So…I’ve been working on this theme for a blog about Ron Kitchen Jr.: Best politician. Worst commissioner.
Best politician in that he really, really, REALLY knows how to play the game. No one is better than Kitchen at reading the room and finding the votes he needs.
Worst commissioner in that he clearly has no regard for the feelings, opinions or backgrounds of others, and that reflects poorly on Citrus County. He’s his own worst enemy but we’re the victims.
My plan was to roll this out in November after spending some more time on the details.
No need now. Not after Tuesday, when Kitchen’s brilliant political skills and his cunning commissioner, um, attributes were on full display. (Click here for the video; the discussion starts around the 1:20 mark.)
The topic, of course, was county administrator search. The board voted 5-0 to interview four people, but commissioners are anything but unanimous where this goes. (Read my Florida Politics story for the details.)
They did so during a clumsy, confusing, stick-a-needle-in-my-eye debate where Kitchen hogged the conversation, interrupted commissioners, throwing all pretense of “chairman” out the window, so he could ram through interviews with people just to show he’s still the boss.
All that is bad enough. But it’s not the worst part.
There was a scoring system for each commissioner to rank the seven finalists (these six and a seventh that came in this week) and that’s normal. What’s not normal is inviting people who aren’t elected to office to participate.
Yet, there was District 2’s primary winner, Diana Finegan and NPA mystery man Paul Grogan providing their own ranking lists, treated the same in the scoresheet as the actual elected people. (Grogan sent his in by email during the board meeting. Gotta be kidding me.)
Read that again: The chairman gave policy-making authority to people who haven’t been elected to anything.
Commissioner-elect Rebecca Bays, ironically, would not participate in the rankings. She was emphatic that the new board take that call since Kitchen and Carnahan will be citizens right around the time the administrator starts.
Why the heck does Grogan, who’s on the November ballot ONLY because he paid a filing fee, have a say in the next county administrator? He hasn’t received a single vote for anything. That’s asinine.
Here's the rub: Kitchen convinced commissioners they agreed to do all this, when that simply isn’t true.
I went back to the Aug. 9 board video (starts around the 1:04 mark) where Kitchen brought up the idea of primary winners participating in the administrator selection process. At no time did he or anyone suggest that an NPA get that privilege as well.
This is what he said:
“I’d like to see the winners of the primary election be included in the selection process. Some of them are going to be the next county commissioners. Their voices should be heard.”
His idea: The primary winners could sit in the front row and chime in. Very general. Nothing specific.
Everyone agreed. A few minutes later, Carnahan noted that the District 2 winner still had a general election challenge while District 4 did not.
“There’s only one commissioner who’s going to be able to sit up here and participate in the selection,” Carnahan said.
To which Kitchen, referring to the primary again, said: “There’s still going to be one winner from that election.”
So, to recap:
Kitchen’s repeated claim Tuesday that the board has been unanimous from the start…he made it all up. The board in August agreed to have the primary winners sit in the front row and participate. That’s it.
Commissioners Holly Davis and Ruthie Davis Schlabach tried to make sense of the mishmash, but Kitchen repeatedly cut them off or accused them of breaking this so-called protocol that, as we’ve just pointed out, never had board approval in the first place.
I guess one could say it doesn’t really matter how we got here. The board chose four candidates to interview and it’s conceivable the three remaining commissioners will find unity in a pick.
But it’s lousy government. The chairman just tricked his colleagues into a process they never discussed or supported, just so he could get his way — whatever that is.
Ron Kitchen: Best politician. Worst commissioner. Hands down.
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Mike Wright has written about Citrus County government and politics for 36 years.