Here’s what I can tell you about County Administrator Steve Howard:
I can’t figure that guy out at all.
I’ve written about every Citrus County administrator except the first one. Gotten to know some better than others. They all had particular strengths, challenges and quirks.
Howard’s been on the job for over eight months and it was pretty quiet there for a while. I’d ask county folks, “What’s up with the new administrator? Everyone happy?”
Howard talks at a fast clip but he’s soft spoken. He uses catchphrases quite often, which is both quirky but also fits his personality to a T.
His slogan for 2023: “The year of, ‘make it happen.’”
Howard’s leadership was on full display this week at the County Commission’s strategic update workshop. Now. I had zero clue what to expect at this meeting. The board’s never had one before. Usually there’s the goal-setting workshop at the year’s start…and then nothing until the next year’s goal setting workshop.
That wasn’t the plan Tuesday morning at all. Instead, Howard laid out a map of progress to show the county really has a lot of irons in the fire.
It’s when I realized that the new administrator is not only an optimist, he’s a get-things-done kind of leader who inspires others to do the same.
Commissioner Diana Finegan, who while still a candidate participated in the interviewing of administrator applicants, said that within 10 minutes of speaking with Howard, “I knew without a shadow of doubt he was our guy.”
Howard and his staff provided a progress report on some of the county’s biggest projects, including:
It was probably one of the smoothest planning workshops I’ve seen. These things can be clumsy if no one takes the lead, but Howard made sure that didn’t happen.
(Click here to see the reports commissioners viewed during Tuesday's workshop.)
Two other thoughts from the strategy meeting:
— There was some talk, very little, about the survey. This is the survey that went out to numerous well-connected community organizations but elicited less than 20 responses, and some of those were from county employees.
The consultant both went over results and downplayed them at the same time. Finegan, for one, was not impressed given the small sample.
“I don’t know if this is indicative of anything,” she said.
A communication plan is part of the county’s strategy. This survey plays some small part in it.
This is one where I’m not sure the vision has quite reached the public yet.
— I’m running a boring photo of the meeting for one reason: I miss Ruthie.
We forget sometimes that the County Commission is composed of five neighbors. And that Citrus County’s most influential local board has just five members.
Remove one and it’s quite noticeable.
I have not bothered Chairman Ruthie Davis Schlabach during her time away. A text or two to let her know I’m thinking of her, but that’s about it.
Ruthie is head-strong and very much enjoys public service on the County Commission. She’s also being treated for cancer. The priorities are clear.
But I miss her. A four-member County Commission is no fun. Always a potential for tie votes, which do nothing but stall the process.
Here’s hoping that A) Ruthie is improving and taking care of her health, and B) she’s back driving us crazy, chairing County Commission meetings as soon as possible.
Please continue to keep Ruthie in your prayers.
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Mike Wright has written about Citrus County government and politics for 36 years.