Let’s talk this Tuesday about demeanor on the campaign trail.
After the last two years of authoritarian chairmen, don’t we want five county commissioners who get along? Nothing wrong with 3-2 votes, so long as it’s all professional and one commissioner doesn’t hog the discussion.
How well should we expect our five commission candidates to play with others? Let’s dive into it.
First off, I know all five. Some, better than others. In District 4, I’d worked with John Murphy Jr. at the Chronicle for two decades until my retirement a year ago, and I covered the county commission when both Winn Webb and Rebecca Bays were in office. As far as I know, I’m on good terms with all three.
In District 2, Diana Finegan and I were 2004 Leadership Citrus classmates. I didn’t know much about Stacey Worthington prior to her campaign starting in January, but we’ve had a crash course on building a professional relationship since then.
Bays, Murphy, Webb and Worthington have been nothing but gracious to me and everyone I know during this campaign. I haven’t heard a peep from anyone about their behavior. All four are encouraging a wide range of public support. And the more we interact, the more comfortable I feel with each.
Then there’s Finegan. I’m going to mention two instances that have my attention.
Red flag one: Rarely a good idea, unless it’s strategic for some reason, to insult the people you want to work with.
During the county commission’s budget hearing last week, Finegan went to the microphone to offer public comment. (Here’s the video link. Finegan’s remarks start around 2:37.)
After reading a letter of support of the sheriff’s budget from the Save the Homosassa River Alliance, Finegan offered her personal opinion:
“We can accomplish what the sheriff wants without raising the millage at all. I feel like the sheriff has the onus of protecting us. He does not have the onus of the millage rate. I don’t think it’s right (to) express to taxpayers he wants to keep our deputies here when there's an exodus of them currently, and that it would be his budget that would be increasing the millage. I think the money’s there.”
I’ll stop for a moment. It’s a heck of a position for a commission candidate: Give the sheriff what he wants, no questions asked, and don’t blame him if taxes go up because of it.
“I’ve reviewed last year’s budget and this year’s proposed budget. We talk about transparency, it’s not at all very transparent. We are putting a lot of money into bringing tourists here and for economic development, which is great, but we can’t not have our people safe at the same time. $4 million is proposed in the budget, a million over last year, for just bringing tourists.
“And we talk about transparency. A line item on this is just a million dollars for ‘special projects’ with no explanation. I’m sure there’s a good explanation, but when we’re talking about budget transparency, we need to look at the full budget, not just the sheriff.”
First off, if I’m hearing her right, Finegan is suggesting we move tourist funds to the sheriff instead of raising taxes. Can’t happen. The tourist tax pays for the tourism budget, not road deputies.
Telling commissioners the budget isn’t transparent — whatever that means — when Finegan’s grasp of the budget is, say, suspect, is just asking for trouble. Neither Commissioners Ruthie Davis Schlabach nor Holly Davis — her future colleagues if elected — were pleased. Seemed like a gotcha moment and totally unnecessary.
Which leads to unnecessary red flag two: Diana isn’t talking to me.
Yeah, big deal, right? Get over yourself Just Wright Citrus.
Here’s the issue. I’ve had relationships with politicians of all calibers. Some relationships are stellar, some not so hot. I always admire a politician’s candor, and I have a practice of not calling out anyone here until we’ve talked first, unless the subject occurred at a public meeting.
From those conversations, more times than not, I make changes before posting the blog. Their perspective is important.
I’m not the only one getting Diana’s cold shoulder. It’s discouraging when a commissioner, or candidate, shuts down someone because their views differ. All that does is close off meaningful conversation.
This is politics. Not everyone is your friend. Doesn’t mean they’re ignored.
I sought a Cattle Dogs chat with Diana before writing this blog. She declined. You can ask her why.
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Mike Wright has written about Citrus County government and politics for 36 years.