PART 2 OF 4
What went down with the Library Guy? Why is Commissioner Ron Kitchen Jr. suddenly his hero?
As we’ve said, the Library Guy and his anti-library leanings are not the issue here. Everyone is entitled to an opinion and that includes Library Guy and his friends.
But Kitchen’s reaction to Library Guy and whatever fiasco occurred at a library board meeting a few weeks ago shows that the senior commissioner may say he supports the administrative staff, but in reality they get chucked under the bus as quickly as anyone else if the mood strikes.
Before we go any further, an important point.
I am in no way critical of Ron Kitchen as a commissioner. He ain’t my cup of tea, but enough folks in this county voted for him as a two-term commissioner. His term is up next year and he says he’s not running again.
That said, I’ll never forget something former Commissioner Dennis Damato told me years ago. He was in office with Scott Adams, and things could get a little hairy. Everyone was up in arms, but not Damato.
I asked Damato about that. Here’s what he said: Adams was only doing what his constituency wanted. Folks voted for him because they wanted a shakeup in the county government and Adams did just that. What a brilliant observation. Since then my approach is each commissioner stands on his or her own, none better or worse than the other.
So this isn’t about Ron Kitchen the commissioner. It’s Ron Kitchen the chairman, the leader of the pack. That position deserves a closer look.
Fortunately, we got that look last week, at the same board meeting when, coincidentally, Commissioners Holly Davis and Ruthie Davis Schlabach later suggested Kitchen might not have the temperament for the chairman’s job.
A quick setup: Library Guy once lived in Miami, lost a good job with the Miami-Dade county government for his hateful views, is now trying to unload the very same on the Citrus County libraries and, fortunately for him, Ron Kitchen thinks he’s swell.
Kitchen’s loyalty is to himself and no one else. He claims to care about this county, but then – just to prove a point – nominates a bigot to the library board for the heck of it.
I sat through the meeting and then watched this part twice on video. (I know I should link the video on my Just Wright Citrus website, and I believe soon they’ll make the technology advanced enough for a ninny like me to figure it out.)
Here are three excerpts from Kitchen during the Nov. 9 meeting. My observation follows:
Quote 1: “I find if you agree with someone you’re a great person and if you disagree you’re the devil.”
Kitchen is notorious for shaming people with whom he disagrees. Watch him next time he’s in a tense debate that isn’t going his way. He’ll remind commissioners of every terrible thing they’ve ever done, in his eyes. I’m not being harsh. That’s Kitchen’s debate style and he’s very successful at it.
Ask Schlabach, who gets an earful from Kitchen on the animal shelter when the issue they’re debating has nothing to do with the animal shelter. Kitchen is a master of diversion. Great for a commissioner, but for chairman?
Quote 2: “We’re not banning anything. This goes back to the New York Times. If you want to see a media divide a community, because that’s what we’re all about today folks. If you want to control a population, divide them. Divide them and scare them, and that’s what we’re dealing with today.”
Even as I’m reading it back, that is just one of the oddest things I've ever heard from a local public official. I mean…what “media” is he talking about? Who’s discussing this but Just Wright Citrus and the fine folks who participate in our dialogue? We’re hardly CNN.
He’s right about the divide and scare thing though. Again, as a commissioner, have it at. Chairman? Hmmm.
Quote 3: “I plan to nominate – and it probably has zero chance of passing – I plan to nominate Mr. (Library Guy) for that position. It’ll probably go down in flames but it won’t stop me from nominating him.”
And there, you see, right there. That’s the problem.
A spiteful commissioner is one thing. A spiteful chairman, one who openly panders to the audience, I don’t care who you are, that's just bad leadership. Kitchen kept his promise later that day, nominating Library Guy to the library board. Thankfully, his motion didn’t get a second, and then he voted yes to make it a unanimous pick of Shavonna Reid.
This is the context: No commissioner says he/she supports County Administrator Randy Oliver more than Kitchen. Not even close. Yet, just to prove a point – truthfully, I don’t know what to call it – Kitchen willingly nominated someone to a county board who wants both Oliver and the library director fired. Why? There is no logic or common sense to this move. None.
As a commissioner, if that’s Kitchen’s view of loyalty so be it. As the man who runs the public meetings, though, well, there you go.
Let me tell you something. I hate this. I hate writing about this. I’ve had some serious conversations with people the last week that I’d prefer not to have. Why can’t we all just get along?
That’s not our reality at the moment.
I know this reads like a civics lesson. Thanks for hanging in there. Tomorrow Part 3: Does it matter who's chairman? Heck yeah!
Mike Wright has written about Citrus County government and politics for 36 years.