Tuesday night illustrated why I love local elections.
It is during the election cycle that candidates and voters gather to discuss items of significance. It’s a time for incumbents to reflect on successes and their opponents to offer a new path.
Best off, though, is an election provides the forum for citizens to get in their 2 cents.
And the voters of Inverness are certainly getting theirs, based on what I saw and heard during the Chronicle forum Tuesday at the Valerie Theater. (Click here to watch it.)
For the first time in years, Inverness has a true election.
Seat 1 has David Ryan, a 9-year incumbent who has never before faced voters. His challenger is Crystal Lizanich, a wife and mother, 4-year resident of Inverness, who has some rather pointed observations about the council’s interaction with its citizens.
Mayor Bob Plaisted has opposition from Max Schulman, who also has some definite ideas different from the status quo. He also calls Plaisted “Mayor Bob” just like the rest of us in Inverness. I think that’s pretty cool.
Let’s break it down:
First off, what a great setting for a small-town political debate. Who doesn’t enjoy their Valerie Theater experiences? And a decent turnout — 50 to 75, with half sitting up front sporting Plaisted yellow-themed T-shirts.
Kudos to Chronicle Publisher Trina Murphy and Editor Jeff Bryan for a well-run event.
Now, let me walk you through this, because it’s pretty much the theme for the entire city election.
The incumbents, Plaisted and Ryan, have a nearly identical approach: Great things have happened in Inverness while they’ve been in office, the current city council meshes well, so no need to mess with something that works for the city’s benefit. It’s very difficult to argue with that.
The challengers, Schulman and Lizanich, have nothing but admiration for all the city has done. They are both complementary of the incumbents and the city staff. I didn’t hear a single criticism about any of the projects that the city has undertaken.
Their focus, rather, is on what the city is NOT doing. Schulman believes the mayor should have a stronger role in city government; Lizanich says the city’s website is woefully outdated and citizens don’t have simple access to important city information.
And there’s the rub. Those concerns are legitimate as well, but the current city council doesn’t see that at all.
The city council was well represented Tuesday. Along with Ryan and Plaisted as candidates, the remaining council members — Linda Bega, Gene Davis, Jacquie Hepfer, and Cabot McBride — sat together (the county attorney would have a coronary if she saw commissioners doing that). I could tell afterward some were none too happy to hear what they consider unjustified criticism of their hard work.
That may be a blow to their pride, but it’s good to have these conversations outside of City Hall where citizens feel more empowered to participate. An election, particularly when there hasn’t been one for a while, provides that opportunity for re-examination that you’re just not going to get at ordinary city council meetings.
Inverness voters are the beneficiaries of this process. At a time when Inverness, like the rest of Citrus County, is undergoing transition, this election gives a clear choice in both races: stay the course or change.
We heard excellent views from four people who clearly have the city’s best interest at heart. (Unlike Library/Labriola Guy, the candidate who, thankfully, chose not to attend.) All four are giving this election the serious attention it deserves. They’re pleasant to each other and to the public.
Felt good to witness that Tuesday night at the historic Valerie Theater, in my hometown.
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Mike Wright has written about Citrus County government and politics for 36 years.