Everyone has challenges and today this is mine:
Write 700 words about the Citrus County Leadership Summit without boring readers by the second paragraph.
Yet, I shall endeavor. Here goes nothin’:
— The Leadership Summit had a new attendee this year: Sheriff Mike Prendergast.
County Commission Chairman Ruthie Davis Schlabach invited the sheriff, which is interesting in that these gatherings are routinely for elected members of policy-making boards. In other words, the people who vote as part of their official duties, which the sheriff does not.
That said, he was a welcome addition. Prendergast talked about how we’re way behind on the number of deputies we should have on the road in a county that grows with residents and visitors each year (as we’ve noticed). Same for water patrols.
The sheriff no doubt sees brighter days with this county government than those in his previous five years, when he had Ron Kitchen Jr. scrutinizing the purchase of every pencil.
— And that leads to a much broader point: With the budget attack dogs out of the way, maybe now we can have an actual conversation about the community’s public safety needs and how best to provide them.
You know I preach conversation on this blog all the time. I’ve mentioned how the county has silos — individual groups or local governments that function as if they alone created their problems and they alone must solve them.
That’s not how a community works. Our community thrives by leveling silos so we can all look each other in the eye and be truthful about our present circumstances, future challenges, and paths to success.
On Thursday I witnessed five silos — county commission, school board, Inverness, Crystal River, sheriff — collaborate for a few hours. There was little of the politicizing of the past, and more serious conversation.
I can’t emphasize enough the significance of this. It’s not like me and my pals sitting around discussing Citrus County’s ills. The folks in Room 166 of the Lecanto Government Building on Thursday are the kind of people who know how to get things done. Having a dozen of our elected leaders working collaboratively — frankly, it’s encouraging.
— Crystal River Councilman Ken Brown said the city is overrun by tourists in town to swim with the manatee or visit Three Sisters Springs. He thought the Tourist Development Council, which plugs Citrus County inclusive in its “Discover Crystal River” marketing campaign, should pony up some dollars to help the city offset those impacts.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the county, Inverness Councilwoman Linda Bega said what many have complained for some time: This “Visit Crystal River” idea may work well for manatees but shuts out the rest of the county.
So they’re looking at two things:
This concern outside of Crystal River about focusing on manatees is nothing new. Inverness and Floral City, in particular, feel slighted and don’t believe it’s fair to concentrate tourist tax dollars in one area.
So there’s some conversation to be had there.
Meanwhile, Crystal River has clearly become THE Citrus County visitor destination. Drive through town on a weekend and you’ll see. Three Sisters Springs is closing April through November for shoreline restoration, so we'll find out what that does to the overall tourism draw.
Crystal River is a victim of its own success. In a way, we all are. Citrus County is such an attractive destination for visitors, residents and businesses, that we’re overrun by all of it at the moment.
— Many other topics, too many to address at one time. I’ve got a reporter’s notebook filled with tidbits about the Suncoast Parkway, Inverness Airport Business Park, roadside litter, school capacity, addressing poverty, getting the state off our backs — and how to pay for all of it.
Also a fair amount of talk about a sales tax that I’ll cover in more detail in Sunday’s Chronicle column.
It was the best leadership summit yet. A feeling of community permeated in the room, and all agreed to meet again in six months to see how things are progressing.
Our leaders are listening. And they’re talking. From where I sit, that’s good news.
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Mike Wright has written about Citrus County government and politics for 36 years.