NOTE: This post incorrectly said the leaders summit is at CF. The meeting is at the Lecanto Government Building. I apologize for the error, and it's been corrected.
It's a big Friday in Lecanto.
First at 9 a.m. is the “summit”, a gathering of the four local elected policy boards — county commission, city councils and school board --- at the Lecanto Government Building.
At 10 a.m., the College of Central Florida will have a ceremony naming Building C-4, otherwise known as the Learning Conference Center, as the Charles S. Dean Sr. Educational Center.
The CF Foundation is doing this after the Citrus County Hospital Board approved a $1 million scholarship endowment for the campus to assist students in the healthcare field.
An even more ambitious plan, upping the endowment to $4 million and renaming the entire campus after Dean, is still being discussed. But Friday’s naming of the building is a very big deal for CF, Citrus County and the Dean family.
Dean is a big man in all respects. He was sheriff for 16 years, then state representative, then state senator. Ask anyone who’s been around a while and they have Charlie Dean stories. He was a colorful and no-nonsense politician who did things his way.
(Here’s one: That photo was taken recently at Wilton Simpson’s fundraiser for his agriculture commissioner run. Though it was Simpson’s party, every head turned when the “Sheriff” showed up. I bet there’s a hundred photos like that one floating around the county. That’s the Charlie Dean impact.)
This is a huge deal for CF. The ability to provide scholarships to Citrus County residents looking for a career in health care is exactly what this campus needs. Naming the campus’s most recognized building after Charlie Dean signals a significant connection between campus and community.
So all we need now is for all the elected officials to show up for the ceremony.
The leadership summit is commission Chairman Ron Kitchen Jr.’s brainchild from his early years in office.
The idea certainly is plausible: Bringing all the policy-making boards together to discuss significant issues of the county makes plenty of sense. Whether it’s a dog-and-pony show depends on the participants.
Fortunately, they’ve scheduled something of interest right off the bat: State transportation presentation on the Florida Turnpike extension plan, the one that would cut right through Citrus County (possibly) and end (possibly) at U.S. 19 north of Crystal River.
That will be a very interesting discussion because, so far, the reaction from commissioners and city council members has been lukewarm for the turnpike. I know at least one participant Friday wants the group to take a stand for or against. Others have been very reluctant to do that without more information despite citizens nervous about another toll road slicing the county.
There was some talk of canceling the summit due to the Dean ceremony, but the thinking is the summit can take a recess at 10 a.m. and come back afterwards.
By the way, regarding this meeting: The public may attend, of course, but there is no public comment period. So you can see/hear the turnpike presentation but you can’t participate in the discussion, at least not Friday.
I know we write about a lot of controversial stuff at Just Wright Citrus, but this isn’t one of them. It’s a great day for CF and the community. It’s a great day for our elected leaders, and I challenge them to use this time wisely.
The turnpike aside, here are four topics of countywide interest that these elected folks could zero in on:
--- Affordable housing. Workforce housing. Sustainable housing. Whatever moniker you want to use, the lack of affordable places to live places Citrus County in a terrible position. How can a service-based economy, where wages do not compete with the larger cities, survive without having affordable places for those employees to live? It’s a major priority that involves all four boards.
--- Roads/transportation. Everyone has roads and everyone has bad roads. I’m not talking about residential road resurfacing. I’m talking roads like Dunklin Avenue near Citrus Springs, or Gospel Island Road in Inverness. Our school buses are traveling county roads in desperate need of repair. Meanwhile, Crystal River wants to make Turkey Oak Drive an official bypass. It would be good to get the other elected folks on board with that as well.
--- Jobs/WTC. We always hear of the lack of job training for Citrus County industry, and we hear of partnerships with Withlacoochee Technical College to train workers for specific tasks. I don’t want to sound like a dummy, but how is that going? Are kids taking these WTC courses and getting jobs because of it? If yes, let’s celebrate. If not, why? Seems like it’s a good topic for all involved Friday.
--- Law enforcement on the water. I realize Sheriff Mike Prendergast doesn’t have a role in the summit, but this is a huge deal for the cities and county. We heard last summer of boating “yahoos” making life miserable for homeowners along the Homosassa River. While commissioners bickered about how to go about addressing it, lots was said but nothing done. Before Prendergast can tell the community what he needs to fix the problem, let’s first hear from the representatives who are closest to the people — and that’s this group.
There you have it. If you’re looking for me Friday, I’ll be in beautiful downtown Lecanto, celebrating success.
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Mike Wright has written about Citrus County government and politics for 36 years.