You know what drives me crazy? Well, a lot of things, but today’s topic is governments that can’t get along.
You may have read last week that Commissioner Jeff Kinnard wants the county to explore leaving one water district for another water district.
Kinnard says the beef with the Southwest Florida Water Management District is not directly related to a dispute over ownership of the Chassahowitzka River boat ramp, but rather a broader issue many folks are having with permitting and such.
It’s at this point of the blog that I feel like closing my laptop and finding something worthwhile to do.
You see, I’ve written this story thousands of times over 30-plus years. One government agency is upset with another government agency, lawyers for both send emails or letters that express outrage over some thing or another.
Government vs. government is nothing new.
It’s hard to envision the city of Crystal River having an acrimonious relationship with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, but two decades ago when the feds decided to put its wildlife refuge headquarters in a house on Kings Bay Drive and didn’t care about local zoning, council chambers were packed with residents spoiling for a fight.
That simmered down and today everyone seems happy with the refurbished USFWS visitor center on King’s Bay. Other than the occasional battle over manatee interaction and Three Sisters Springs, all is well.
Closer to my home, in 1999 the county and city of Inverness had a huge back-and-forth over the county seat. The county seat is Inverness, right? There’s where the courthouse is.
Well, actually, the county seat extends west of Inverness along S.R. 44, then south on C.R. 491 to county owned property at the jail and Lecanto Government Building.
Why, you ask? Because once upon a time the county wanted to move its commission offices to Lecanto and the only way to do that was to make Lecanto a part of the county seat.
This fight went on for some time, and the county commission had planned a referendum to move the county seat to Lecanto. It was quite divisive. Two commissioners fought for Inverness. Two others were on the Lecanto side.
The late Roger Batchelor ended up switching his vote. The commissioner from Crystal River announced during a board meeting that he no longer supported the Lecanto county seat.
The compromise extended the county seat boundaries from Inverness to include parts of Lecanto with a promise that nothing would actually move from Inverness to Lecanto without a public vote first. When a new county commission( years later voted 3-2 for a non-binding referendum to do just that, Inverness officials went bonkers.
(Politics and economic reality killed the Lecanto county seat idea. In case you were wondering.)
Now. That’s eight paragraphs of my life devoted to a battle between two governments that had zero bearing on anything of substance. Other than tradition, who cares where the county seat is? And once the county bought the Meadowcrest building for the West Citrus Center and started shifting many services of the clerk and supervisor of elections there, the entire thing became somewhat moot.
As for Swiftmud, which is what we call the water management district, the county commission agreed to Kinnard’s suggestion that it look at leaving it for another water management district so long as the public benefits. There are five water districts in Florida, each has about 13 counties (including Swiftmud) and membership in one of the five is not an option.
I like Kinnard and I think he’s a really good commissioner, but this is silly. A waste of taxpayers’ time, money and resources — on both sides.
The county may have a legitimate gripe with Swiftmud. Or it could be just noise. But here’s a suggestion:
Go to your nearest Publix parking lot and ask 20 random people, without explanation, if the county should look at seceding from Swiftmud. I’d be surprised if 18 didn't respond with a deer-in-the-headlights look.
These government battles remind me of Spy vs. Spy. Each trying to one-up the other, except they both work for us. Taxpayers lose no matter who wins.
I’m not discounting issues between the county and Swiftmud. I’m sure they’re substantive or Kinnard wouldn’t be going this route. He’s not one to look for trouble.
It's a matter of priorities. Let's please settle this and move on.
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Mike Wright has written about Citrus County government and politics for 36 years.