Because Citrus County commissioners don’t have enough on their plate, they now will search for a new county administrator.
Randy Oliver announced his resignation Friday, but he presented it to commissioners as a transition plan instead of outright retirement.
Oliver said he will stay on for up to 10 months as the county searches for a new administrator and can get one onboard while Oliver can assist with the transition.
So now it’s quite the challenge for a five-member board that is still trying to find its collective way.
The last time they discussed the administrator was three days before Oliver’s announcement, when commissioners conducted a rather embarrassing public job evaluation. After ugly debate, the board said it would put a nice letter in his personnel file and give him the 2.5% merit raise that other employees receive.
Oliver, who is as shrewd a politician as anyone I know who’s held elective office, likely saw the writing on the wall. While he still had majority support, it was wavering at best.
People think administrators are these button-down business types, but the ones I’ve known are experts at reading the room. They need to understand how commissioners think, speak and vote. They work for five individuals but one collective body. That would drive me crazy.
Before going further, let me say this about Randy Oliver.
Randy is a true professional. He is excellent at returning phone calls and emails. If he doesn’t have the answer he’ll get me someone who does. He is brilliant with numbers. He is not known for being warm and fuzzy, but he’s a true human in every sense of the world.
(And his real first name is Charles. Betcha didn’t know that.)
I’ve been in this county going on 35 years and this is the ninth county administrator I’ve covered. The only one I missed was Craig Hunter, Citrus’s first county administrator who left employment shortly before I arrived.
The others: Chris Chinault, Tony Shoemaker, Gary Kuhl, Richard Wesch, June Fisher, Anthony Schembri, Brad Thorpe, Jeff Rogers and Randy. I may have the order a little mixed up and I’m sure one our readers will point out if I missed someone.
Looking at that list, some observations:
— Chinault was way ahead of his time. He thought then — this was the early 1990s — the county needed to expand its road network. Commissioners ignored him and he eventually resigned instead of being fired.
— Kuhl was an excellent boss and administrator. Very down to earth and responsive to citizens. Later in life Gary became an accomplished artist and a regular at the local festivals.
— Schembri was a riot. Oh, the stories I could tell. He came to Citrus County from Tallahassee, where he had served as director of juvenile justice. Schembri had no experience in county government but he was a colorful guy for sure.
Here’s a fun quick one:
I spent time with Schembri on his first day and complained about the email process. At that time, the county would print out all the email and stick it in a folder so that when a reporter dropped by, he could read the email. It was horrible and I hated it.
So he came up with an easy solution: He’d have the IT guy fix it so that every single email Schembri received or sent would automatically be sent to me at the same time. He was known for sending outrageously critical emails to his department directors and also mixed it up with commissioners.
I’d sit at my desk all day and read Schembri’s emails.
That was a fun guy to cover but I can’t think of a single accomplishment. He was fired a year later for bringing a concealed weapon that wasn’t concealed to his homeowner’s association group meeting. I think he still lives in Inverness.
– Thorpe was pure Citrus County. Thorpe was a former county commissioner and director of community services when Schembri got the administrator’s job over him. When Schembri got the boot, commissioners were eager to turn to Thorpe.
It wasn’t easy for Thorpe. He had huge budget challenges — Duke withholding millions in tax money over a dispute with the property appraiser — and Port Citrus/Medical Corridor also happened on his watch. Both of those projects may have had merit but the public hated them so much they elected Scott Adams to office.
Some of these administrators were fired, some resigned on their own. One left when a commissioner walked into his office and told him to hit the road.
But they all have something in common: It was their time to go.
Truth is, Randy Oliver’s departure began in November 2020, when Jeff Kinnard was re-elected without opposition, and Holly Davis/Ruthie Davis Schlabach were elected in. That was the public saying it’s time to move on.
I’ve written about these pendulum shifts. In 2020, voters shifted the board majority from one of the past to one of the future. Nothing against Commissioners Scott Carnahan and Ron Kitchen Jr. Just time for new blood. That’s the way these things work.
Same thing with administrators. They generally don’t last more than two election cycles. Time marches on, public priorities change. The administrator that five commissioners sought in 2014 is likely not the same administrator five commissioners will seek in 2022.
Randy has served Citrus County well and we are appreciative of his efforts. These next few months, as commissioners seek his successor, should be very interesting.
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Mike Wright has written about Citrus County government and politics for 36 years.