Sometimes you just gotta get away.
For me, that time came a little after 3 p.m. Tuesday, during the Citrus County Commission meeting.
I had just sat through 90 minutes of public comment, hijacked AGAIN by people trying to shove a heaping spoonful of morality down our throats. I’ve been hearing this crap now for months and the rhetoric is getting worse.
They were aided by a county commission chairman who apparently has thrown all pretext of running a fair meeting right out the window, and who could not care that these hateful comments have ZERO to do with actual, you know, county business. Can I use my 3 minutes at the mic to read recipes?
There were two particular items on the agenda worth sticking around for. The purchase of property owned by Commissioner Ruthie Davis Schlabach and her husband (which passed 4-0 with Schlabach abstaining) for the C.R. 491 widening was one. Hiring a consultant to design the new animal shelter was the other (it was tabled until the next meeting).
So I had a pretty good idea of what was coming. I just didn’t want to hang around for it.
Plus, you might say I had a better offer.
For some weeks I’ve been wanting to get to a school board meeting. The problem is both the county commission and school board meet the same day. The county at 1 p.m., school board at 4.
Well, you see what the commission meetings have been like. Just chock full of activity, so much that it’s hard to get away.
But when the time came for me Tuesday to make the decision — stay or leave — the choice was easy. A little after 4 p.m., I walked into the Citrus County School Board meeting.
Comparing the two would be unfair because their roles are so much different. That said, the school board is a much different animal.
It’s been a while since I attended a full school board meeting. I had the school beat for many years at the Chronicle and enjoyed it immensely. Combining the high-level decisions that occur at board meetings, with seeing those efforts play out in classrooms, provided some of my favorite stories.
And relationships. Good grief. Former board member Pat Deutschman and I became close during her tenure in office. For my first three weeks on the beat, I’d be on the phone with her for hours at a time, nearly every night, asking her to explain the complexities of public education.
I met administrators and school principals who patiently walked me through this stuff. A veteran finance director for the school district once pulled me aside and said I did a good job on a budget story. It made my day.
When Sandra “Sam” Himmel became superintendent (for fun, ask her why she keeps “Sam” as part of her proper name), the relationships became stronger. Even when I left the beat, I stayed in close contact with a lot of these folks.
I happen to think very highly of the educators in this county, public and private. What I’ve seen, on the whole, is pretty impressive and a source of Citrus County pride.
No offense to my friends in Citrus County government, including the commissioners, but Tuesday afternoon I needed to be around a board of people all moving in the same direction, and that direction being one to educate kids.
See, for all the nonsense about protecting children from evil library displays that we’re hearing in the Courthouse every other Tuesday, there’s a group of folks just down the road who are doing just that — protecting children. My experience shows Citrus County School Board members, administrators, teachers and the support staff work tirelessly to do the best they can for these kids.
It was good to be in a school board meeting. Think I’ll be headed back.
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Mike Wright has written about Citrus County government and politics for 36 years.