions swayed Commissioners Jeff Kinnard and Holly Davis, who backed Phillips initially but went along with Howard.
A unanimous vote without political shenanigans is a huge step. The informed participation by both Bays and Finegan is a positive sign for what’s coming in late November when the new board is seated.
— I had private chats with three commissioners prior to their 1-on-1 interviews with the four administrator finalists. I was particularly interested in their views on Phillips, who grew up in Inverness, worked for Citrus County government, went to Hernando County as deputy administrator, and wanted to come home and lead her community.
If you read her cover letter, you can see Tobey really, really wanted this job.
When I spoke with Schlabach, she had a very specific concern about Phillips, which I won’t mention since it’s now immaterial. I suggested she talk it over with Phillips, and I’d know sitting in the back of the room Tuesday whether she was satisfied with the response.
Schlabach didn’t simply support Howard, she made a point of blocking Phillips from the job.
“I see her as not ready today,” Schlabach said.
Still, she went along with the unanimous vote, which offers the job to Phillips should negotiations with Howard not work out.
—Unrelated, the Rotary Clubs of Citrus County and New Church Without Walls are teaming up to collect donations of supplies and money for the Southwest Florida victims of Hurricane Ian. Click here to find out how to help. Their need is desperate. Let's not forget we escaped unscathed from this storm, and that our neighbors to the south were not so fortunate.
Mike Wright has written about Citrus County government and politics for 36 years.