PART 3 OF 4
Talked to a friend Tuesday morning about why I think the role of county commission chairman is important.
In general it works like this: Good chairmen are really, really good and bad chairmen are really, really bad. We’ve had both kinds, though most fall in the middle.
But in three decades of writing about county commission chairpersons, only one comes to mind. Got that? One. And not for a bad thing.
Anyone who thinks county politics is a little crazy now should return to 2016, Scott Adams’s final one on the county commission.
For you Citrus County newbies, I’ll just say this about Scott. He was elected in 2012 to find fraud under every rock and he spent the next four years looking (didn’t find any). That's him in the photo making a point of some sort during a board meeting.
Adams was controversial and blunt. In your face. Insulting. He had a habit of bragging about his own business success while talking down to fellow board members. He wrote long emails to the FBI and FDLE alleging all sorts of crazy in county government.
And, boy, could that guy argue. Not just that. It was the accusatory tone – you must be doing something wrong if you don’t tell me what wrong you’re doing – that really set off Ron Kitchen.
As in Chairman Ron Kitchen Jr., who in February 2016, would do something I’ve never seen or even heard of:
Kitchen adjourned a meeting early because Adams refused to play nice.
You have to understand the significance of this. Ending the meeting before it’s supposed to end without a good reason (fire alarm, pending hurricane, that sort of thing) is an outrageous failure of local government. That’s why chairmen tend to let commissioners ramble on about this, that and the other thing. The alternative, well, no chairman wants to go there.
There’s only three possible outcomes for the unruly commissioner:
– Everyone on the board gets up and leaves, which would have left Adams tossing fraud allegations on an empty podium. While occasionally I’ll see a single commissioner do this, and that’s really rare, having four commissioners walk out hasn’t happened.
– The chairman has the commissioner removed via sheriff’s deputy. That would be a heck of a tough call. Nobody ever wants to see that. I’ve seen chairmen toss agitated citizens, but no commissioners yet.
– The chairman adjourns the meeting early. The least offensive of the three choices, and that’s where Kitchen went on Feb. 23, 2016.
I’m not going to rehash the whole thing. You can search for the stories or video. I was there and it was ugly for sure. Adams made accusations, Kitchen repeatedly asked him to knock it off and finally other commissioners said they’d had enough.
For two people who argued a lot, Adams and Kitchen have strikingly similar patterns. Both have personalities that can be very charming or very agitating depending on the circumstances. The outrage we’re hearing from corners of the community about Kitchen becoming chairman at the end of this month was just as loud with Adams’s antics while he was in office.
But the difference is huge: Everyone complained, whined, moaned and said Adams was embarrassing the county, but only Chairman Kitchen had the audacity to actually shut the guy down.
So when people ask me, “Is being chairman really all that significant?” I answer, “Heck yeah!” We’ll never know, but I’m convinced that Kitchen’s actions that day, combined with many other factors, was the start of the end of Adams’s popularity. People saw that and wondered, “Geez, is that behavior really necessary?”
This we do know: Adams lost re-election to a guy whose platform centered on him knowing how to behave properly.
So that brings us to today. The county commission has an organizational meeting, like an annual meeting, on Nov. 30 where they’ll pick a new chairman. Kitchen, vice chairman now, is in line for it. There’s a vocal group out there who don’t want that to happen.
Look. Ron Kitchen deserves every single criticism, just as I’ve earned mine. He is who he is. As mentioned the other day, he purposely cuts himself off from huge swaths of Citrus County residents and brags about it. He’s not shy.
I’m not sure about Chairman Kitchen in 2022. Maybe he’ll be a great one, maybe he’ll be a lousy one.
It’s been a little testy with him lately, and on Tuesday I found this quote from that February 2016 meeting:
“We cannot discuss anything with you because the only thing you know how to do is talk louder and more,” Kitchen told Adams. “The only answer you know is to yell and insult people.”
Let’s please hope those old days are gone.
Mike Wright has written about Citrus County government and politics for 36 years.