OK, so now what?
What happens to a county commission when one member calls out another one publicly, as Holly Davis did Tuesday when she asked Ron Kitchen to consider declining the chairmanship role in 2022?
How does it look when that occurs and Davis loses? Is she, and to some extent Commissioner Ruthie Davis Schlabach, condemned to a year of insults and frustration at the hands of a vengeful chairman?
And what should happen on Nov. 30, when the board chooses its next chairman and Kitchen’s name is nominated, as is expected? Do the commissioners who opposed the appointment vote against him just out of principle?
Um, no. That’s not taking a leadership position. That’s spite.
Let’s get to the point: Kitchen’s appointment as chairman should come on a 5-0 vote. Voting against something on principle might sound like taking the high road, but it can be the opposite. Especially for something like this.
Choosing the board chairman isn’t the same as voting for a tax increase. A commissioner may be on the losing end of a 4-1 vote but still vote against every tax increase because he/she doesn’t like any tax increase. The commissioner then goes to his/her constituents and brag that he/she voted against all tax increases.
While commissioners and political junkies like me see the significance of the chairman, the general public doesn’t. If I went to the Publix parking lot and asked 20 people to name the county commission chairman, 18 wouldn’t.
That isn’t to say the chairman’s role isn’t significant, because it is. I’ve had interesting conversations the last two days with people who really know what they’re talking about, and they don’t see the big fuss with Kitchen as chairman. The chairman is the person who bangs the gavel and runs the meeting and that’s it, they say.
From observing 30 years of county commission chairmen/women, that isn’t necessarily the case. Yes, the chairman runs the meeting. But the chairman is also the de facto mayor of the county commission, the voice and face of the local government. If, as Schlabach pointed out, the chairman (Kitchen) has a feud with the Chronicle or picks who he does interviews with, how does that show leadership on the county’s behalf?
Commissioner Jeff Kinnard acknowledged Kitchen’s public persona flaws.
“I get that Commissioner Kitchen rubs people the wrong way,” Kinnard told me Tuesday evening. He’s a very cut-to-the-point guy.”
And he’s not fun to debate.
“You’ve got to have a really good argument to pull him off a position he’s taken,” Kinnard said. “I can see how he can rub people the wrong way.”
Kinnard’s advice to Davis, Schlabach and others who feel insulted by Kitchen’s antics? Let it go.
“Water off the back,” is how Kinnard put it.
Both Davis and Schlabach made valid points against Kitchen as chairman and I agree with them. But they lost the vote. Time to move on.
It’s common in larger government bodies, especially those divided by political party lines, to have the losing side constantly gripe about losing and blaming the other side when something goes wrong.
That’s generally frowned upon on these five-member boards. Common practice is once something is approved, the one or two on the losing end are supposed to be team players and go along with the vote.
Kitchen is the opposite of that. He manages to wedge in the new animal shelter as an argument against spending money on just about anything. Kitchen lost the vote to borrow money for an animal shelter in Lecanto. Good sport politics says he doesn’t continue to rail against it. Kitchen doesn’t play by those rules (though he expects others to).
I can see how this behavior can be very difficult to newer commissioners. Though they’ve had a year under their belts, both Davis and Schlabach are frustrated by the pace and lack of decorum set by current Chairman Scott Carnahan. They, and some others in the community, didn’t want another year of that and so they urged a change in the top.
That discussion Tuesday was difficult, tough, personal – and absolutely needed. The only time county commissioners can speak with each other about business is during a public board meeting. And, with the next gathering being the Nov. 30 organizational meeting, Davis figured now was a better time to bring it up than at the organizational meeting itself so that Kitchen would have time to reflect on whether he should be chairman or not.
Kitchen is not a “reflect” person. He’s a no-filter guy. Think it, say it, do it – that’s the Kitchen way.
Several people who I respect said Davis was wrong to go that route, that all she did was buy a year of discomfort and unnecessary strife.
I say the strife has been there for a year already, and all Davis and Schlabach did was bring it out into the open. As painful as these talks are, experience says they are an occasional necessary evil to get past hard feelings.
Former Commissioner Vicki Phillips would know. She was a commissioner in 2003 the last time this attempt happened. Phillips nominated vice chairman Gary Bartell as chairman. Josh Wooten nominated Jim Fowler, who was the current chairman. By 3-2 vote, the board chose Fowler.
(Wooten, coincidentally, who is now the chamber CEO, has publicly backed Davis’s attempt to block Kitchen for chairman. Just thought I’d mention that.)
Phillips I’m proud to say, is a regular contributor to Just Wright Citrus. When I posted about what happened Tuesday, including that Kinnard thought the issue would fade, she wrote:
“Kinnard is so right. This will pass.”
Nov. 30. Ron Kitchen Jr. is chosen chairman on a 5-0 vote. Not everyone likes it. But it’s a smart move for Citrus County.
Mike Wright has written about Citrus County government and politics for 36 years.