You may be surprised to learn this, but not every County Commission meeting is a political barnbuster.
Most are more business than politics. There’s a rhythm to government, and it usually flows rather smoothly.
Then we have Tuesday’s board meeting where politics will rule the day.
I’ll get into that, but let’s first talk about what I mean by politics.
There are many aspects of politics. The President, Congress, Governor, Legislature, even County Commission and Mosquito Control Board — all people elected to office. Clearly, politics is at play anytime someone’s name is on the ballot.
Then there’s relationship politics. What we like to call “connections.” This is a little looser because ordinary citizens generally aren’t involved in it. This is how we get millions of dollars for sewer projects or an airport industrial park. Having great political connections in Tallahassee or Washington, D.C., is always a good thing.
My favorite is what I call hand-to-hand combat, the politician and voter up close and personal. Take just about any contested public hearing where a roomful of folks wants one thing, and a developer wants something else, and voila: Politics!
Nowhere is that more evident than a contested County Commission public hearing, like the one ready to go Tuesday afternoon. Timing is perfect.
First off, you may have heard we’re expected to get some nasty weather. The schools are out early, and the college canceled classes.
I asked if the county considered postponing the 5 p.m. Pine Ridge Golf Course public hearing to avoid a situation of folks on the roads at a time when that’s not weather-wise. The answer was an emphatic no.
Can’t really blame the county for wanting to get this hearing in come heck or high water. It’s been postponed once by the developer, and the community is geared for a fight.
Commissioners want this one done as well.
Few issues are as much political losers for commissioners than zoning cases. Pine Ridge technically is a master plan change, but the issues are similar. Compatibility. Traffic. Way of life.
And, much bigger: Many in the county see this as a litmus test on growth. It’s rather pure: A developer wants houses where houses are not allowed without the County Commission’s OK.
While it isn’t really that cut-and-dried — every land-use case stands on its own — citizens are quick to jump all over the commissioners for supporting any density increase.
Commissioners wouldn’t be leaders if they simply thumbed their noses to any developer who wants to build houses. It’s easy to say no and bask in that citizen applause. What’s more challenging is coming up with a growth-management plan that prepares Citrus County for tomorrow and the coming 25 years.
Zoning politics is difficult because it’s so emotional. At least once during Tuesday’s public hearing, someone will remind commissioners, “I pay your salary!” Or, “You work for us!” Commissioners feel defensive when they’re attacked like that; I think we all would react the same way.
And of course, zoning politics means someone is leaving the room unhappy. Matters little whether that’s a developer or dozens of citizens. Politicians want to make people happy. They thrive on it.
A zoning decision can hurt politically, but it rarely helps. If they vote with the crowd, citizens say commissioners are only doing their job. If they vote against the crowd, commissioners are all corrupt and need to be tossed from office yesterday.
In other words, a vote for Pine Ridge residents does not necessarily mean Pine Ridge support for an incumbent. But a vote against Pine Ridge residents almost assures the incumbent a rough road. Politics is rarely fair or logical.
A commissioner who votes for the developer in the Pine Ridge Golf Course land-use case does so with eyes wide open. He or she should have a great explanation of why this vote is for the betterment of Citrus County in general, and Pine Ridge specifically.
Commissioners taking that stand will be met by boos. That’s OK. I admire commissioners who vote their conscience without reading the room.
But we should hear the reason. Regardless of which way commissioners fall on this vote, it will reverberate come election time.
And that’s why it’s called politics.
Join the discussion on our Facebook page.
Enjoying the blog? Please consider supporting it here.
Mike Wright has written about Citrus County government and politics for 36 years.