Whenever there is not a lot of news to report, newspapers will lean on their crimes and court stories. Anything from the endless spinoffs of Law and Order to the Gabby Petito case unfolding over the last couple of weeks demonstrates an audience's draw to the topic.
Six of the eight headlines on the Chronicle’s homepage Saturday morning were related to crime or the courts, which is not a bad thing, but does reflect the little amount of news happening.
A few stories deserve continuous attention including the county assistance in paying the new stormwater fee for those who qualify for hardship, the potential emergency declaration at Tuesday’s meeting to tap FEMA funds for those facing adversity from the tremendous flooding and the continued troubles the Homosassa Halls River community is having with the Florida Department of Transportation in containing pollutants from the U.S. 19 widening project.
The emergency services transition from Naturecoast EMS to county Fire Services will likely hit one last point of contention on Tuesday when Commissioners discuss how funding for a call-aided dispatch (CAD) system will be split. Right now, the roughly $3 million CAD system is split among Naturecoast EMS, Fire and the Citrus County Sheriff’s Office but Fire will have to shoulder two-thirds of the cost under the new arrangement.
County Administrator Randy Oliver has expressed this can come from American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds, the second stimulus, which preserves the $2 million in Fire Services reserves from the CARES Act, the first stimulus, to help pay for the transition. Commissioner Jeff Kinnard, however, will likely be proposing either a new formula or a new funding source as he has expressed displeasure with the current arrangement at past meetings.
The real source of contention though will likely come from an update about how much money has been spent in the transition process so far. This is something Commissioner Ruthie Schlabach asked the administrator for that has gone unanswered as of the special meeting on Wednesday but that she pressed for once again.
Chairman Scott Carnahan and Commissioner Ron Kitchen quickly came to the administrator’s defense saying that during emergency declarations such as hurricanes, the common practice is to set an overall budget for the administrator, which the commission has done for the EMS transition, and then remain hands-off while the administrator works during the crisis time.
This makes sense. Commissioner Kitchen and I align most, although not perfectly, in ideology and Chairman Carnahan is a past client of my consulting business whose ability to do the job I feel is underrated by many. And even so, I’m inclined to defend Commissioner Schlabach here.
It's not that she should continue to demand the answer to her question. The Commission is an oversight board that will hold people accountable if budgets are misspent during crisis time. It's that she shouldn't have to face two forms of horrible communication to get answers.
The first form of communication was ironically silence, the lack of communication itself. This is what she received from the administrator after she had made her request for the amount spent so far. The second form, which is arguably worse although maybe only marginally so, is the incredulity of her colleagues, specifically Commissioners Carnahan and Kitchen in this case, over her not knowing the standard procedure. This led to phony indignation and unnecessary condemnation that helps no one, least of all the citizens.
This is not the first time this has happened and it's hard to imagine it will be the last, especially with Commissioner Kitchen poised to takeover the chairmanship for a year starting in November. The Concurrent has already written about the direction that poises us to head.
So if it is only on track to get worse and is already not starting in a good place, then what is the solution? Hire an intermediary.
I have advocated in the past that this should be the assistant county administrator. This position is akin to a chief operating officer that facilitates internal communication to address problems like this before it ever gets to a public meeting. It's hard to imagine the county hiring a $105,000 base salary excluding benefits position right now.
Something needs to happen whether it is a staff assistant to Doug Wright, who is capable but overworked, a change of title for someone in the growing public information office or a contractor to help facilitate the communication before it goes from disagreements in meetings to drastic action taken.