In the end, it was all about politics. And that’s OK.
Universal garbage never stood a chance against the political reality that this was just an idea whose time, if it was ever here, has passed.
It was a 5-0 vote Tuesday morning to kill it. Commissioner Holly Davis tried to keep the plan flickering beyond Tuesday, but Commissioner Ron Kitchen Jr. – who would be named board chairman in the afternoon organizational meeting – nailed it:
“I don’t see how we get there at this point.”
And so mandatory garbage, an idea I first heard about in my early days in Citrus County, is all but dead. I doubt we’ll see it again.
We can debate whether universal trash pickup is a good idea or not, but the political truth is commissioners had few reasons to support it and tons of reasons to flush it. Including:
– No one from the community was asking for it and the county didn’t really have a decent reason for doing the program, other than everyone in government thought, in general, it was a good idea. But constituents weren’t flooding commissioners’ email boxes with notes of support. In fact, mostly the opposite.
– The plan had no commissioner champion. There never seemed to be any common ground from commissioners as to what exactly they wanted to do and how to get there. All five had a different reason Tuesday for turning it down. While Davis had hoped to extend the conversation some, in the end even she couldn’t support it.
– Universal garbage probably lost any chance of survival when county commissioners passed the stormwater tax without really explaining how or why that was a good idea, other than the county needed a better way to pay for stormwater projects. Several people who spoke against it on Tuesday mentioned their faith in the county took a hit with the stormwater tax.
– And that leads to the last point. Politically, it made no sense for commissioners to fall on their sword for mandatory garbage. Scott Carnahan knows. Carnahan, serving as board chairman for the final time, made sure his motion to kill the program occurred BEFORE public comment. That’s the best way to avoid getting yelled at for two hours.
So this batch of county commissioners started their second year together by agreeing to ditch something they really didn’t want to spend more time and energy on. We bid adieu to mandatory garbage, an idea that always worked better with the public as a concept but not in real life.
County commissioners recognized that. And they decided to move on.
The county commission has its organizational meeting Tuesday and all indications are Ron Kitchen Jr. will be the new chairman.
I know a lot of people aren’t thrilled with that. They don’t know if Nice Ron or Sarcastic Ron will show up on any given day.
But it’s not worth dragging the county through a year of infighting that would no doubt take place time and again if someone tried to block Kitchen’s path to chairman. Besides, who the chairman is might be a big deal to some people but it’s no big deal at all to most.
Here’s another thing. I wrote a few weeks ago about Ron’s leadership style and said I could find no one who said they were big Ron supporters. Well, the truth is Ron has lots of support in Sugarmill Woods, where he lives. Here’s part of an email that a community leader sent County Administrator Randy Oliver, which I saw in my weekly email review:
“I also chair our monthly meetings with Commissioner Ron Kitchen. I call them our Kitchen Table Meetings which I think appropriately lends itself to Ron’s open, direct and no frills style of communication. I’ve been doing this for six or seven years now. I’m a big fan of Ron.
“Ron has been very complimentary about you and your efforts within Citrus County. We seldom, if ever, have a discussion where your name doesn’t come up. You’re a valuable asset to the management of our community. Your efforts do not go unnoticed. Thank you for what you do!”
So, Ron, we’re all pulling for you and for this county commission to have a successful year.
Two other things about Tuesday:
– Scott Carnahan gets an opportunity to do what’s not been done, at least that I could find.
Carnahan will chair a special county commission meeting the same day a new chairman is chosen.
The clerk’s online meeting minutes go back to 2006, and I could find no other instance of the county commission scheduling anything other than the organizational meeting that day. Nothing to stop that from happening; the organizational meetings generally have full agendas as well.
But it’s still odd. Carnahan will be chairman in the morning and Kitchen in the afternoon. Unusual things in government like that always catch my attention.
– Commissioner Jeff Kinnard is coming back to the board with some ideas of how to approach the Pirate’s Cove property. The owners turned down the county’s initial offer, and Kinnard’s support on the board for this idea is lukewarm at best.
