The easy reporting is to call Tuesday’s commission meeting a spectacle of the worst in government excess. Mike Bates’ article in the Chronicle yesterday does as much, yet while it was written in an enjoyable way, I reject the premise that the takeaway from the meeting should be about the waste. Mr. Bates is a great reporter whose story in this case felt incomplete.
A reader might finish the piece and conclude the Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) wasted $98,000 in taxpayer money on a bogus consultant report then tabled the impact fee vote thereby accomplishing nothing. In actuality, however, yesterday’s meeting was far from a circus but rather an excellent display of the best in county governance both demonstrating government in action and when government inaction is for the best interest of the public. Here are two examples.
In early August last year, the commission voted 5-0 to explore returning emergency management services to county supervision rather than under the purview of the Sheriff whose office holds a contract to manage it now and has for the last three decades. The current contract is set to expire on Sept. 30 of this year.
What the BOCC discovered by authorizing staff to explore this option was that it would cost several hundreds of thousands of dollars more to make the move. Instead, Sheriff Mike Prendergast explained at the meeting that his office has prepared a budget for the upcoming cycle in which, for the first time in the 31-year history of emergency management being under the direction of CCSO, it would become a truly independent line-item.
This ends the practice of co-mingling funds in which CCSO uses money designated for law enforcement activities to prop up services offered to county contracts, a practice common under previous administrations.
To further this distinction between county emergency services and CCSO, the director’s position that will be vacated by Director Chris Evan who retires in four days will be filled by someone who is not a sworn deputy but rather an accomplished emergency services administrator. Capt. Troy Hess will serve in the interim before the new director is hired.
The hiring process itself will start with a county advisory board comprised of non-CCSO, civilian citizens who will make a recommendation to the Sheriff, whose selection is then approved by the BOCC as all countywide director positions. CCSO retains the contract, pays the employee and the director will report to the Sheriff instead of the county to increase synergy.
This is your county government operating at maximum efficiency. It explored an option in advance of a contract expiring, determined the expense was not worth the service, worked with a constitutional officer to improve budget transparency by eliminating co-mingling funds for the first time since the early 1990s and created a hiring process with input from many people along the way as well as a chance for public comment as the BOCC votes to approve the candidate all while not infringing on the Sheriff’s autonomy.
That is news in my opinion so I have no idea why it has been absent from Chronicle coverage, although it’s possible I just missed it. What was covered, and Mr. Bates did do a good job of this, was the more memorable part of the meeting.
After Zoom problems left the commissioners unable to directly talk to the consultant presenting a report on impact fees, it was determined that the data the consultant was presenting was based on outdated information anyway thus rendering a study in which the consultant was paid $98,000 to produce completely useless.
This was not a great moment. The BOCC did rally to thoughtfully listen to several community representatives from Realtors Association of Citrus County Kelly Tedrick, Citrus County Building Alliance Executive Director Donna Bidlack, Key Training Center representative Avis Marie Craig, Chamber of Commerce President/CEO Josh Wooten and others. Though the BOCC’s mood was understandably sour, they tabled their initial push to vote on impact fees until more public input could be obtained - voting to not vote, which in this case was the right move.
Tuesday’s meeting demonstrated the two ends of the government action outcomes, but both in the end benefited the public. The $98k on a bogus study is unfortunate, but I do think there will be lessons learned and County Administrator Randy Oliver did note that the county’s choice for consultant fell through and this was a backup company suggested by a trade organization in the county.