When it comes to the government, I can be as cynical as anyone.
So when I sit in the back of the room at Tuesday’s county commission meeting, as I’ve done twice a month now for many years, and see a glimmer of hope, it gets my immediate attention.
This Steve Howard administrator thing is going to work just fine.
Howard, who sat right in front of me during the board discussion, seems eager for his new role. Commissioners are just as eager for it as well, as is the public, I’m sure.
Commissioners not only gave his $197,500 contract a unanimous vote, they then applauded Howard’s arrival.
Everyone's feeling pretty good about how this all turned out. So, of course, I have a few points:
— Howard is 50, married and has a 4-year-old daughter. While the administrator contract negotiations were taking place, the Howards visited Three Sisters Springs and their daughter, Madelyn, saw a manatee for the first time. How cool is that?
— He spent 15 years as administrator of Camden County, Georgia. It’s a county roughly a third the population of ours, but like Citrus, it has quaint charm.
He was involved in controversy (some celebrated his departure) but here’s what I find amazing: He never angered a majority of his commissioners enough to force him out.
I mean, that’s pretty impressive on its own. There’s a reason the shelf life of an administrator is five to seven years. The pendulum swing in local politics is much more obvious and immediate. Voters decide they want one thing one day and another the next.
I asked him about surviving in a changing local political climate. Interesting answer: “I count to five. I don’t count to three.”
Meaning, of course, he doesn’t play politics by figuring out where his support comes from on a five-member board and then ignoring the other commissioners. Hey, it happens. I’ve seen it. That strategy blows up when an administrator’s favorite leaves office.
Much better to let politicians handle the politics.
—Pats on the back to both Chairman Ron Kitchen Jr. and Commissioner Ruthie Davis Schlabach, who is in line to become chairwoman once Kitchen leaves office in November.
Kitchen caught a lot of well-deserved grief for hijacking this search process. His inclusion of District 2 NPA funny man Paul Grogan was thankfully no more than just an annoying sideshow; District 2 Republican primary winner Diana Finegan gave the process the serious committed look it deserved.
Schlabach, meanwhile, has sparred with Kitchen repeatedly over the last two years. So it was a real nice moment when, as the board was about to vote for the contract, she told Kitchen:
“I didn’t always agree with the timeline, but you were able to do it.”
Schlabach correctly stated this is a big win for Kitchen. He’s able to leave office knowing he helped direct the search process, found an administrator that he supports, and he was able to negotiate the contract.
Kitchen is an odd duck. He can be so, well, YOU KNOW. And yet, he can also be an effective leader who helps move the process along. Just never sure which one is showing up.
—We’re going to have high expectations of Steve Howard, but I also suggest this: He should have high expectations of us.
The Howards are the exact family we we want: Folks who seek to have a lasting and positive impact on the community.
I’m seeing a lot more of that lately. Many Just Wright Citrus followers are new residents to Citrus County and they want to get plugged in. We simply can’t encourage that enough. It’s annoying when newcomers start telling us how it’s better where they came from, but it’s less so if they show initiative by paying attention.
I’ve got a feeling that’s exactly the approach Steve Howard is bringing to Citrus County. Yes, it’s a job and he’s paid well for it. But as anyone in Citrus knows, work is only part of the contribution to make this community thrive.
Welcome to your new home, Mr. Howard. I think you’ll like it here.
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Mike Wright has written about Citrus County government and politics for 36 years.