But it shouldn’t be because it’s a good idea Kinnard has. We should be encouraging the protection of valuable open space in this county instead of immediately shutting down the idea because of money. We are not going to ANYWHERE if the first question is how do we pay for it. Of course we have to be smart, but if the reaction is no to every single good idea that comes down the pike – well, that’s just ridiculous.
Leaders don’t say no just to say no. They try to devise plans to make good ideas work. This is a great opportunity for county commissioners to sit back, think a little, and listen to Kinnard’s pitch. Maybe it works, maybe it doesn’t. But the public deserves a good informed discussion.
Many years ago at the Chronicle I had a landfill story.
Not just any landfill story. It was a story about a liner at the landfill not working correctly. If memory serves me right, it was punctured and the landfill folks didn’t want anyone to hear about it.
So of course, we heard about it.
This was a long, long time ago. I doubt anyone working today for Citrus County government, with few exceptions, was around then.
I recall the story being a big deal and the county having to make it right. One day in the courthouse I ran into the department director whose job included oversight of the landfill. He and I had been conversing quite a bit lately, much to his consternation.
“Why do you have so much interest in the landfill?” he asked me.
“People,” I answered, “are just interested in where their garbage goes.”
So let’s talk about that.
The county has a special meeting at 9 a.m. Tuesday to decide whether to move forward with the mandatory garbage plan. I looked at the agenda and there’s a lot of numbers with three choices for commissioners that include some combination of residential garbage/recycling/yard waste pickup.
The plans range from $259 a year to $344. Unlike paying monthly or quarterly, like most people do now if they have private garbage hauling, this amount will go on your tax bill. The program would start Oct. 1, 2022.
This “universal” garbage collection/disposal idea has bounced around since the late 1980s, when voters passed a non-binding referendum for mandatory garbage, but no county commission since then has pulled the trigger. At least twice, before this time, commissioners seriously considered but eventually declined.
A few things to consider going into Tuesday.
– Commissioners more or less promised whatever they come up with won’t cost more than what you’re paying now. Plans on the table Tuesday start a low of $21.60 a month to a high of $28.60, when you break down the annual amount. You tell me how that stacks up to what you’re now paying.
– Because this is a bid process, all the attention Tuesday is on the bottom line. The recommendation is for the lowest bid, Waste Pro, which was the lowest of three companies by a mile. (Waste Pro is also the county’s recycling contractor.)
So how does customer service fit into this? Good question, JWC. I’m not sure. I don’t know whether Waste Pro’s customers love ‘em or hate ‘em, or somewhere in between, but shouldn’t that be a part of the decision?
– Waste Pro aside, some people just don’t want to give up their private hauler. That is certainly a valid point, and I look forward to what commissioners say about that. The cities have both done it, and quite successfully, but commissioners are prepared for an earful from those folks.
Semi-related, I usually review one commissioner’s email each week, mixing them up. I picked this up a few weeks ago reviewing Commissioner Ruthie Davis Schlabach’s email:
Citizen: “I am 1000% OPPOSED to any one-size fits all trash service. I am satisfied with the family owned trash service I have now!!!”
Schlabach: “I agree with you 1000%.”
–By the way, haulers generally hate this idea. The law requires the county to start a three-year clock, which it did in early2019, warning haulers their Citrus County business may be ending unless they get the county contract (or contracts if it turned out that way). That means come October 2022, when this would take effect, all haulers but the chosen one(s) are out of luck.
The potential of giving pink slips to local residents put a shiver up the spine of commissioners the last time the garbage discussion got this far. Situation is much different in that none of the three bidders are local companies, though it makes me wonder about the fate of whatever local haulers out there that did not bid, such as Beverly Hills Waste Management, which is associated with Rolling Oaks Utilities.
– A huge issue in the past were the thousands of people who don’t have a hauler and take their own garbage to the landfill. It’s super convenient and relatively inexpensive, especially those on a tight budget.
Problem is, from a business standpoint, it’s a money killer for the landfill. Taxes don’t pay for the landfill. Tipping fees and the $27 annual disposal fee most people pay – that’s what operates the landfill. When 70% of your customers are responsible for 30% of your revenue – well, I’m sure you see the problem. The $27 annual fee is merged into the new fee.
