The Citrus County Commission meets Tuesday, all day in fact, and while the agendas are packed many people are looking at the county administrator issue.
The last time the board met, it conducted a rather ugly public review of County Administrator Randy Oliver. The review itself was OK, but the board’s behavior, particularly from the chairman, was appalling.
It was a few days later that Oliver handed in his resignation, effective end of November or when his replacement takes over, whichever comes first.
Tuesday’s talk is how best to proceed. Naturally, having been through more of these than any of the five commissioners, I have a few thoughts.
First off, bad timing, but Commissioner Ruthie Davis Schlabach is sick and likely not participating in the meeting. More below but that's important to know.
Now, and I mean this with all respect, this board needs to get its act together. Particularly Chairman Ron Kitchen Jr. His remark at the last meeting to Schlabach, “Be careful what you say,” is just the sort of behavior that will stop qualified people from coming here.
Kitchen can be authoritarian chairman or statesman chairman, and it’s entirely up to him and whatever he feels like at the moment. I’ve seen both.
We need statesman Chairman Kitchen for this discussion. Because, whether he likes it or not, Kitchen and agree-with-me Commissioner Scott Carnahan are out the door in November. Kitchen’s role is to help find a great administrator that the three remaining commissioners can thrive with.
Now, having said that, I don’t believe in any lame duck nonsense. These men and women are paid by us to show up for work every day until their replacements take office. Kitchen and Carnahan are in office and deserve to participate in the process like the other three.
But make no mistake: This hire belongs to Commissioners Schlabach, Holly Davis and Jeff Kinnard, They’ll have no one but themselves to blame if they let Kitchen and Carnahan hijack it.
(Kinnard, in particular. His voice is often one of reason. He seeks common ground and rarely makes a fool of himself. Not saying he knows how to pick an administrator more than anyone else, just saying he’s got a calm matter-of-fact way of doing things and we could use a little calm right now. Seeing him step up would be a move in the right direction.)
Finding an administrator with the right mix of finances, management, understanding of Florida government law and sense of community is tough enough. But to paraphrase from one of my favorite movies, “Nice administrators won’t come to a slaughterhouse.”
The kind of administrators we want will stay a hundred miles away from a 3-2 board run by an authoritarian chairman. Who can blame them? The work lifespan of a successful county administrator is five to seven years if things work out well. These folks, the good ones I’m talking about, they’re selective. It’s got to be a right fit, and that’s hard to find with commissioners who don’t get along.
Somehow these five, who have yet to find that sweet spot, have got to gel. I’m skeptically optimistic. Let’s try to get the process off to a smooth start and see where it goes.
Speaking of that, the first smart move is to make no major moves right away. Schlabach is home sick and, as of this writing Monday night, will not be able to participate in Tuesday's board meeting even remotely. (A little prayer for Ruthie: Get well!)
In years past, on those rare occasions when all five should be in on the conversation because the topic is THAT important, I’ve seen commissioners punt the discussion for two weeks because one has an emergency and can’t make the meeting. This certainly seems to fit the bill.
There is no immediate issue that needs to be resolved right away; nothing wrong with talking about it, but they may consider holding off on any particular direction until the next meeting.
I’d feel the same way if it was Carnahan or Kitchen unable to attend. This group of five have never hired an administrator. It’s a pretty significant occasion. All five should be in on it from the start.
Let’s not make this harder than it should be. With Statesman Chairman Kitchen and a county commission eager to help usher in a new era, a year from now our new administrator will be thanking his/her lucky stars for discovering a place called Citrus County.
P.S. Didja guess the movie?
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Mike Wright has written about Citrus County government and politics for 36 years.