All this politicking and we nearly failed to mark a momentous occasion.
The county commission meets today (not Tuesday), and it’s the final meeting for Commissioners Scott Carnahan and Ron Kitchen Jr., and County Administrator Randy Oliver.
We can’t let three major players make their exits without a little reflection.
To write the most comprehensive look at the political careers of Commissioners Carnahan and Kitchen, I needed first to review their eight years in office. So I went to the Chronicle’s website, and searched “Carnahan Kitchen Wright.”
511 stories. Yikes.
OK, so maybe not all that comprehensive. Some points:
— They didn’t mean to run as a team, but Carnahan and Kitchen were looped together by then-Commissioner Scott Adams, who saw their election as a way to solidify a three-commissioner majority.
Both defeated incumbents in the primary and then won easily in the general election. It looked like Adams would get his way.
He did on a few issues. But neither Carnahan nor Kitchen became joiners with Adams; if anything, they clashed repeatedly. Kitchen, as chairman, ended the meeting early during one such battle.
Both were re-elected in 2018; Carnahan defeated former Commissioner Adams in the Republican primary.
— Residential road resurfacing was their baby. They said voters were complaining about the condition of their neighborhood streets, and that’s how that became the issue it is today.
— New York Times. Oh gawd. It started so innocently. I’m sitting in the back of the room, late in the meeting, only staffers left, simple agenda item about a digital subscription to the New York Times for the libraries that would cost $7,000, and then this:
“I don’t want the New York Times in this county. I don’t like them. It’s fake news.”
Yeah, and that would be Commissioner Carnahan there.
The others joined in and now "New York Times" has a totally different meaning in Citrus County than it does the rest of the world.
A few days later, after tons of email, social media comments and — thanks to the Washington Post — even more email from across the country calling our elected leaders a bunch of swamp rats, Kitchen unceremoniously blamed me and the Chronicle for the entire debacle and thus he and I didn’t speak again on the record for, well, ever again.
Ron did sit down with me about a year ago in his office for an off-the-record chat. He was very cordial.
—In their roles as chairmen, a trait they both share is the lack of filter or decorum. They’ll jump out and lead the discussion on a hot topic if it’s in their best interest even though, theoretically, the chair should speak last.
Some may have a hard time believing this after seeing the heckstorm Kitchen has brought the last year, but his first time as chairman he was known as the peacemaker. A certain commissioner was making a lot of noise and Kitchen sought to calm the waters.
“The chairman is facilitator, the neutral, unbiased person in the middle,” he said in 2016.
— Randy Oliver is the consummate professional, a straight shooter, a man who knows his numbers and will respond to emails at 3 in the morning (as I know). A phone interview with Randy takes about 45 seconds. He’ll go down as one of my favorite administrators.
He’s also been a steady force for employees who have watched their immediate bosses leave while workload increases and commissioners bicker. Working for the county government is difficult; ordinary workers get caught up in local politics. These workers will miss Randy.
— Finally, gratitude. Scott Carnahan and Ron Kitchen Jr. put their lives on hold to serve our community as commissioners. There is NO OTHER tougher elected job in Citrus County. We may disagree on some of the details but that service deserves our applause.
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Mike Wright has written about Citrus County government and politics for 36 years.