– Finally, and here’s the wildest wild card, I’m not really sure how the public feels about this. In general, there’s a lot of tax anxiety out there for sure. A lot of folks were not thrilled with the county’s stormwater tax. How that connects to this, at all, who knows?
That said, there’s been general support for mandatory garbage in Citrus County for years. Most believe it’s a very good idea. As with most things, devil’s in the details and this board will want to have that stuff ironed out.
Tuesday isn’t the final say, it’s just the bid award. But we’re getting closer. Have an opinion? Now’s a good time to speak out.
We interrupt this week of thanks for a map of something no one really wants.
It’s the Florida Turnpike extension! You know, that thing we’ve been waiting for over the last nearly 40 years to connect Florida’s Turnpike at Wildwood to, well, SOMEWHERE west.
The Suncoast Parkway is just months away from opening at S.R. 44, an event that has Citrus County business and political leaders giddy.
Not so much with the turnpike plan. It may be even less giddy now that the state is showing two proposed toll road alignments through our community where there is no such plan now.
FDOT maps show four proposed alignments to take the turnpike from Wildwood at I-75 to U.S. 19 north of Crystal River.
Two of the alignments cut swaths through Sumter, Marion and Levy counties, meaning they are almost certain to fail. Local governments in those communities have already objected to similar toll road plans in the past.
Two of the alignments cut through parts of Citrus, including one rather aggressive route slicing right through Citrus Springs along W. Hampshire Boulevard.
This turnpike plan may be new but the concept has been around since the 1980s when the state said it would extend the turnpike to Lebanon Station, a dot on the map 25 miles north of Crystal River. Those plans never went anywhere.
We know state politicians want to create a toll road network in northwest Florida. It’s to connect urban areas to one of the few regions in Florida we can go to escape such places.
Citrus County’s political and business community leaders were right on board with the Suncoast Parkway from the start. It was quite the debate around here for years between the pro- and anti-parkway folks. The pro-parkway side won out, obviously.
However, unlike the parkway, I can’t find a single cheerleader for the turnpike extension. Not one.
It’ll be interesting to see where this goes. The legislation requires the Florida Department of Transportation to have a turnpike extension plan that includes a “logical and appropriate terminus” by December 2022. The state apparently believes that terminus is U.S. 19 between Crystal River and Chiefland.
FDOT has a public meeting at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 7 at CF in Lecanto. The county commission meets the week before – 1 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 30 at the courthouse. I mention this because the board has not taken a position one way or another on the turnpike. Might be nice to hear their views on this.
If you live near the yellow areas on the map, pay attention but keep this in mind: It took nearly 20 years for the state to continue the parkway north from U.S. 98.
Big shout-out to David Schraml of Citrus Springs, whose letter to the editor in Saturday's Chronicle spelled out how to find the maps. Click here and the turnpike project info should pop up; if not, type in project number 14480 in the little box to the left. And share the post, please, so we can get these maps out there for folks to see.
So, what do you think? Does this turnpike extension make good sense for Citrus County?
PART 4 OF 4
The next time I get the bright idea to write a four-part series on the inner politics of county government, just kick me in the shin.
I mean…let’s not take ourselves too seriously, OK? The county commission will pick a chairman on Nov. 30 and on Dec. 1 the sun will rise.
My, um, plan was to go into detail about "protocol" for this fourth installment but forget that. I’ll say this: Protocol is important sometimes and sometimes it’s not. There you have it.
I’ve made a career writing about Citrus County politics. City council, mosquito board, state Legislature…if there’s a candidate on the ballot there’s a real good chance our paths have crossed.
But my focus has always been the county commission. Many aspects of our lives in Citrus County pass in some form by the county commission.
To follow candidates through the campaign season, and to talk with the winners on Election Night – it’s pretty special stuff. County commission winners are so eager to get started and do good.
So it’s entirely demoralizing when it doesn’t work out that simply. I saw a Chronicle Soundoff a few weeks ago from someone upset with something Commissioner Ruthie Davis Schlabach did. The person said he voted for Schlabach and now regretted it.
