Spoke with Commissioner Ruthie Davis Schlabach the other night.
Or should I say, Chairwoman Ruthie Davis Schlabach?
The formality comes Tuesday when, barring the weirdest of weird, commissioners choose Schlabach to handle the gavel for the next 12 months.
The fact that it comes on the same day two new commissioners take the oath of office and one can see the significance of what’s to happen. I squeezed a seven-day vacation into three days so I wouldn’t miss this.
I’ve written about how the chair sets the tone. Not only for meetings, though that clearly is a big deal, but also how the county itself is perceived.
All five commissioners have identical duties but the chairman/woman is generally considered spokesperson for the board. As a reporter, I always called the chairman for comment unless the item was specific to a single commissioner.
Chairpersons can be pushy and aggressive in their approach, or inclusive and encouraging. Expect the latter for Schlabach.
Tuesday is a great day not only for Schlabach, but Holly Davis as well. Both came into office two years ago with the high hopes of newly elected commissioners, only to see them dashed and drowned out by a pair of male colleagues who, at times, seemed bent on doing anything but what Schlabach and Davis wanted.
More than just politics or moving the needle on an issue or two, Davis and Schlabach never had a chance to bring the momentum of a winning campaign into office since they were turned aside at every chance.
It was demoralizing to both for different reasons.
Schlabach admits she isn’t so quick on her feet Tuesday afternoons during the back-and-forth board debates. While that’s true, it’s also true that she served with two political veterans who knew the county commission 2-step and wouldn’t hesitate to use it to score points.
That behavior was totally foreign to Schlabach. The idea of working with people who exhibited such rudeness, both to her and others, was shocking.
Maybe not politically advantageous, but Schlabach truly believes in the Golden Rule. It’s the way she was raised — be kind and empathetic toward others.
It took Schlabach quite a while to become accustomed to this new reality of snapping-turtle politics. She is becoming chairwoman at the perfect time in her own personal growth as a commissioner.
Holly Davis faced a similar juggernaut. Unlike lack of common courtesy, Davis found herself in unfamiliar territory with people who didn’t share similar ideals.
Davis is a big thinker. She’s an advertising strategist in real life, and her professional history is of like-minded people sitting in a conference solving their client’s challenges.
Naturally, Davis figured that’s what the county commission would be. After all, we’re all moving toward the same goal, right?
She found instead commissioners with old ideas who refused to budge despite clear evidence that what worked in the past was no longer working.
I can’t express how incredibly frustrating this has been for Davis. All her skills in strategic thinking were useless with commissioners whose idea of long-range planning is deciding at 3 p.m. what’s for dinner.
Other than public information officer Veronica Kampschroer, a first-ballot inductee into the Lindsay Blair PIO Hall of Fame, Davis found no help in the higher levels of county administration.
If ever there is a project that needs organization and direction, it is this one. Fortunately, Davis’ luck is about to change.
Along with two new commissioners and a new chairwoman, Steve Howard is all set to take over as county administrator. His expertise? Economic development and strategic planning.
Technically he starts Nov. 29 but Howard arrived at Davis’ house a few Sundays ago as she hosted community leaders for a strategic planning session. Howard hasn’t taken a Citrus County paycheck yet and he’s already shown more interest in Davis’ project than his predecessor. (And he’ll be in town for Tuesday’s organizational meeting.)
Tuesday is a day for beginnings and restarts. Citrus County cannot wait to see what these two commissioners can do now that the political shackles are off.
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