It was either a stroke of extraordinary leadership or the political blunder of all time.
An hour after Commissioner Holly Davis tried to stop Commissioner Ron Kitchen Jr. from becoming chairman at the end of this month, I had heard from both camps.
One said Davis had shown great courage in standing up to the board’s senior member, whose argumentative and combative style leads some to say it borders on bullying.
The other camp said the move was totally unnecessary, that the chairman’s role is insignificant and the only thing Davis accomplished was to divide a board that didn’t need dividing.
And Commissioner Jeff Kinnard, who sat silently watching this all unfold, even as Davis mentioned his name as her choice for chairman, had this to say when I caught up with him by phone a couple hours later:
He then said: “Ron Kitchen is in line to be the chairman. He needs to be the chairman.”
The surprise talk came during Tuesday afternoon at the tail end of a long day. The board had two lengthy workshops in the morning and the regular meeting in the afternoon. By time 4 p.m. rolled around, commissioners were looking at an hour break before hearing a zoning case.
That’s when Davis, asked by Chairman Scott Carnahan if she had anything to add for the day, brought up the chairman topic. Because where Thanksgiving week falls on the calendar, the board doesn’t meet again until Nov. 30 – the day they pick a new chairman.
Davis used an analogy on Kitchen that pretty much said: Some of us are sails in the wind, eager for the next adventure. Some are anchors stuck in the sand, going nowhere. You can guess which one Davis compared to Kitchen.
And off we went.
After Davis asked Kitchen to consider declining the chairmanship, he responded that he had heard there was a potential “coup” taking place, even claiming that he had PREPARED not to accept the chairman’s role “until I found out there was this coup attempt not to make me chair.”
Commissioner Ruthie Davis Schlabach chimed in that it bothered her that Kitchen doesn’t talk to the Chronicle. Kitchen responded that he respects Chronicle reporter Mike Bates (as do I) and would grant him and him alone an interview. He then went on a familiar tirade against the Chronicle and retired Publisher Gerry Mulligan (though it’s a bit of a mystery to me why he still shuns the Chronicle when the two people he despised the most no longer work there).
This went on for a few more minutes. Davis and Schlabach saying they had been “pressured” by some in the community to block Kitchen from becoming chairman. Carnahan demanded to know who these people are, which is a ridiculous demand since all commissioners are influenced by someone (except Kitchen, apparently, who said no one has “control” over him).
“If you don’t want me as chair, fine, it won’t hurt my feelings,” Kitchen said, though he indeed seemed insulted.
The debate ended with no resolution. Then, as luck would have it, Carnahan had to leave and Kitchen ended up chairing the zoning hearing at 5 p.m.
So now what? The political line of thinking would suggest Davis and, to a lesser extent, Schlabach are sunk for calling out the next chairman. Surely it’s a year of hell for them both, right?
Not necessarily. It’s my experience that these things happen from time to time and everyone recovers nicely. It’s a board of five individuals, each trying his or her best to do what he or she thinks is best. Sometimes one commissioner’s best looks worse to another commissioner. So it goes.
They’re like a family – skirmishes rise to the surface every so often. So long as the animosity dissipates, that’s what counts.
Kinnard thinks it will.
“Let’s not get tied up in what happened in 15 minutes,” he said. “You got some feathers ruffled. Social media will have fun with it, but we’ve got bigger issues to tackle.”
The guy who hates the library but wants on the library board sure knows how to make an impression.
Library Guy, as he will now be known here, showed up at the Citrus County Library Advisory Board’s Oct. 26 meeting looking for trouble, according to numerous emails and conversations I’ve had the last few days.
As I wrote last week, Library Guy is a former Miami resident now living in Inverness. He lost his job as a media aide for the Miami-Dade county commission after he wrote hateful things about LGBT persons and refused to attend sensitivity training.
He complained to the Citrus County Commission in June about a Pride Month display at the library. The commission’s general reaction then, and every time he’s brought it up since then, was uniform support for Library Director Eric Head.
Library Guy is one of two applicants the county will consider today for a spot on the library board; fortunately, the excellent alternative is Shavonna Reid, a recent graduate of Leadership Citrus (as am I from the Great Class of ‘04).
Now Library Guy wants the library director fired, the county administrator fired and county commissioners to Do Something. Basically, Library Guy wants a fight and he’s enlisted others who stand by him.
They’ve written emails to county commissioners demanding action. However, Library Guy is either misinformed about past board nonaction on his smear campaign or he’s simply choosing to ignore it.
Library Guy is portraying himself as a victim from the Oct. 26 library board meeting at Lakes Region Library. It’s a public meeting and he had his say, but then confronted these volunteer board members afterward to demand why he wasn’t answered.