I got to know Ruthie during her unsuccessful campaign in 2018 and then the winning one last year. She is sincere and well meaning. I don’t agree with everything she does, but I have never doubted that she has Citrus County’s best interest. (This is the commissioner who writes personal thank-you notes to folks who contribute to the new animal shelter.)
To have someone say they regretted voting for her because of one issue – that’s a kick in the gut. They’ve all felt it.
And, despite the political upheaval of recent weeks, I feel that way about all five. In over 30 years of observing county government, I can recall only one or two commissioners whose motives were questionable. No, I’m not naming names and none are in office currently.
Scott Carhanan, Holly Davis, Jeff Kinnard, Ron Kitchen Jr., Ruthie Schlabach – these folks are our neighbors, our friends. We see them at church, in the grocery store or at one of the many community functions that are thankfully beginning to spring up again.
Look. I love Citrus County politics and sometimes it ain’t pretty. But it doesn’t have to be ugly or petty. Despite our differences, don’t we wish our commissioners success?
I need to get into a better habit of encouraging commissioners instead of constantly poking at them. Criticism will come when needed, but after a while it’s just noise.
I’m sure they’d like to hear from you as well, especially during the holidays. Here’s how to reach your commissioners:
Chairman Scott Carnahan: email@example.com
Commissioner Ron Kitchen Jr.: firstname.lastname@example.org
Commissioner Ruthie Schlabach: email@example.com
Commissioner Holly Davis: firstname.lastname@example.org
Commissioner Jeff Kinnard: email@example.com
PART 3 OF 4
Talked to a friend Tuesday morning about why I think the role of county commission chairman is important.
In general it works like this: Good chairmen are really, really good and bad chairmen are really, really bad. We’ve had both kinds, though most fall in the middle.
But in three decades of writing about county commission chairpersons, only one comes to mind. Got that? One. And not for a bad thing.
Anyone who thinks county politics is a little crazy now should return to 2016, Scott Adams’s final one on the county commission.
For you Citrus County newbies, I’ll just say this about Scott. He was elected in 2012 to find fraud under every rock and he spent the next four years looking (didn’t find any). That's him in the photo making a point of some sort during a board meeting.
Adams was controversial and blunt. In your face. Insulting. He had a habit of bragging about his own business success while talking down to fellow board members. He wrote long emails to the FBI and FDLE alleging all sorts of crazy in county government.
And, boy, could that guy argue. Not just that. It was the accusatory tone – you must be doing something wrong if you don’t tell me what wrong you’re doing – that really set off Ron Kitchen.
As in Chairman Ron Kitchen Jr., who in February 2016, would do something I’ve never seen or even heard of:
Kitchen adjourned a meeting early because Adams refused to play nice.
You have to understand the significance of this. Ending the meeting before it’s supposed to end without a good reason (fire alarm, pending hurricane, that sort of thing) is an outrageous failure of local government. That’s why chairmen tend to let commissioners ramble on about this, that and the other thing. The alternative, well, no chairman wants to go there.
There’s only three possible outcomes for the unruly commissioner:
– Everyone on the board gets up and leaves, which would have left Adams tossing fraud allegations on an empty podium. While occasionally I’ll see a single commissioner do this, and that’s really rare, having four commissioners walk out hasn’t happened.
– The chairman has the commissioner removed via sheriff’s deputy. That would be a heck of a tough call. Nobody ever wants to see that. I’ve seen chairmen toss agitated citizens, but no commissioners yet.
– The chairman adjourns the meeting early. The least offensive of the three choices, and that’s where Kitchen went on Feb. 23, 2016.
I’m not going to rehash the whole thing. You can search for the stories or video. I was there and it was ugly for sure. Adams made accusations, Kitchen repeatedly asked him to knock it off and finally other commissioners said they’d had enough.
For two people who argued a lot, Adams and Kitchen have strikingly similar patterns. Both have personalities that can be very charming or very agitating depending on the circumstances. The outrage we’re hearing from corners of the community about Kitchen becoming chairman at the end of this month was just as loud with Adams’s antics while he was in office.
