Took in a Cattle Dog chat the other day with one of my favorite readers.
Vicki Phillips is more than a loyal Just Wright Citrus follower. She often participates in the conversation, especially if the topic is county government, and she is very encouraging to county commissioners.
Because she was one.
For 16 years, she sat where the current commissioners sit, doing her best on the county’s behalf.
We have a few ex-commissioners in the community. Chamber CEO Josh Wooten and Crystal River Mayor Joe Meek are probably the most known. John Thrumston, Jim Fowler, Joyce Valentino and Gary Bartell also come to mind as I see them occasionally out and about.
Sometimes former commissioners move on or pass away. Others just seem to disappear. One minute they’re voting on impact fees and the next they’re residents of another state.
People will occasionally ask me if I have a favorite all-time commissioner.
Short answer: No.
Some, though, I developed fond relationships with while they were in office that continued in the years that followed. Vicki is one of them.
Commissioner Vicki Phillips spent four terms in office before she lost in a 2008 re-election effort to Joe Meek. My recollection of Vicki was someone the developers learned not to mess with, yet with a warm demeanor. You may not have liked Vicki’s politics but everyone liked Vicki.
While she was in office 16 years, my favorite time is when Vicki served with Fowler, Roger Batchelor, Wooten and Gary Bartell. Those five will always be the Murderer’s Row of county commissioners, a diverse group that rarely agreed, often disagreed and often tried to one-up each other.
I was just coming into my own at the Chronicle, understanding and appreciating the politics of county government. My interest really began to take off with this group and all five commissioners enjoyed the political spotlight. Man, that was a fun political time in Citrus County.
As it was while reminiscing with Vicki about those days. And, to her great credit, she still points to the one vote she wishes she had back.
Forest Ridge Boulevard.
You know, with all the growth we’re experiencing I need to remember that many folks don’t know this story. It’s a basic one.
Once upon a time the county government built Forest Ridge Boulevard and whole neighborhoods of Beverly Hills and Citrus Hills sprung up around it. Forest Ridge is a wonderful drive between County Road 486 and 491.
But that wasn’t its sole intention. Forest Ridge, for all its usefulness in the Central Ridge, had a much bigger role. Where you see Terra Vista today — that’s where Forest Ridge was to go, heading south to S.R. 44, providing a straight shot between the county’s commercial and residential centers east of C.R. 491.
As we know, that didn’t happen. While the area wasn’t nearly as dense as it is today, commissioners caved to residents whose properties would be lost in the Forest Ridge extension.
I admire politicians who acknowledge errors of the past — it’s EXTREMELY rare — and Forest Ridge definitely was a missed opportunity that haunts today. (Making it worse was the board following Phillips voted for the Ottawa Avenue debacle which cost taxpayers millions of dollars and provided not a single mile of driving relief. Sigh.)
One more thing about Vicki and the ex-commissioner who served with her. While political opposites on the County Commission, I recall one thing in particular that united them.
It was 2014, long after they left office, when Roger Batchelor died. Roger was a fishing boat captain and as commissioner suggested the county build a fishing pier next to Fort Island Gulf Beach for those who couldn't get out on a boat. The pier was built in 2003.
Roger’s surviving colleagues got together and convinced the county to rename the pier after him. Former commissioners were out there the day the Roger Batchelor Pier was dedicated.
It struck me then and even now that strip away the politics and these commissioners were all fond of one another. Roger brought politics into his votes like all the others, but 10 years later upon his death, all they recall is Roger the kind soul.
There’s your County Commission. Five people doing their best for the public good. As it was then, as it is now.
It was great catching up with an old friend. Commissioner Phillips served this community with style, grace and efficiency. Vicki continues to do the same each day as a private citizen.
That’s what I call a public servant.
Join the discussion on our Facebook page.
Mike Wright has written about Citrus County government and politics for 36 years.