Thanks for it all, Randy Oliver
Let’s start off this work week talking about government workers.
Specifically, those employed by the Citrus County Board of County Commissioners.
Their hearts are mixed with emotion as they return to work after the Thanksgiving weekend. One of sorrow with the devastating news Friday of Randy Oliver’s death. And one of anticipation as Oliver’s successor, Steve Howard, starts his work as county administrator.
I’ve gotten to know plenty of county workers over the years, from custodians to top administration. With very rare exceptions, each was top-notch who earned his or her pay.
Government workers, especially those who move up the chain of command, are a different breed from you and me.
Most people with jobs answer only to one person, or perhaps a simple chain of command.
Citrus County government workers have 150,000-plus bosses and they are quick to blurt out, “My taxes pay your salary!” anytime something doesn’t go their way.
It’s my observation, though, that county workers in particular understand they are serving people, not processes.
It’s people who build homes and need permits from workers in Lecanto.
People who lose their pets and find hope among animal shelter employees.
People with junk-yard neighbors who rely on the code-compliance officers for solutions.
The best government workers are those who know their role and own it.
Randy Oliver was one of those people. He was a government guy and a darn good one at that.
I interviewed Randy shortly after he became county administrator. It was in a Lecanto Government Building office that lacked — how shall I say this? — any charm. Our interview lasted maybe 20 minutes and every conversation since then didn’t even come close to that.
Randy was Randy. No frills, no fancy office furniture. Straight talker. A financial guru. Super efficient with emails (legendary, actually. I lost count of the times I emailed Randy at 2 in the morning with some silly question only to have him answer 15 minutes later).
Most people know that Randy lived in Pensacola and made that trip home every weekend. Some would occasionally grumble that the county administrator should reside in Citrus, but Randy was as much a Citrus Countian as anyone.
“He was one of us!” one county official told me Friday.
Without getting into his personal life, Randy experienced some very low and high moments during the past 14 months. His staffers both celebrated and commiserated with him.
He served nearly eight years as county administrator, and it was time for him to retire. Randy did nothing wrong; it’s just the pendulum swing of politics that required a new direction.
Citrus County workers understood that, but they were sad nonetheless as Randy’s retirement date drew closer.
You see, they knew a side of Randy that the public rarely saw. The human side. A warm fellow with a quirky sense of humor who led them through challenging moments.
Randy’s was the first county administrator retirement party I’ve attended. I love that photo because it’s Randy laughing at the surprise, enjoying his final days on the job with friends.
Everyone I know in county government was happy for Randy. Here was one of their own, making it to the finish line, able to go out on his terms with years of enjoyment still to come.
That’s what makes his death so heartbreaking. I feel for my county worker friends.
After learning the news Friday and posting it to Facebook, I went through my email looking for one in particular.
I often emailed Randy during board meetings with questions. He usually answered within minutes.
As his final meeting on Nov. 7 wound down, I sent him one more email with “final question” on the subject line. This is what I said:
“Hi Randy. I actually don't have a question. Just wanted to send you an email during the meeting for the last time. I appreciate the fact that I've sent you questions during meetings and you answered them during the same meeting.
His response, 10 minutes later:
“Appreciate you Mike.”
Citrus County appreciates you, Randy. Rest in peace, brother.
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Mike Wright has written about Citrus County government and politics for 35 years.