But the difference is huge: Everyone complained, whined, moaned and said Adams was embarrassing the county, but only Chairman Kitchen had the audacity to actually shut the guy down.
So when people ask me, “Is being chairman really all that significant?” I answer, “Heck yeah!” We’ll never know, but I’m convinced that Kitchen’s actions that day, combined with many other factors, was the start of the end of Adams’s popularity. People saw that and wondered, “Geez, is that behavior really necessary?”
This we do know: Adams lost re-election to a guy whose platform centered on him knowing how to behave properly.
So that brings us to today. The county commission has an organizational meeting, like an annual meeting, on Nov. 30 where they’ll pick a new chairman. Kitchen, vice chairman now, is in line for it. There’s a vocal group out there who don’t want that to happen.
Look. Ron Kitchen deserves every single criticism, just as I’ve earned mine. He is who he is. As mentioned the other day, he purposely cuts himself off from huge swaths of Citrus County residents and brags about it. He’s not shy.
I’m not sure about Chairman Kitchen in 2022. Maybe he’ll be a great one, maybe he’ll be a lousy one.
It’s been a little testy with him lately, and on Tuesday I found this quote from that February 2016 meeting:
“We cannot discuss anything with you because the only thing you know how to do is talk louder and more,” Kitchen told Adams. “The only answer you know is to yell and insult people.”
Let’s please hope those old days are gone.
PART 2 OF 4
What went down with the Library Guy? Why is Commissioner Ron Kitchen Jr. suddenly his hero?
As we’ve said, the Library Guy and his anti-library leanings are not the issue here. Everyone is entitled to an opinion and that includes Library Guy and his friends.
But Kitchen’s reaction to Library Guy and whatever fiasco occurred at a library board meeting a few weeks ago shows that the senior commissioner may say he supports the administrative staff, but in reality they get chucked under the bus as quickly as anyone else if the mood strikes.
Before we go any further, an important point.
I am in no way critical of Ron Kitchen as a commissioner. He ain’t my cup of tea, but enough folks in this county voted for him as a two-term commissioner. His term is up next year and he says he’s not running again.
That said, I’ll never forget something former Commissioner Dennis Damato told me years ago. He was in office with Scott Adams, and things could get a little hairy. Everyone was up in arms, but not Damato.
I asked Damato about that. Here’s what he said: Adams was only doing what his constituency wanted. Folks voted for him because they wanted a shakeup in the county government and Adams did just that. What a brilliant observation. Since then my approach is each commissioner stands on his or her own, none better or worse than the other.
So this isn’t about Ron Kitchen the commissioner. It’s Ron Kitchen the chairman, the leader of the pack. That position deserves a closer look.
Fortunately, we got that look last week, at the same board meeting when, coincidentally, Commissioners Holly Davis and Ruthie Davis Schlabach later suggested Kitchen might not have the temperament for the chairman’s job.
A quick setup: Library Guy once lived in Miami, lost a good job with the Miami-Dade county government for his hateful views, is now trying to unload the very same on the Citrus County libraries and, fortunately for him, Ron Kitchen thinks he’s swell.
Kitchen’s loyalty is to himself and no one else. He claims to care about this county, but then – just to prove a point – nominates a bigot to the library board for the heck of it.
I sat through the meeting and then watched this part twice on video. (I know I should link the video on my Just Wright Citrus website, and I believe soon they’ll make the technology advanced enough for a ninny like me to figure it out.)
Here are three excerpts from Kitchen during the Nov. 9 meeting. My observation follows:
Quote 1: “I find if you agree with someone you’re a great person and if you disagree you’re the devil.”
Kitchen is notorious for shaming people with whom he disagrees. Watch him next time he’s in a tense debate that isn’t going his way. He’ll remind commissioners of every terrible thing they’ve ever done, in his eyes. I’m not being harsh. That’s Kitchen’s debate style and he’s very successful at it.
Ask Schlabach, who gets an earful from Kitchen on the animal shelter when the issue they’re debating has nothing to do with the animal shelter. Kitchen is a master of diversion. Great for a commissioner, but for chairman?
