Here’s one we can’t let fall off the radar: Citrus County administrator search.
Friday is the deadline for applications. The first batch of about 20 came out earlier this week and one grabbed my attention right away.
You can tell by the photo who I’m talking about: Tobey Phillips.
It didn’t surprise me that Tobey would apply for this position. She’s a local who stayed local until 2019, when she moved on from a department director’s position in Citrus County to deputy administrator in Hernando County. That’s a huge step up.
So when the job of county administrator opened up in her home community three years later, it was the logical step for Tobey to apply for it.
Like I said, expected.
What I didn’t expect was her cover letter, which cut right to the bone as to why this is the right time/right place kind of thing for her, this job and our community. And, boy, she made a pretty compelling case..
First, a little background.
I’ve known Tobey since she was 9, which makes one of us a geezer. Her mom, Neale, worked with me at the Chronicle for 20 years. Tobey’s stepdad, Charlie, is one of my former editors and the three of us used to hang out quite a bit during our Chronicle years.
I consider them all friends.
Tobey not only found professional success — school teacher, chamber of commerce special events coordinator — the Chronicle documented her brave battles with breast cancer.
She latched onto county government and stayed, doing the type of in-the-trenches work that successful county workers are known to do.
She ascended to community services director, and I watched — and wrote — about the myriad issues Tobey had to maneuver through.
Tobey had reached her peak under County Administrator Randy Oliver. When the Hernando County job came, and the chance to reunite with another former Citrus administrator, Jeff Rogers, Tobey took it.
And now she wants to come home.
The opening sentence of her letter reads:
“I first walked into the Citrus County Courthouse more than 41 years ago with my father, who had been named the first administrator of Citrus County.”
(Repeat: Her DAD was the county’s first administrator.)
That’s followed by a healthy bit of her professional experience in Citrus and Hernando countries, particularly with budgets and overseeing numerous areas of government.
And then Tobey talks about Citrus County and its challenges. It’s not a flowery picture.
“The past year alone has been harrowing for this struggling and often contentious board: a 10-month battle over Mass Resistance attempts to ban certain displays in the public libraries; questionable responses to employee satisfaction surveys; the ever emotional pleas from animal lovers demanding adequate facilities for sheltered pets; the long-reaching effects of COVID that continues to threaten schools, businesses and hospitals.”
Yup. She went THERE. Called out Library Guy and his faction right off the bat. That is a bold, risky but potentially rewarding move.
The current county commission will decide the next administrator, but whoever wins Tuesday primary races will get a chance to chime in as well. The two outgoing commissioners, Scott Carnahan and Ron Kitchen Jr., were pro-Library Guy. Two county commission candidates — Diana Finegan and Winn Webb — support him as well.
Tobey is not a bystander in this either. Her mother, Neale, was recently reappointed to the all-volunteer Library Board and underwent harsh, unfair and demeaning criticism by the Library Guy Gang.
It’s pretty impressive that someone applying for the biggest job of her life in her own hometown is so bold on such delicate subjects. She could have given a cover letter that avoided all that yucky stuff and focused on the positive.
But a community doesn’t grow and prosper by ignoring its challenges. Tobey knows that because she’s seen how it works and how it doesn’t in Citrus County.
I don’t know how she’ll compare against other applicants. There may be a whizbang in the stack that we can’t pass up.
And commissioners may decide they don’t want to consider ANYONE local, that a fresh start is best with someone who doesn’t have a Citrus County history. Certainly a lot of logic in that move as well.
But I sure like Tobey’s approach. Let’s see where it goes.
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Mike Wright has written about Citrus County government and politics for 36 years.