Let’s start off this week talking about integrity in politics.
You’ll see by our photo that I’m referring specifically to Commissioners Holly Davis and Ruthie Davis Schlabach.
Maybe it’s because I am aging and that the line between right and wrong is clearer, but I have less interest in a politician’s politics than I am with his or her values.
Davis and Schlabach are perfect examples.
Like with a lot of elected folks, we didn’t know each other prior to their campaigns. In 2020, Davis defeated incumbent Jimmie T. Smith and Schlabach bested a field of five Republicans. Each won with wide margins, and both were eager to join the board to work harmoniously for the greater good for Citrus County.
It hasn’t panned out that way. Instead, last year’s chairman, Scott Carrnahan, and Kitchen, this year’s chairman, have done what they can to keep both Schlabach and Davis under their thumbs.
I’d have to review a week’s worth of commission meetings to point to specific examples of out-and-out rudeness by two male commissioners toward our female commissioners. And, yeah, I’m going there.
I can’t help but wonder if Davis and Schlabach would get this treatment if they were men. I say that because the demeanor that Carnahan and Kitchen show toward each other and Commissioner Jeff Kinnard is not nearly as dismissive and arrogant as it is with Davis and Schlabach.
In fact, I can’t think of any commissioner in 30 years who has been treated as rudely as Davis and Schlabach by the chairman.
This is not political bantering. Kitchen used to mix it up some with Smith, but Smith encouraged it, so the behavior was mutual toward one another. Same with a few others over the years.
Neither Davis nor Schlabach are looking for trouble when they ask simple questions of Kitchen, but they’re treated as if they are.
Here’s an example.
Kitchen likes to crow about his membership on the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council. For sure, the county’s presence with Tampa Bay has significantly increased in recent years, particularly with the Suncoast Parkway connection.
So it’s a plum assignment. Which Kitchen handed directly to Kinnard, who didn’t ask for it, over Schabach and Davis, who both expressed interest.
Kitchen suggested to Schlabach, who is in line to succeed Kitchen as board chair, that the Tampa Bay board might be too overwhelming for her to handle.
“If you’re going to be chairman next year, this board is all-consuming,” he told Schlabach during the board’s Aug. 9 meeting. “You can be down in Tampa two, three times a month all day depending on what’s happening.”
Then with added emphasis: “If you’re going to be chairman, that’s a lot to do.”
Wow, did you catch that demeaning remark? Kitchen, as chairman of the county commission, can handle the difficulty of being a member of a regional planning board. Schlabach, under the identical circumstances, can’t.
(Curious: Why would a Citrus County commissioner need to spend full days several times a month in Tampa?)
Schlabach held her own: “I’ll be in the same boat as you, so I think I can handle it.”
Kitchen followed with condescending remark No. 2: “Remember, this is my only job.”
That’s clearly a jab at Schlabach owning a business with her husband, suggesting she can’t handle both that and commissioner work at the same time. Notice he didn’t have the same concern for Kinnard, who is a chiropractor and, I’m guessing, rather busy.
This isn’t about Kinnard, who will do fine on this Tampa Bay board, as would any commissioner.
Look, I know politics ain’t pretty and it’s not for the weak-kneed. Schlabach and Davis are elected to office and have to absorb all that comes with it, the good and the annoying.
But I’ve been watching the dynamics of county commissioners for a long time and this feels more personal than professional.
I started off talking about integrity. Both Schlabach and Davis have it. Agree or disagree with their politics, they’re top-notch women, elected by the voters of this county, who deserve the respect their office brings.
Someone might want to tell the chairman that.
Join the discussion on our Facebook page.
Mike Wright has written about Citrus County government and politics for 36 years.