I always thought the coziest job in the world was being public information officer for the Citrus County School District
For years I used to bug Superintendent Sandra “Sam” Himmel to create that job for me (with due notice of course!) and boy would that be fun. Hanging around teachers and kids, posting educational success on Facebook, what could be better?
But after the week Lindsay Blair just had, no thanks.
Lindsay has that job, having been Himmel’s choice when she created it a few years back. And an excellent choice that was.
We got to know each other years back when the county hired Lindsay as its PIO. We clashed immediately, mainly because I can be a jerk when given the opportunity, and there was plenty of it. I’m not a big fan of the PIO concept that requires reporters to talk to someone who has to talk to the person who has the actual information.
But as Lindsay and I got to know each other, we developed a deep respect. For one, she really knows her stuff. Lindsay comes from my world. She was a TV news executive producer in North Carolina, Atlanta and Tampa before joining the county, and I can’t tell you how valuable that experience is. She knows my deadlines, challenges and – this is vital – can anticipate my questions before they’re asked.
When Lindsay left the county for a PIO job with the sheriff’s office, we spoke a lot more. She was pretty sharp so of course I tried to stump her.
Sometimes I’d ask a question she hadn’t thought of.
“Hmmm,” she’d say. “I’m not sure. I’ll get right back to you.”
And she’d get right back to me.
So when Lindsay left for the school district, my thinking was she had just stepped into PIO paradise.
Last week was anything but.
When rumors combined with technology and, frankly, alarm from people who should know better, it was Lindsay’s job to best communicate messages of both calm and truth to skeptical parents while insanity percolated all around her.
Look. We’re not going to get into it here, OK? But Lindsay had an impossible task and she performed it quite well. Regardless of what you think about Sam Himmel, I’ll say this: Not in the past 35 years have we had a more open superintendent when it comes to keeping parents and the public informed.
Unlike many PIOs, Lindsay reflects that same principle so the two of them work well together.
But when all sorts of weirdness is happening in the schools and parents are demanding answers immediately…well, it just becomes very, very difficult.
You need to understand people who work for the school district. I’ve hung around a lot of them over the years and they are fiercely dedicated to children. It’s disheartening to read social media comments that are so personally critical during a time when they too are trying to figure it out.
I have zero answers and have yet to meet anyone who does. So my choice is to either trust the people we entrust with our kids or not. Until given a reason not to, I choose trust. Maybe we should be encouraging our educators during this confusing time instead of thinking of reasons to find fault.
I pray my friend Lindsay has an awesome Christmas, filled with joy and hope. Lord knows she needs it. We all do.
Mike Wright has written about Citrus County government and politics for 36 years.