Started off my work week at Fort Island Gulf Beach, watching what happens when someone’s idea takes off.
The idea came from Bruce Titus, a Citrus County native who’s been confined to a wheelchair since 2016 when a car struck him while he was riding a bike.
Bruce was a frequent visitor of Citrus County’s quaint little beach, and he didn’t want his beach enjoyment to end just because he couldn’t walk.
So he did the research and learned about specially made beach mats that allow wheelchair access across sand. Nancy Kennedy’s Chronicle story says it better than I can.
Bruce reached out looking for help. Some, like me, gave him specific suggestions. He started talking to the right people, the ones who can get things done, and next you know we’re all out on a beautiful Monday morning for a ribbon cutting on a project that started one way.
Someone had an idea and he wouldn’t let it go.
This beach mat wasn’t expensive — about $13,000 for the whole thing — but it’s still the government and one never knows how that’s going to work.
It’s my experience that when citizens bring well-thought ideas to government officials who see these suggestions as ways to improve quality of life, and not just another taxpayer expense, good things take place.
That’s what happened in 2020, when Hernando native Devonte White had an idea to resurface the basketball court at Alexander Park. He gathered community support, raised money locally and received financial help from both the county and the Citrus County Hospital Board.
You need to have people in government who want that citizen involvement. Fortunately, Citrus County has several, and one of my heroes is Mariselle Rodriguez, director of Community Services.
This thing happened at breakneck speed. Just a few months since Bruce’s first contact with the county government, and he’s found success. Most government projects, even partnerships with citizens, tend to get dragged into bureaucracy.
Mariselle deflects praise to county workers, but that helpful attitude starts at the top. If the director’s thinking is “don’t bother me,” then guess what, the public won’t bother them. And instead of a wheelchair mat at the county beach, we’ll have people wishing we had a wheelchair mat at the county beach, but knowing we won’t.
This is such an extraordinarily difficult time in county government. I seriously cannot recall a period with so much dysfunction. Just Monday, driving back from the beach, I got a ping on the phone from someone telling me that Growth Management Director Mike Sherman had resigned.
Most people might not know Mike. Growth Management is what we used to call the zoning department. It’s zoning, building, code compliance, plus parkway interchange management areas — just about everything happening right now in this growth frenzy is connected to Growth Management.
With the county commission just starting the search for a new administrator and resignations in the last two months of six high-level officials, it’s getting harder for those in county government to find reasons to smile.
That’s what made Monday morning so special. Yes, the county is in a bit of a mess at the moment, but we should remember that the government functions just fine with people who thrive at community service.
Those people, such as Mariselle Rodriguez and Francine Nobles, parks and recreation director, see opportunities to expand the county’s reach to people and places that maybe didn’t have much attention before.
That empowers folks like Bruce Titus, who see their efforts pay off for themselves and others. And that success empowers others to do the same.
See how this works? Government and citizens, joining forces for the public good.
We need to celebrate days like Monday because they seem in such short supply. But celebrate we will.
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Mike Wright has written about Citrus County government and politics for 36 years.