Here’s your weird question of the day:
What’s a county commissioner’s job?
Talk with commissioners over the years and they’ll answer that question with a lot of busy work. And busy work it is.
Citrus County commissioners, who earn $73,227 annually, are the hardest working politicians I know. I read their emails and am familiar with their schedules — the day starts early and ends late.
Commissioners are the conduit to community organizations. They attend numerous meetings of regional boards and communicate daily with the county administrative staff.
Last week all five — for the first time — attended Citrus County Legislative Days in Tallahassee. Don’t know if that’ll make any difference for the county’s requests on the state level, but their attendance sends a strong message to community leaders that they’re on board and engaged.
Plus, answering citizen email. When commissioners receive, as they did last week, for the 100th time someone from Pine Ridge complaining about their roads, how does he or she respond in a way that’s both truthful and doesn’t result in a return diatribe about “you work for me” and related utterances.
So, as you can see, these commissioners work fairly hard.
But it’s not their job.
Their job is to vote. To pass a budget and adopt policy. That’s their job.
And if it’s a contentious vote, as what we may see at today’s county commission meeting over the LifeStream Baker Act contract, a commissioner’s effectiveness boils down to this:
A commissioner who wants his or her way needs two other votes, and that’s really what this job is all about.
Mention this idea to some commissioners and they’ll get rather offended by it. There are many measurements of their effectiveness, commissioners say, and they would be correct.
However, the only true measure is the vote. It’s an actual record of a commissioner’s ability to sway colleagues.
It’s like this: I spend a lot of time gathering information daily for my blog. I have Cattle Dog chats, review public records, and research past stories. Most of the work occurs well before any actual writing takes place.
But information gathering would be pointless without the blog.
All the activity commissioners take part in behind the scenes has no value without those Tuesday votes.
Some methods I’ve seen commissioners use over the years to sway their colleagues:
— Know the topic inside and out. Have it researched. Answer questions knowledgeable and not defensive. Be upfront with the information and background. Getting citizens to show up, particularly those personally affected, better yet. This approach gives commissioners every reason to vote yes.
— Be persistent. I often think of Commissioner Jeff Kinnard’s first time as chairman he rolled out the idea of charging boat ramp fees to raise money for parking and other improvements. The board shot him down. Kinnard kept at it and today we have fees at four county boat ramps.
— Be the topic’s champion. Commissioner Holly Davis is all about the strategic plan and everyone knows it. When Davis speaks about the plan, we know she’s the commissioner who’s done the deep dive so we don’t have to.
— The biggest, without a doubt, is navigating the discussion at the dais and reacting accordingly.
These deep discussions, such as the one we’re expecting on the Baker Act contract, occur at a somewhat frantic pace under less than ideal conditions.
The work environment of a county commissioner is unlike any you or I deal with. Who has a conference room where everyone sits on one side of the table? Plus the lights, and internet screens, and the room contains 80 people roaming here and there. Ton of distractions.
That’s what it’s like for county commissioners. They’re on stage and the play is unscripted.
The skilled politician is one who can read all that, ignore the noise and zone in on the prize.
Nobody was better at it than Ron Kitchen Jr. He used numerous tricks — none of them what I would consider nice — to get his two other votes. Why do you think he constantly buttered up Scott Carnahan? He wanted a partner on contentious votes so all he would need to do is sway one of the other three.
Commissioners have a big vote today, one of many. They’ve done the research. Time to get to work.
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Mike Wright has written about Citrus County government and politics for 36 years.