Quote 2: “We’re not banning anything. This goes back to the New York Times. If you want to see a media divide a community, because that’s what we’re all about today folks. If you want to control a population, divide them. Divide them and scare them, and that’s what we’re dealing with today.”
Even as I’m reading it back, that is just one of the oddest things I've ever heard from a local public official. I mean…what “media” is he talking about? Who’s discussing this but Just Wright Citrus and the fine folks who participate in our dialogue? We’re hardly CNN.
He’s right about the divide and scare thing though. Again, as a commissioner, have it at. Chairman? Hmmm.
Quote 3: “I plan to nominate – and it probably has zero chance of passing – I plan to nominate Mr. (Library Guy) for that position. It’ll probably go down in flames but it won’t stop me from nominating him.”
And there, you see, right there. That’s the problem.
A spiteful commissioner is one thing. A spiteful chairman, one who openly panders to the audience, I don’t care who you are, that's just bad leadership. Kitchen kept his promise later that day, nominating Library Guy to the library board. Thankfully, his motion didn’t get a second, and then he voted yes to make it a unanimous pick of Shavonna Reid.
This is the context: No commissioner says he/she supports County Administrator Randy Oliver more than Kitchen. Not even close. Yet, just to prove a point – truthfully, I don’t know what to call it – Kitchen willingly nominated someone to a county board who wants both Oliver and the library director fired. Why? There is no logic or common sense to this move. None.
As a commissioner, if that’s Kitchen’s view of loyalty so be it. As the man who runs the public meetings, though, well, there you go.
Let me tell you something. I hate this. I hate writing about this. I’ve had some serious conversations with people the last week that I’d prefer not to have. Why can’t we all just get along?
That’s not our reality at the moment.
I know this reads like a civics lesson. Thanks for hanging in there. Tomorrow Part 3: Does it matter who's chairman? Heck yeah!
PART 1 OF 4
Despite protestations from one side, I’ve been reluctant to point out all of Commissioner Ron Kitchen Jr.’s failings that make him a poor chairman. In no general order: He talks down to people, he’s terrible at maintaining decorum despite his demands that others do, and his sarcasm borders on downright meanness.
Commissioners Holly Davis and Ruthie Davis Schlabach both feel bullied by Kitchen on occasion. His demeanor does not encourage healthy debate. Kitchen doesn’t play fair and he repeatedly brings up issues he’s already lost (animal shelter comes to mind) in an attempt to embarrass or harangue other commissioners, particularly Davis and Schlabach.
He is constantly playing gotcha with people he considers adversaries, and that’s practically anyone who disagrees with him. Kitchen brags that he doesn’t talk to the chamber of commerce, builders alliance or the Chronicle.
Still, despite all that, I was ready to give Kitchen a pass after Davis’s seemingly unsuccessful attempt last week to block Kitchen from assuming the chairman’s gavel on Nov. 30, as is customary for the vice chairman, which Kitchen now is. I give Davis a lot of credit for facing the Chairman Kitchen issue publicly rather than just bury it, but I figured once aired, it was done and best to move on to tackle the many issues on their plate.
And then on Friday I saw an email that changed things.
“I also want to thank Commissioner Ron Kitchen for nominating me to the Library Advisory Board,” the email reads. “Unfortunately none of the other commissioners supported my nomination, so I was not appointed, which means the overwhelmingly liberal board will remain overwhelmingly liberal for now. I hope the lack of support from the rest of the commission doesn’t mean they believe having just one conservative on the nine-member advisory board is more than enough in a county like Citrus.”
The email author? Library Guy.
I read that and thought, holy cow. Kitchen is Library Guy’s hero. That’s fine, weird as it is. But it also means that come January, Library Guy’s hero will be county commission chairman when four of the library advisory board’s nine positions are up for appointment.
Library Guy is the former Miami-Dade public official fired for airing his offensive views about LGBTs. Since moving to Inverness he’s set his hateful eyes on the Citrus County Library System and its director, Eric Head.
Library Guy craves publicity so you won’t see his name here.
Besides, this isn’t about Library Guy. It’s about his favorite commissioner and the likelihood he’ll be named board chairman later this month.
