If last Tuesday was a big day for the new four-woman, one-man county commission, this Tuesday is even bigger.
Now the work starts.
The campaign agony, excitement with winning, pageantry of taking the oath, pleasantries with that first organizational meeting, are behind us.
It’s the first business meeting of this Citrus County Commission — Chairman Ruthie Davis Schlabach, vice chairman Holly Davis, Rebecca Bays, Diana Finegan and Jeff Kinnard. And they’ll be gathering with the public and a new administrator, Steve Howard.
Some final thoughts before we kick off this exciting season:
— First, that’s Commissioner Diana Finegan up there on the dais. Not candidate Finegan. Huge difference.
The faster we all move on from the election the better we’ll all be. We can debate the merits of the District 2 commission race some other day. Finegan won by a substantial margin and has earned our respect and admiration before even a single motion or vote.
We’re not sure what to expect from Finegan as commissioner. She didn’t really lay out much of a vision on the campaign trail, but made it clear that citizens will come first. It’s hard to know exactly what that looks like because citizens aren’t always united.
That said: I will eagerly watch our new freshman commissioner grow into the job.
— The other “freshman” commissioner is Rebecca Bays; this is her second time around, having served a term 10 years ago.
With a brand new administrator and fairly inexperienced county commission, Bays is a dream addition. Her experience has Bays geared and ready to go. Davis and Schlabach, in particular, could not have asked for a better new colleague to help steer the ship. For Finegan, Bays may be an excellent mentor. Her knowledge of county/regional/state government meshes well with Kinnard’s.
(Do you see why I’m liking this group? Plenty to mix and match.)
— Welcome to Steve Howard, who officially starts his job as county administrator but is another one who already hit the ground running.
Anyone who spends 10 minutes with Howard knows he’s an intelligent and pleasant leader, eager to interact with his new team and the public. Can’t wait to see what he has in mind to energize his staff and provide that administrative partner commissioners seek.
— Schlabach, as the new chairman (remind me someday when we’re all bored to explain why Schlabach is “chairman” and not “chairwoman”), has some ideas on how to run the meeting more efficiently than her predecessor.
Like many of us, Schlabach sat helplessly this year as the Library Guy Gang hijacked the early part of each commission meeting during “open to the public,” by railing about things that do not correlate with actual reality.
Each commission agenda has two “open to the public” times: 1:30 p.m. and another before the meeting concludes.
Schlabach’s idea would appear to change the process so that the first “open to the public” is reserved for items on the agenda, while the final “open to the public” is open to anything citizens want to say, so long as it’s something the county commission actually has a role in.
This is brilliant and hardly original. Other local governments — Inverness comes to mind — set their agendas that way. The idea is to prevent something that won’t even be voted on that day from clogging up the commission business.
People can still have their say during the public meeting, but unless it’s on the agenda for that day, they need to stick around for the end of the meeting for the second public comment.
Plus, commissioners take public comment anytime there’s a motion on the floor. One thing I’ll say about county commission meetings, there is plenty of opportunity for the public to voice its opinion. And I'm sure folks will have plenty to say about this.
— Very eager to watch these five in action. I have high hopes for Citrus County and even higher expectations. You should too.
Time to get this party started.
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Mike Wright has written about Citrus County government and politics for 36 years.