It was either a stroke of extraordinary leadership or the political blunder of all time.
An hour after Commissioner Holly Davis tried to stop Commissioner Ron Kitchen Jr. from becoming chairman at the end of this month, I had heard from both camps.
One said Davis had shown great courage in standing up to the board’s senior member, whose argumentative and combative style leads some to say it borders on bullying.
The other camp said the move was totally unnecessary, that the chairman’s role is insignificant and the only thing Davis accomplished was to divide a board that didn’t need dividing.
And Commissioner Jeff Kinnard, who sat silently watching this all unfold, even as Davis mentioned his name as her choice for chairman, had this to say when I caught up with him by phone a couple hours later:
He then said: “Ron Kitchen is in line to be the chairman. He needs to be the chairman.”
The surprise talk came during Tuesday afternoon at the tail end of a long day. The board had two lengthy workshops in the morning and the regular meeting in the afternoon. By time 4 p.m. rolled around, commissioners were looking at an hour break before hearing a zoning case.
That’s when Davis, asked by Chairman Scott Carnahan if she had anything to add for the day, brought up the chairman topic. Because where Thanksgiving week falls on the calendar, the board doesn’t meet again until Nov. 30 – the day they pick a new chairman.
Davis used an analogy on Kitchen that pretty much said: Some of us are sails in the wind, eager for the next adventure. Some are anchors stuck in the sand, going nowhere. You can guess which one Davis compared to Kitchen.
And off we went.
After Davis asked Kitchen to consider declining the chairmanship, he responded that he had heard there was a potential “coup” taking place, even claiming that he had PREPARED not to accept the chairman’s role “until I found out there was this coup attempt not to make me chair.”
Commissioner Ruthie Davis Schlabach chimed in that it bothered her that Kitchen doesn’t talk to the Chronicle. Kitchen responded that he respects Chronicle reporter Mike Bates (as do I) and would grant him and him alone an interview. He then went on a familiar tirade against the Chronicle and retired Publisher Gerry Mulligan (though it’s a bit of a mystery to me why he still shuns the Chronicle when the two people he despised the most no longer work there).
This went on for a few more minutes. Davis and Schlabach saying they had been “pressured” by some in the community to block Kitchen from becoming chairman. Carnahan demanded to know who these people are, which is a ridiculous demand since all commissioners are influenced by someone (except Kitchen, apparently, who said no one has “control” over him).
“If you don’t want me as chair, fine, it won’t hurt my feelings,” Kitchen said, though he indeed seemed insulted.
The debate ended with no resolution. Then, as luck would have it, Carnahan had to leave and Kitchen ended up chairing the zoning hearing at 5 p.m.
So now what? The political line of thinking would suggest Davis and, to a lesser extent, Schlabach are sunk for calling out the next chairman. Surely it’s a year of hell for them both, right?
Not necessarily. It’s my experience that these things happen from time to time and everyone recovers nicely. It’s a board of five individuals, each trying his or her best to do what he or she thinks is best. Sometimes one commissioner’s best looks worse to another commissioner. So it goes.
They’re like a family – skirmishes rise to the surface every so often. So long as the animosity dissipates, that’s what counts.
Kinnard thinks it will.
“Let’s not get tied up in what happened in 15 minutes,” he said. “You got some feathers ruffled. Social media will have fun with it, but we’ve got bigger issues to tackle.”
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Mike Wright has written about Citrus County government and politics for 35 years.