I spoke politics with someone last week for whom I have a great deal of respect. He told me being county commission chairman was no big deal and not worth any fuss.
At first I agreed with his reasoning. But after reflection over the weekend, I decided it was worth spending a few days talking about it.
I’m breaking this into four parts, starting with this one. The next three:
Tuesday: What went down with Library Guy
Wednesday: Does chairman really matter? Heck yeah!
Thursday: Protocol only matters when you want it.
I’m going to be very clear. Just Wright Citrus blogs are based on my research, observations, insight (if any), experience and speaking with actual humans who are in the middle of it. I’m not advocating any side here at all. Yes, Kitchen and I have had our differences and he hasn’t spoken an on-the-record word to me in about two years. That’s totally on him. I've reached out several times hoping for a breakthrough and been met with silence each time.
(And the door is still open, Commissioner Kitchen.)
I know there are a lot of anti-Kitchen people out there. And there are many, many who buy into his no-tax-increase-ever-ever-unless-it’s-something-really-small-or-we-call-it-a-fee-then-it’s-OK way of thinking.
One of five on the board is one thing, holding the gavel is something else.
Kitchen always says the county should not fear scrutiny because it only proves they’re doing something right or not. Well, let’s try that a little this week.
Watched much of Thursday’s Veterans Day parade in downtown Inverness talking with Patricia Thomas, the retired judge, who told me an amusing story.
Parades are awesome but especially for elected officials who participate. Some ride in the open air, sitting atop the rear seat of a convertible (MUCH harder than it looks to not fall off), while others are behind the wheel. School board folks tend to walk even though there’s a perfectly able school bus following them.
Trish – and just about everybody who knows Judge Thomas knows her as Trish – said she’d be riding in the parade when folks along the parade route would call out the judge’s name. But not HER name.
“Judge Judy! Judge Judy!”
–As I said, politicians love parades and they should. They’re just flat out a lot of fun. Thursday’s political participants included Commissioners Ruthie Davis Shlabach, Holly Davis and Jeff Kinnard; all five school board members and Superintendent of Schools Sandra “Sam” Himmel.
And one candidate: County Commission District 2 Republican Diana Finegan, who so far is the only local candidate for any office. Finegan is just hitting on all cylinders. She attends board meetings, pays attention, and is doing her homework. It’s a name to watch.
—Former Commissioner John “JJ” Kenney was master of ceremonies for the 11th Hour Service and I had forgotten what it’s like to hear JJ sing the National Anthem. It’ll stop you in your tracks, that I’ll say.
JJ, by the way, had a pretty straight-forward campaign slogan when he ran against, and defeated, Gary Bartell. It was 2010 and Bartell had served 20 years in office.
JJ’s approach: “I ain’t him.”
It wasn’t that JJ was a toss-in candidate. He was the county’s veterans service officer and had solid chops in the community. But he also leaned heavily on the “time for a change” approach and, in this case, it worked.
While in office, JJ also famously referred to Duke Energy as a “bunch of thugs” in 2012 during a huge tax dispute that cost the county millions of dollars. It’s safe to say Duke and the county get along just fine these days.
And it’s awesome knowing JJ can still bring shivers to the crowd on a warm day by singing his love for his country.
OK, so now what?
What happens to a county commission when one member calls out another one publicly, as Holly Davis did Tuesday when she asked Ron Kitchen to consider declining the chairmanship role in 2022?
How does it look when that occurs and Davis loses? Is she, and to some extent Commissioner Ruthie Davis Schlabach, condemned to a year of insults and frustration at the hands of a vengeful chairman?
And what should happen on Nov. 30, when the board chooses its next chairman and Kitchen’s name is nominated, as is expected? Do the commissioners who opposed the appointment vote against him just out of principle?
Um, no. That’s not taking a leadership position. That’s spite.
Let’s get to the point: Kitchen’s appointment as chairman should come on a 5-0 vote. Voting against something on principle might sound like taking the high road, but it can be the opposite. Especially for something like this.