(For the record, there’s no rule that says board members have to say boo to anyone. The law requires time for the public to speak; it doesn’t require a response. While we obviously would prefer interaction between public and official, silence is best when the person asking the questions is just spoiling for a confrontation.)
After the meeting, Library Guy badgered board members to answer his questions. They just wanted to get the heck out, and when Library Guy attempted to video record one board member, she bumped the phone from his hand and it fell to the floor.
(Library Guy posted a 6-second video on YouTube. I’m not going to link it, but I could be convinced otherwise if someone has a thought on that.)
Not surprising, accounts of exactly what transpired differ. The county suggested all involved contact the sheriff’s office if they believe they were a victim of something.
Not that the county itself didn’t respond. The library board meetings are moving from the library to the Lecanto Government Building Room 166, which has video and audio recording equipment in place. So there are no misunderstandings.
I want you to wrap your hands around all that. This is the LIBRARY. Other than the bizarro, larger-than-life New York Times scandal of 2019, the Citrus County Library System is quiet as a mouse and should be. Nothing to see here.
County commissioners should treat Library Guy and his pals that way. Listen politely and move on. This is a distraction caused by people looking for trouble. That’s it. Simple as can be. Easy peasy.
Maybe once upon a time we’d be OK with bantering around this nonsense for a few weeks or months. Today we don’t have that luxury. Citrus County is facing major growth issues concerning water quality, taxes, fees, recreation, sewers, roads, yahoos on the water – the list is seemingly endless.
Give no weight to silliness. Let’s keep our eye on the prize.
Citrus County commissioners are going to talk Tuesday morning about potentially asking voters for a sales tax increase to pay for residential road repaving.
Just Wright Citrus opinion: Bad idea. And here’s why:
Not only will voters torpedo this flunky in 2022, it’ll kill chances for a sales tax increase for any decent idea – and there are plenty – for years.
So let’s get into it.
First off, few will disagree that the county has a ton of neighborhood roads that need resurfacing. I’m not going to go into the details of how many years at the current pace it’ll take before all the streets are repaved, and how we’ll always be behind the pace and all that. I absolutely concede the point. We’ve got a lot of roads – not just in Citrus Springs but that’s where most of them are – that are in need of attention.
But it’s a policy decision of the county commission to prioritize repaving neighborhood streets, which makes it a political one.
There’s a widely held, but untrue, belief that prior to the 2014 election of Scott Carrnahan and Ron Kitchen Jr., the county didn’t have a street-repaving program. In fact, the county regularly spent at least $1 million to $2 million a year on road resurfacing, but it was done somewhat quietly. Not the big whup-to-do it is today.
But just prior to 2014, the county significantly dropped resurfacing and shifted that money into the medical corridor plan for C.R. 491. The public hated the medical corridor idea, especially after finding out residential road repaving suffered because of it. I’m sure that’s one of the biggest reasons Carnahan and Kitchen were elected.
So it seemed politically prudent at the time to move money from the medical corridor back into residential road resurfacing, and then some. In 2018, commissioners moved $8.7 million into resurfacing and have spent $22 million on it since then. It now has everyone’s attention.
Truthfully, it’s anyone’s guess where the sales tax for roads idea came from. The only time I recall commissioners talking about a sales tax increase for roads, it was in the negative. We know Carnahan in September thought it was a done deal but a month later said it has zero chance of passing.
He’s likely correct. The public obviously supports the road paving program but does it consider it the county’s BIGGEST need? Because that’s basically what the county would be saying. This penny sales tax, which could raise an estimated $17 million a year – with a portion paid by our friends the tourists – is BEST used in this fashion.
I doubt voters will consider it the most important. I peruse the county commission email and see complaints about bad roads – and lack of bicycle trails, and loud airboats, and don’t raise my taxes and…you get the drift. Does repave neighborhood streets rise to the level where 50% plus one will vote to tax themselves? Based on what I’ve seen, read and heard, no. Closer to 35% maybe.
Putting a bad referendum on the ballot not only puts the county back in the same financial spot – big problem, no way to pay for it – but it’ll sour the public mood for any kind of sales tax increase for at least two full election cycles, or eight years.
Commissioner Jeff Kinnard seemed to sum it up best when the board briefly discussed the sales tax at its Oct. 26 meeting. Sounding like he favors in general a sales tax idea, Kinnard said:
“I’m not sure using it for residential resurfacing gets us there.”
A sales tax increase for publicly supported projects, with huge public buyin, is the way to go. We should target 2024 to allow what will possibly be a county commission with two new faces next year, time to gel with each other and the public.
Sales tax increase? Perhaps. But not for this. Commissioners should leave this idea by the side of the road.
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Mike Wright has written about Citrus County government and politics for 35 years.