Friendly faces in the state capital
TALLAHASSEE — Haven’t done that in a while.
A dateline, I mean. It was pretty common in my newspaper days when traveling to type in a dateline. It lets readers know immediately the geographic source of the story.
As I write this, for example, I’m in Room 530 of the Aloft Hotel in our state capital participating in the annual Citrus County Legislative Days.
Organized each year by the Chamber of Commerce and Leadership Citrus, this 1- or 2-day event brings a slew of Citrus County community, business and political leaders to the capital while the Legislature is in Session.
The idea is to hit up as many legislators and agency directors as possible about funding Citrus County projects. And do so as a united front in a wide variety of areas.
The one meeting I never miss is with the Department of Transportation secretary. Suncoast Parkway normally tops the agenda but with parkway construction to U.S. 19 fully funded, that didn’t take on the same urgency this year.
Still, 14 Citrus County business and government leaders attended Wednesday morning’s meeting at the FDOT conference room with Secretary Jared Perdue.
The Citrus delegation, led by John Murphy of the chamber’s legislative affairs committee, provided a list of the county’s road priorities, including:
— Continue parkway to U.S.19.
— Widen U.S. 41 between S.R. 44 and S.R. 200.
— Widen C.R. 491 between Pine Ridge Boulevard and S.R. 200.
— Replace the Withlacoochee River bridge on S.R. 200.
The secretary listened politely but offered few promises or details. He did wonder about the 491 widening, so perhaps that now has his attention.
Later Wednesday, I assigned myself to a meeting with Meredith Ivey, acting secretary of the Department of Economic Opportunity, or DEO. These are the people who issue airport grants, and Citrus is looking in particular for one or two at the Inverness Airport for a new commercial hangar and other improvements.
Not going to get into those weeds, but this agency director engaged with the Citrus County folks, offered specific suggestions and said she’d do her best to help. I believe her.
Two other things about Citrus County Legislative Days:
— All five county commissioners are up here, which chamber CEO Josh Wooten said has never happened during previous Tallahassee trips. That shows dedication to the cause, but it also set up potential Sunshine Law issues with multiple commissioners in the same room together.
I say potential because the gathering alone isn’t a problem.
If the commissioners are quietly listening, all good. It’s when they start getting into the discussion on topics that may come before them for a vote — which would include a good chunk of what these commissioners are here for — that’s when all but one of them should be fleeing for the hills.
My observation over the years, and reinforced Wednesday, is that commissioners take this Sunshine stuff seriously. During the FDOT meeting, as board Chairman Ruthie Davis Schlabach started to talk about a sales tax idea, fellow Commissioner Jeff Kinnard stood up, excused himself and walked out of the room.
Same thing happened in reverse at the DEO meeting. With three commissioners in attendance, conversation was kept mainly to general topics of available grants. The agency’s attorney sat there making sure of it.
Just thought I’d mention that.
— Finally, you never know who you’ll run into during Session. The hotel was about a 15-minute walk to the DEO office and as I’m strolling along, who says hi to me but Richard Corcoran, the former education commissioner who is now president of New College of Florida.
Richard has deep Citrus County roots. His political career started with a thud in 1998 when he was clobbered in a Republican primary for a state House seat. He picked himself up from that, moved to Pasco County, was elected to the Legislature, became Speaker of the House and then Education Commissioner.
Now he’s a college president.
While Richard and I have gone toe-to-toe on occasion over the years, he’s a friend and a good sport. As he was Wednesday, letting me grab a selfie on a midday Tallahassee sidewalk.
Look. You gotta appreciate this stuff or it’s terribly dull and confusing. The state Capitol isn’t my kind of gig, but these visits are chicken soup for the soul.
Good stuff for a small-town political junkie.
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Mike Wright has written about Citrus County government and politics for 35 years.