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A Closer, Critical Look at CARES Favoritism vs. Fairness

In Thursday’s column, we made the assertion that the Citrus Board of County Commissioners arrived at an equitable outcome that was “for the most part free of favoritism” in distributing the remaining $300,000 in an original $550,000 of CARES Act funds that had been allocated for local nonprofits.

This morning’s column will discuss the troublesome parts of the process, and offer a critical look at our own position. This column is not going to review how we got here, so if you’re wondering why this money is going to nonprofits at all, you can read that column here or listen to its audio recording here (free sign up required for Concurrent audio.)

One subject of former columns does deserve review. We have argued that traditional political party labels don’t adequately describe competing sides in Citrus County.

Instead, two different approaches to public affairs tend to be those who believe in a culture of reciprocity among people which call culturism and a fidelity to ideologies regarding the role of government such as conservative and progressive policies that we call structuralism.

While culturism sounds like corruption, it only reaches this point in its most extreme form just as the latter approach becomes fundamentalism when taken to its extreme. We are very careful here to call these competing sides to an approach rather than conflicting sides that divide as there is room for both in our public affairs and the differences don’t have to be divisive or hateful.

The Concurrent advocates for conservative principles rather than the culture of reciprocity. However, this position that the distribution process is more about fairness than favoritism does have a hint of culturism to it so let’s take a critical look at our own claim.

The first troubling stat to dispute our fairness assertion is that over one-third of the funds went to just three organizations. These were the Community Food Bank ($44,547), SOS, Inc. ($41,909) and the Citrus County Education Foundation ($40,123). This is 42.19% of the funds allocated going to 15% of the requesting organizations.

On the surface, this is admittedly a high percentage of funds to a select few. The reasons why they appear to be receiving special treatment are easily explainable with two bits of additional information.

All of the applicants provide a fantastic service to the county. These contributions shouldn’t be downplayed, but some differences do need to be established.

The first is between medical and non-medical organizations. Because medical groups are eligible for grants through the Citrus County Charitable Foundation, these were ranked lower for funds out of this allocation - something Commissioner Holly Davis made clear before the meeting started.

The second aspect that determined the amount of money an organization received was its ability to absorb the funds as a one-time stimulus to augment existing efforts rather than a down payment on future expenses.

For example, the first organization to present was the Living Water Ministries of Citrus County. They asked for $44,500 to help them buy a truck and hire a driver.

This amount would provide that in the short term, but the commissioners led by Commissioner Ron Kitchen, echoed a chorus funds shouldn’t be used to establish recurring expenses, such as a truck payment or salary, that the commission can’t be guaranteed will last longer than a year. Thus, the ministries only received $6,007 not because of favoritism but because of a legitimate reason.

There were still a few inexplicable discrepancies in the way the commissioners proposed the final amounts. Commissioner Ruthie Schlabach was the only commissioner to not allocate anything to an organization (the Nature Coast Emergency Medical Foundation) and also accounted for the largest difference proposed against the average of her peers. This happened with the Community Food Bank in which the average of the four other commissioners was $55,075 but she proposed just $2,435.

While these instances of inconsistencies are hard to explain, although in the case of Ms. Schlabach it may have been pressure of making the decision after everyone else had completed their list, and the numbers deserve a closer look, it’s important to remember not everything is as sinister as it sounds in most cases.

Ms. Schlabach’s anomalies in the list are as likely explained as a result of thoughtfulness after the presentations that led to a longer decision-making process, a further sign no predetermined favoritism existed, rather than errors in impartial judgement.


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