Election season has come to a close as has the time on the board of County Commissioners for Ron Kitchen and Scott Carnahan. Commissioners-elect Diana Finegan and Rebecca Bays will be sworn in and start the next meeting.
One of the Chronicle’s initial knocks against Diana Finegan was that she didn't fully understand what the job entailed, that’s an exaggeration and she’s a fast learner if there is truth to it, but in reality a lot of people don't quite understand what a commissioner does.
Former commissioner Winn Webb who came up short against Bays in this year's primary election always had what I think is the greatest explanation of it. He would say they oversee the county's A to Z's. From airports to zoos, the commission would be approving contracts, deciding policy and giving the county administrator direction who then executes that plan with the staff.
I have argued in the past that business experience is not the sole qualifying criteria for what makes a great commissioner. Commissioners Jeff Kinnrd, Holly Davis and Ruthie Schlabach all had much more business experience than the outgoing Kitchen and Carnahan though oftentimes those two, even when in the minority view, could steer meetings into their favor because they had a greater familiarity with parliamentary procedure.
Even this governing experience is not the best quality one can have. I have often argued and will yet again that the single greatest asset is the ability to communicate justifiable decisions.
Word choice is important here. I specifically did not say the ability to make the right decisions because what is right is going to be subjective in any given case.
It’s the ability to be as transparent with your fellow commissioners, and more importantly with the public, about why you have a particular stance on a policy.
That brings us to Inverness Village 4. The neighborhood, which is around the area of north Independence and N Florida Ave (U.S. 41) has been plagued by horrendous road conditions. All the roads were never paved in the platted subdivision, meaning the county does not maintain them because they were never accepted into the county rolls for maintenance, and there are signs in the area warning potential buyers of that. Still, many buyers were snowbirds visiting outside of the rainy season and are now trapped.
One potential route to fixing the roads would be levying a municipal services benefit unit (MSBU) on the residents which would allow them to collect the funds needed split among all the parcel owners without raising taxes on anyone else in the county.
The details behind this plan are nuanced with one major landowner having a majority vote despite being a single entity because of the sheer number of lots he owns and with the area requiring a $450,000 engineering study before the MSBU can be levied that neither the residents nor the majority of the commission wanted to pay for, even though the county would recoup the nearly half million cost in the MSBU.
Usually the residents have to vote for the MSBU to be created on their district, something that would be complicated with the large land owner, but at Monday’s meeting it was made abundantly clear that the commission could vote to implement one without this say from the residents.
And here’s where being a commissioner gets really complicated. It’s the line between government activism to help its citizens and government limiting itself. I’ll always defer to the latter, but the conservative philosophy of less government intrusion has to be considered on a sliding scale of its level.
For example, federal policies should always take a conservative stance, but I do think there’s room to accept that local government can be more active to help. These are our neighbors; people who eat at our restaurants and share our hobbies. This is why Commissioner Holly Davis, who represents Inverness Village 4, is fighting so hard to push for the MSBU on behalf of the citizens.
Yet it is a potential government overreach as repeated often by outgoing Commissioner Kitchen.
I don’t know what the right answer is, but I do know about the strength of arguments. While I have my philosophical reservations about Commissioner Davis’ proposal, there is no financial risk to the county taxpayers outside of the residents in the neighborhood, and currently she is making the strongest argument for using our local government to help pull some citizens out of a bad situation.
This will undoubtedly come up again as the two incoming commissioners take their seats later this month. Their ability to not only form an opinion on this issue, but to communicate the strength of their argument, will be an excellent first test for these two highly capable new leaders.