It’s Wednesday so let’s talk about our two new county commissioners.
I tend not to make rash calls on freshman commissioners this early in the process. Even with some of the more newsmaking commissioners of yesteryear, it often takes a few months to see which direction they’re headed.
Not counting the annual organizational board meeting in November, Tuesday was just the third time we’ve seen this group together. I gotta say, I’m impressed.
Diana Finegan is a freshman who attended county commission meetings regularly during the campaign and it shows. She asked pointed questions, had insightful opinions. And she won compromises on the few contentious issues discussed Tuesday.
Rebecca Bays had that term on the board a decade ago and it’s clear she’s thinking about today and tomorrow, and she wants her fellow commissioners to do the same thing. Bays went on a mini-rant about the county’s clogged roads and the need for a transportation plan, and she became the FIRST commissioner to start asking for data about the parkway’s impact on county roadways.
Let me break down some of it:
— I mentioned the other day that the agenda included a minor item of setting a public hearing to vacate public ownership of the cul-de-sac directly outside Finegan’s property in Homosassa. I said she’d have to abstain from voting, which is exactly what she did.
But when a citizen suggested Finegan was getting some sort of sweetheart deal because she’s a commissioner, Finegan fought back.
Finegan said the application had no role in her commission job. She said she had hoped it would be settled before the election, but they couldn’t get all requirements done in time.
(I can vouch for that. The application was filed in June and I asked some county folks about it a few weeks before the election. What I was told lines up with Finegan’s response.)
I admire a commissioner with spunk. She didn't comment in a combative or defensive manner. Finegan’s a landowner who has as much right to a street vacation as anyone else. Getting out in front of it in a public way disarms criticism.
— An otherwise ordinary vote on selling surplus property spilled into a discussion about whether the $75,000 proceeds would be used for the new animal shelter or “infrastructure.”
No one really seemed to have an answer. Nor could anyone explain what “infrastructure” meant, other than saying it COULD include the animal shelter — or something else.
One thing we’ll learn quickly about Commissioner Bays is she is detail oriented. She’s one of those rare types who sees the big picture but wants it in small bites.
“We keep talking about this, and my frustration is we’re not telling a story,” she said. “We’re not telling the public what it costs to do business and we need to get into the habit of telling them that.”
— Commissioner Jeff Kinnard was out of town Tuesday and, sure enough, we had a pair of 2-2 votes. When that happens, the motion fails and one of two things follow: The two on each side won’t budge and that’s that; or, one of the two on one side offers a compromise.
In both cases — one involving the Betz Farm property and the other appointing someone to an advisory board — Finegan offered up ways for compromise and both ended with positive votes.
I just can’t overstate the significance of a commissioner who looks for common ground instead of sticking to a vote no matter what. Shows me Finegan is entirely engaged in the process, follows the conversation, is actually listening instead of preparing her response and truly wants a positive vote without getting ugly about it.
(Thanks to a compromise nudge from Finegan, the board voted 3-1 to give a second 90-day extension to the potential owner of the former Betz Farm property. I’m going to break down the vote on Thursday.)
Look. This is just one meeting and I can’t get too excited. The train could fall off the track next month. That’s how this works sometimes.
But I’m looking for glimmers of leadership from this county commission. I saw it in Davis, Kinnard and Schlabach the last two years. Bays and Finegan are now filling in the gaps.
There is reason for optimism. I witnessed it Tuesday.
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Mike Wright has written about Citrus County government and politics for 36 years.