And that's how cohesive works
Most people think a government writer gets thrills out of writing negative stuff.
Some may enjoy it and I’ve had my share over the years, but as a citizen of Citrus County I’d prefer a smart, cohesive government.
Like the one I saw Tuesday.
Citrus County commissioners weren’t unified on every vote, but they jelled. The conversation was easy and all five engaged. The chairman had firm control of the meeting and took a hard stand on an emotional topic.
From a policy standpoint they made smart, sharp decisions.
It’s the moment we’re looking for, when a new board blossoms into five equally engaged commissioners who play off their mutual respect for one another.
(That’s harder than you think. Commissioners Holly Davis and Ruthie Davis Schlabach never had that opportunity their first two years under the thumb of former Commissioners Scott Carnahan and Ron Kitchen Jr.)
I don’t want to make too much of one day. It could have just been something in the water. My hunch, though, says otherwise.
I base this on the board’s handling of two contentious issues:
— It couldn’t have been easy for Schlabach to suggest filling the drained Central Ridge Community Park pool in Beverly Hills with cement. Especially with Harvey Gerber pounding the lectern about killing “the dream.”
Beverly Hills is not only the heart of her district, this pool issue is the biggest headache she inherited when taking office two years ago.
Emotion says the county should invest in repairs and make the pool a pool again because Beverly Hills sure could use it. Gerber, president of the Beverly Hills Civic Association, wanted the county to sell the pool to his nonprofit that builds low-income homes.
Gerber claimed he’d have the cash in a month to make the repairs. Wary commissioners have heard that before.
Schlabach’s idea was to cap it with concrete and make it a useful part of the park at Lake Beverly. In other words, end a 3-year stalemate in an efficient way and move on.
Commissioners Jeff Kinnard and Rebecca Bays were right with her. Commissioner Holly Davis suggested a 6-week delay to see if Gerber’s plan really holds water.
Commissioner Diana Finegan showed deference to Schlabach. “I think you’ve been working really hard on this,” she said.
So Schlabach had the votes for another delay. It wouldn’t have hurt necessarily to let it go a few more weeks. But Schlabach made it clear that her attempts to help have been met with mixed messages and any delay is a waste of time.
“We need to put this to bed,” she said.
A few moments later Schlabach got a 5-0 vote and Gerber stormed out of the chambers.
— The library governing board meeting didn’t get the same attention from last April, but still a significant number of people showed up purportedly to offer opinions on who should get appointed to the all-volunteer library advisory board.
Most of the speakers turned the meeting into another chance to attack LGBTQ+ and a Gay Pride Month display that took place 18 months ago. A few brought the conversation back around to selecting qualified people for the library board.
The three commissioners who sided with the library supporters in April — Davis, Kinnard and Schlabach — were joined by Bays this time. (Crystal River Councilman Ken Brown and Inverness Councilwoman Jacquie Hepfer voted with the majority, as they did in April.) Finegan sided with those who wanted change.
Two applicants made all seven ballots: Elaine Kleig, going for reappointment; and Justin Strickland, executive pastor of Crystal River Church of God (and, coincidentally, good friend of mine). Both were appointed along with incumbent board members Lorraine Benefield and Kenneth Jones.
Another tough couple hours where nerves are frayed. A lot of people grumbled on their way out.
It isn’t easy being a Citrus County commissioner right now. Tuesday showed they have the collective mettle to get down to business. And this group has just started.
If you’re worried about commissioners falling asleep at the switch, don’t be. Nothing is getting past these five.
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Mike Wright has written about Citrus County government and politics for 35 years.