Choosing the board chairman isn’t the same as voting for a tax increase. A commissioner may be on the losing end of a 4-1 vote but still vote against every tax increase because he/she doesn’t like any tax increase. The commissioner then goes to his/her constituents and brag that he/she voted against all tax increases.
While commissioners and political junkies like me see the significance of the chairman, the general public doesn’t. If I went to the Publix parking lot and asked 20 people to name the county commission chairman, 18 wouldn’t.
That isn’t to say the chairman’s role isn’t significant, because it is. I’ve had interesting conversations the last two days with people who really know what they’re talking about, and they don’t see the big fuss with Kitchen as chairman. The chairman is the person who bangs the gavel and runs the meeting and that’s it, they say.
From observing 30 years of county commission chairmen/women, that isn’t necessarily the case. Yes, the chairman runs the meeting. But the chairman is also the de facto mayor of the county commission, the voice and face of the local government. If, as Schlabach pointed out, the chairman (Kitchen) has a feud with the Chronicle or picks who he does interviews with, how does that show leadership on the county’s behalf?
Commissioner Jeff Kinnard acknowledged Kitchen’s public persona flaws.
“I get that Commissioner Kitchen rubs people the wrong way,” Kinnard told me Tuesday evening. He’s a very cut-to-the-point guy.”
And he’s not fun to debate.
“You’ve got to have a really good argument to pull him off a position he’s taken,” Kinnard said. “I can see how he can rub people the wrong way.”
Kinnard’s advice to Davis, Schlabach and others who feel insulted by Kitchen’s antics? Let it go.
“Water off the back,” is how Kinnard put it.
Both Davis and Schlabach made valid points against Kitchen as chairman and I agree with them. But they lost the vote. Time to move on.
It’s common in larger government bodies, especially those divided by political party lines, to have the losing side constantly gripe about losing and blaming the other side when something goes wrong.
That’s generally frowned upon on these five-member boards. Common practice is once something is approved, the one or two on the losing end are supposed to be team players and go along with the vote.
Kitchen is the opposite of that. He manages to wedge in the new animal shelter as an argument against spending money on just about anything. Kitchen lost the vote to borrow money for an animal shelter in Lecanto. Good sport politics says he doesn’t continue to rail against it. Kitchen doesn’t play by those rules (though he expects others to).
I can see how this behavior can be very difficult to newer commissioners. Though they’ve had a year under their belts, both Davis and Schlabach are frustrated by the pace and lack of decorum set by current Chairman Scott Carnahan. They, and some others in the community, didn’t want another year of that and so they urged a change in the top.
That discussion Tuesday was difficult, tough, personal – and absolutely needed. The only time county commissioners can speak with each other about business is during a public board meeting. And, with the next gathering being the Nov. 30 organizational meeting, Davis figured now was a better time to bring it up than at the organizational meeting itself so that Kitchen would have time to reflect on whether he should be chairman or not.
Kitchen is not a “reflect” person. He’s a no-filter guy. Think it, say it, do it – that’s the Kitchen way.
Several people who I respect said Davis was wrong to go that route, that all she did was buy a year of discomfort and unnecessary strife.
I say the strife has been there for a year already, and all Davis and Schlabach did was bring it out into the open. As painful as these talks are, experience says they are an occasional necessary evil to get past hard feelings.
Former Commissioner Vicki Phillips would know. She was a commissioner in 2003 the last time this attempt happened. Phillips nominated vice chairman Gary Bartell as chairman. Josh Wooten nominated Jim Fowler, who was the current chairman. By 3-2 vote, the board chose Fowler.
(Wooten, coincidentally, who is now the chamber CEO, has publicly backed Davis’s attempt to block Kitchen for chairman. Just thought I’d mention that.)
Phillips I’m proud to say, is a regular contributor to Just Wright Citrus. When I posted about what happened Tuesday, including that Kinnard thought the issue would fade, she wrote:
“Kinnard is so right. This will pass.”
Nov. 30. Ron Kitchen Jr. is chosen chairman on a 5-0 vote. Not everyone likes it. But it’s a smart move for Citrus County.
Mike Wright has written about Citrus County government and politics for 36 years.