They're not all barn burners
It’s the worst feeling when writing about the government. Reviewing my notes, typing out a paragraph or two but then reaching a chilling conclusion:
I wouldn't even read this.
And such was the place I found myself late Tuesday afternoon, sitting in the back of the county commission meeting room, staring at pages of notes that screamed “Keep these to yourself!”
Or, as I used to tell editors over the years, “No use punishing readers just because I was forced to suffer during seven hours of a government meeting.”
The thing is, county commissioners dealt with some heavy stuff on Tuesday: Baker Act, budget and spending, tourism, firefighters. Every so often one of them would veer off on a mini-tangent about this or the other thing.
I sometimes forget that due to the Sunshine Law, board meetings are the only times these five can gather to talk county business. And with a mix still getting acquainted, you’re going to have some make-the-sausage meetings.
I took notes. That’s what I do. Even though my news story days are relegated to Florida Politics, I’m still a prolific note-taker at county commission meetings.
Here are some of Tuesday’s notes. I’ll try to make this painless:
— “Dollars are not plentiful in our field. We have to be very creative.”
That would be Rick Hankey, executive vice president of LifeStream Behavioral Center.
— “There’s money in mental health.”
That would be Citrus County Commission Chairman Ruthie Davis Schlabach, offering a different view.
— “We have children coming in left and right.” Hankey, talking about the rise in Citrus County kids needing mental-health treatment. (A future blog topic all its own.)
— Lots of interesting data from LifeStream that we could use. Commissioner Rebecca Bays asked that LifeStream provide that info to the county so that the community can begin to understand our specific needs and how best to address them.
Along those lines, Bays suggested a symposium to bring together community leaders who know this stuff so we can start moving toward solutions. We are “disjointed” — her word and one I agree with. The county has its heart in the right place, but we’re not all on the same page.
— Schlabach: “There’s more questions than answers for me.” Us too, Commissioner.
— “This is crying out for a flow chart.” That’s Commissioner Holly Davis in the understatement of the day.
— Two moms got up and told heartbreaking stories of the nightmare of trying to help their mentally ill children. One mom has a son who’s been Baker Acted eight times.
Another said an interesting thing to commissioners: Unless you’ve personally experienced the frustration of trying to line up services, it’s impossible to understand what’s at stake.
They pleaded for a Baker Act hospital and all the related services in Citrus County that now require trips to LifeStream facilities in Leesburg or Clermont.
— Not in my notes, but this 10 a.m. workshop kept going until 12:56 p.m., giving commissioners, the staff, public and bloggers four minutes until the regular meeting. That’s when I realized it was a Skittles Tuesday.
— From my notes: “20 mins to debate the agenda. 4-1 vote.” You had to be there.
— Commissioner Diana Finegan led the charge to keep in place regulations for fortune-tellers. Never thought I’d write that.
— Quite a discussion about whether to apply for a grant to hire 13 additional firefighters, which would mean three firefighters on a truck responding to a structure fire instead of two as it is now. The grant runs out in three years; after that, the cost would fall on the county or the positions eliminated.
Commissioner Jeff Kinnard was a no. “All we’re doing is laying the expense on a future board. We can’t keep spending money we don’t have and we don’t have this money.”
Some commissioners said they could essentially eliminate those 13 positions once the grant runs out. That looks good on paper but unlikely to play out in real life. If they go for the grant, that's a commitment beyond three years and any commissioner who believes otherwise is fooling herself.
It passed, but this isn't the last we'll hear about fire services and funding.
And…that’s it for my notes. Three final thoughts on Skittles Tuesday:
— The LifeStream Baker Act plan comes back to the county in two weeks for a vote on the $2 million. I’m confident of a favorable vote, but there is still so much public confusion. LifeStream doesn’t live in this community. We do. Bays’ symposium idea deserves merit.
— These commissioners are going to have some interesting talks come budget time. Much on the plate with big question marks on how to pay for it.
— Now, about today's photo. The plan was a screenshot of the full board, or maybe closeups of Bays/Schlabach since they were the ones with LifeStream questions.
When I went looking for the meeting video Tuesday night, the clerk’s website was on the fritz and literally the only available video was of two proclamations, including this one for Irish American Heritage Month. Erin go Bragh, Citrus County!
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Mike Wright has written about Citrus County government and politics for 35 years.