If you need someone in a pinch to rise to an important task, Gene Davis is the guy. No doubt.
So it wasn’t a big shock when the Inverness City Council appointed Gene to replace Ken Hinkle, who had resigned. The seat is on the November 2022 ballot; anyone who wants it in a more traditional way can seek it then.
Now. I didn’t know all that when city businessman and former Commissioner John Thrumston approached me in Walmart a few weeks ago and wanted to know how the heck the Inverness Council accepted a councilman’s resignation and appointed his successor – all in the same meeting.
That seemed like a reasonable question. Does not the city require public notice when there’s a vacancy on the council?
I went about asking and found an answer: Yes and no. Yes, the city must announce the vacancy, but there is no stated time period for the public to participate in naming the replacement.
Before we go any further, a word about perspective. I’m an Inverness resident for 17 years, a close neighbor of the city’s parks. I love it here and can’t imagine being anywhere but Inverness.
This city is well taken care of. The city council members and city manager are my neighbors, my friends. I trust they know what they’re doing.
So this isn’t to criticize the Inverness City Council in its decision to appoint Gene Davis. It’s to say the city charter has a gaping hole in it that voters can close in 2022 if given the chance.
I attended last Tuesday’s council meeting and went up during public comment – moments after Davis was sworn into office – and said everything I’m saying here.
When it comes to local government, it’s all about public access. Not just whether the public CAN participate, but rather if it is ENCOURAGED to participate. Huge difference.
The Inverness charter, technically, allows for public notice when someone resigns from the council. Paraphrasing: After the city announces a vacancy, it has 30 days to fill it. And it must be a unanimous vote to avoid, depending on the timing, the cost of a special election.
So the charter appears to favor speed and efficiency over public input.
My suggestion was that the charter be amended to include a 30-day public process, giving citizens the chance to either apply for the opening or publicly support someone who did. The city council still has the final say; it’ll just come 30 days after the post is vacant.
I’m a fairly reasonable person in most circumstances, and this seemed reasonable. The city provides public notice in a host of areas – code enforcement, zoning, even when there’s a special council meeting – so it seemed to make sense it would provide notice for an opening on the council.
I’m not sure the council members were following my logic. Councilwoman Jacquie Hepfer, who I’ve known forever and we have a great relationship, told me afterward she didn’t get it. If Gene was such a great choice, and the public rarely shows up at council meetings anyway, what’s the issue?
I’ve heard this from others. Consider it like this:
Inverness and Crystal River are like siblings with opposite personalities. We love them both but don’t assume what works for one works for the other.
Crystal River is fast-paced for a small town. Gobs of tourists and U.S. 19 slicing through your city will do that. The city is well managed, but it also encourages public involvement in trying to figure out what comes next.
Inverness went a different route. Former city manager Frank DiGiovanni ran this town for years, and was very successful at it. There was no need for the city council to encourage public participation because Frank had it figured out. The vision that led to the Depot District came from DiGiovanni, not the ordinary folks.
And we LOVE the Depot District! Maybe a little over the top, but what an incredible addition to the city.
It wasn’t a publicly created vision, but Inverness is not that kind of town. We’re not banging down the city hall doors demanding to get in. Just the opposite. We tend not to get too riled up about much.
So it would make perfect sense for the Inverness City Council members to assume the public has no interest in their inner workings. The efficient and smart move was to ask Gene if he’d take the seat on the city council, and Gene did.
All very logical.
But it’s not good local government. Inverness won’t know if its citizens give a hoot until it asks. Heck, I might be the only one with this line of thinking (although another council member later told me I was on target).
By the way, amending the charter is the most public thing voters can do outside of electing council members. The city council only places it on the ballot; voters decide whether to amend the charter or not.
I sure would appreciate thoughts on this, whether you’re in Inverness or not. Of course, I’ll keep you updated if this progresses anywhere.
And it’s been a beautiful day in Inverness. Like always.
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Mike Wright has written about Citrus County government and politics for 35 years.