Email search can't be a fluke
There’s a standard I try to follow:
I was born at night, but not last night.
It’s from years of writing about politics and government. Meaning, there are few coincidences and if something makes me stop and pause there’s probably a good reason for it.
For example, a single county commissioner asking for the administrator’s email in a formal records request is highly unusual.
Two commissioners separately asking for essentially the same thing in the same format within seven minutes of each — well, that gives me pause.
The fact that both requests were made right around the same time that the administrator was making his intentions known for an exit plan … and you can see where a normal thinking person might want to know just what the heck is up.
So let’s walk through it.
County Administrator Randy Oliver, who said in January he was retiring this year no later than November to help transition in his replacement, has had a change of tune.
He now wants to leave today (March 8). And he wants the county commission to fire him without cause so that he’s entitled to 20 weeks severance. The “separation agreement” is scheduled for 1:40 p.m.
Why this sudden move when he already gave his retirement notice? Let’s go back two weeks.
At the board’s most recent meeting on Feb. 22, Commissioner Holly Davis raised the issue of an employee feedback survey and basically wanted to know why there was no follow-up. There was some bantering back and forth between Davis and board Chairman Ron Kitchen Jr. who is unabashedly the county administrator’s biggest supporter.
Here’s what happened since then, as I gathered through emails and connecting the dots:
— The day after the meeting, Commissioner Ruthie Davis Schlabach asked Oliver for the survey.
“Please send me the employee survey Commissioner Davis spoke about yesterday at the BOCC meeting. Am I the only commissioner that has not been given this information? Once again, I am the odd woman out on the information commissioners are given. I want the survey today. Thank you.”
— Later that same day, Davis wrote in an email to Oliver in relation to his public performance review in January, saying:
“For the record, I see the world - and people - in shades of gray vs black and white. We all have strengths and weaknesses. I felt I had your back on the review - any employee should be honored with actual goals and objectives, legitimate praise for things done well, and supportive feedback on areas of improvement. That is what I sought, but unfortunately the process has been a black and white, you’re either “perfect or fired“ sort of culture. Unfortunate.”
— Oliver sent an email to County Attorney Denise Dymond Lyn the next evening that states, “Denise, for your consideration.” Attached is a document entitled “Citrus County Agreement” and it contains the proposed separation agreement that is on Tuesday’s agenda. The agreement basically calls for the county to terminate Oliver’s contract immediately so he can receive 20 weeks’ severance.
— Now it gets interesting. Oliver sent Lyn the separation memo on Thursday night, Feb. 24. The next morning comes this email from Kitchen Jr. to Lyn, copied to Oliver:
“I am making a public records request for all emails to the county administrator since February 18th. Please provide them as emails to me.”
That was sent at 9:28 a.m.
At 9:35 a.m., Commissioner Scott Carnahan sent this email to Lyn and Oliver:
“I’m seeking a recording [sic] request for Administrator Randy Oliver’s emails from February 14th through February 25th. I hope you have a great weekend.”
Two commissioners. Two nearly identical records requests of the county administrator’s email sent at nearly the same time. No way that's a coincidence.
I read the emails Kitchen requested and found nothing that would run the administrator out of town on a rail. Or anything that goes beyond the scope of a commissioner’s role, which is what Kitchen is suggesting he knows and he’s going to tell us.
“It is important that all parties know and understand their roles in any organization,” his agenda memo reads. “Only, with that understanding will an organization function at optimum efficiency.”
It’s been a while since the public has seen “optimum efficiency” from this board. Today’s a good time to start.
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Mike Wright has written about Citrus County government and politics for 35 years.