Happy Monday! Let’s jump into the week.
The Crystal River City Council votes tonight on replacing the late Councilman Pat Fitzpatrick. There are four applicants, including the recently married former manager, Ken Frink.
Whoever the council picks will serve until at least a March election.
Frink is considered the odds-on favorite. But is that the smartest move for Crystal River?
Let’s break it down.
First, BRAVO that Crystal River involved the democratic process to fill a vacancy. Unlike my hometown of Inverness, which, after learning behind the scenes one of its council members was resigning, orchestrated his replacement with ZERO public notice.
(And when a citizen — me — pointed out to the council that a simple charter change would ensure that stiff-arming the public to fill council vacancies would never again occur, he was ignored.)
The process Crystal River is using to replace Fitzpatrick is flawless. The city advertised for applicants, received four and the council will interview all four during tonight's public meeting before deciding.
(Inverness, are you taking notes?)
Now. I’ve been through a few of these and it’s a rather subjective vote. Council members want to appoint someone who will fit right into their environment without disruption. It’s not at all unusual that person already has close ties to the local government, someone who can simply slip in without a lot of training.
That’s certainly Frink. He’s a Crystal River guy, was city manager for four years and resigned shortly before marrying Councilwoman Cindi Guy.
Ken left on great terms with the city. He provided an easy transition for new City Manager Doug Baber. He knows every single city issue front and back and no doubt he’ll be able to fill in without missing a beat.
Ken Frink is undoubtedly qualified to join the Crystal River City Council.
So what’s the issue, Mike?
I’m approaching this purely as a student of Citrus County politics. Is Frink's potential appointment a politically smooth one, or a little rough around the edges? Will it cause buzzing in segments of the community that you'd prefer would have nothing to buzz about?
Crystal River, like everywhere else, is finding itself a little divided politically. Not Dem-Rep thing, but more along cliques of like-believers.
Both our city councils suffer from the same self-esteem problem: Things are going well, let’s not break up the band. While I understand that thinking, it suggests voters are dummies who can’t tell the difference between a successful incumbent and an airhead challenger.
Appointments to fill vacancies are rare. There really are no guidelines for this.
Other than Ken, I’m not familiar with the Crystal River applicants (see their information here).
Frink may own the inside edge, but his appointment could have the exact opposite political effect Ken and his backers want.
It was curious when Ken the city manager became engaged to Cindi the council member. It turns into a matter of public policy if both, now married, serve together on a five-member council. Legal, yes, but is it something Crystal River citizens are comfortable with?
If it was only Ken Frink applying, or he clearly was heads above any other applicant, well, yeah, that’s a no-brainer.
He’s qualified but, from the resumes I viewed, so are at least one or two others.
Reality: A city council vote to appoint Ken Frink will be popular in some circles and unpopular in others.
Would it make better sense to appoint someone who maybe doesn’t have the breadth of experience as Ken, but is a safe, positive addition to the city council? And then let the real election happen in March?
(BTW, I checked with the city and Councilwoman Cindi Guy cannot cast a vote for or against her husband because if Ken's appointed, his small council salary affects her personal finances; she may vote for or against any other applicant.)
Council members may ask themselves: Do Ken’s attributes outweigh the possibility that his appointment may turn off a segment of the community? Conversely, council members who have worked with Ken these last few years may prize continuity and expertise over silly local chatter.
This is a toughie, no question. City Hall politics. Nothing like it.
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Mike Wright has written about Citrus County government and politics for 36 years.