Mike, Mike Mike Mike Mike, do you know what day it is? It’s a Wednesday and I’m fired up. This morning’s three mile run marked halfway through the local Run for the Money with the Key Training Center. That’s technically 15.55 miles for me in two and a half days because I’ve been extended the three miles into an even 5k and it’s felt great…emotionally, especially when the clients come out to join like they do in the afternoons, and I’m sure it will feel great physically when I can feel my legs again, I’ll keep you updated on that.
I didn’t prep a topic for today’s show. Monday I knew I was going to be talking about the Sunday Chronicle, Tuesday was the commemoration of Phil Royal’s legacy, so all this week so far, I’ve had at least some sense of what I would be forming a show around but today we’re flying blind. Still going to be a great one for you today.
I’m going to focus mostly on what Just Wright Citrus published this morning. It’s the impending appointment of retiring Crystal River city manager Ken Frink to fill a vacant city council seat, something that the Chronicle led with as its lead story in yesterday’s brand new front page. Personally, I had not been very wild about the new masthead though I had my suspicions that opinion was clouded in bias and a predisposition to be resistant to change, and sure enough I showed yesterday’s edition to my wife Rachel and she said, huh. It’s pretty good. And she’s way smarter than me, and in her speak, that’s a huge compliment. So congrats Chronicle! The expert has spoken. It’s a homerun.
I’m a little reluctant to use the concept that’s at the heart of the academic lesson I sneak into each of these, which today is going to be confirmation bias, because there are so many other better biases but confirmation bias is the one that gets all the attention. We’ve already talked about American psychologist Abraham Maslow when we did the hierarchy of needs on Monday, but 20 or so years after the pyramid, Maslow wrote another paper in which he used a term, and I’m paraphrasing, “to the man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail” which Wikipedia does disclaim might not be an original line to him despite his use. I don’t need you all out there blowing up my Facebook telling me it’s not his words.
But that’s confirmation bias. Once you understand this idea that people look for information to confirm previously held beliefs rather than objectively interpret new information then everything looks like confirmation bias, when in fact, there are a countless number of biases to describe human behavior. Even the line about the hammer and nail is a form of cognitive bias and my favorite is the fundamental attribution error. Fundamental attribution bias is when someone else is late, it’s because they are lazy and irresponsible, but when you’re late, it’s because traffic was bad since city planners don’t know what they’re doing and Florida drivers are terrible. We’ve all been there.
But today we’re going to put a twist on confirmation bias, and it’ll become the basis for why we should at least question whether Ken Frink is the best person for the job before we anoint the prince who was promised.
Before we get into this too deeply, I have a confession to make. I’m going to be completely hypocritical in this rant. Whoa, some of you are saying, nothing new there. And maybe so. Let’s start with the end. I’m going to conclude that the reason for questioning Ken Frink’s appointment is because you don’t want a room of group think where everyone tells you how great you’re doing. Okay let’s rewind back to the beginning. I honestly do think Crystal River is doing a great job. See the hypocrisy? But much like if you were listening closely to Monday’s show then I said the Chronicle is in danger of becoming the Cleveland Browns, not that they were, I do think that Crystal River is in danger of becoming a victim of group think – not that it is or that the appointment of Frink will make it so.
Here’s the full backstory. Crystal River councilman Pat Fitzpatrick passed away recently leaving a gaping hole not only in the council but also in the community as Pat was a big man with an even bigger personality. He’s sorely missed. The show must go on, though, and while Pat was battling health complications, city manager Ken Frink announced his resignation in April set for August 2nd. Frink is engaged to councilwoman Cindi Guy who was first elected in 2018 and was unopposed in 2022. With the vacancy left by Fitzpatrick, an application opens from now until August – so far Frink is the only applicant – and if he is contested then the council will vote on the appointment until a special election can be held in March. The winner of that election will then have to run again in November as the regularly scheduled term expires.
Councilwoman Guy and Manager Frink are waiting until August to get married because, as the Chronicle reported on April 11th, the two are not violating the state’s nepotism clause as an engaged couple, but would once married since Guy would technically be Frink’s employer.
Just Wright Citrus talked about today that the most asked question Mike was getting was if it is legal if they are married and can both serve on the council together. He cited Stephanie and Joe Adams who both were elected to the mosquito control board and reported that Joe Adams even sent Mike the attorney general opinion that cleared the way legally. In fact, that situation should be more concerning because they make up the majority of that three-person board whereas the future Mr. and Mrs. Frink do not on the council but let’s set that aside.
One question we can ask here is if legality is the bareboned minimum standard we should require. My college fraternity had a saying, the world expects more of you than it does of most men, and so too should we hold our elected officials to that standard. So instead of just looking at the legal benchmark, let’s ask if it’s ethical. Well, the answer to that is no. In fact, Crystal River overlooked the ethical implications for quite some time.
According to the International City and County Management Association, the ICMA, which is the governing body of city managers, an organization that turns 100 years old next year, the relationship has been a problem for some time. Its code of ethics states, “Relationships in the Workplace. Members should not engage in an intimate or romantic relationship with any elected official or board appointee, employee they report to, one they appoint and/or supervise, either directly or indirectly, within the organization. This guideline does not restrict personal friendships, professional mentoring, or social interactions with employees, elected officials and Board appointees.” Pretty straight forward. I don’t know exactly how long it was although it wasn’t at all a secret that Cindi and Ken were dating for probably about at least a year of the four that Ken has been city manager, and remember, the only reason why action is being taken now is because they wanted to get married and legally wouldn’t be able to until he resigned. Ethically, the standard hasn’t even been considered by anyone in the city for quite some time. Maybe I’m making too big a deal out of this. But if you’ve ever talked to a cop who has been court-trained or had to appear, they’ll tell you the one cardinal rule you can’t do is lie. If you lie once, you can never testify again. Ever. On any case. Because if you lie about one thing, one time, then what else are you willing to lie about? And the same goes for when an entire governing body is willing to overlook a blatant violation of a clearly defined code of ethics.
Okay, okay, I’m being a stick in the mud. While I haven’t spent much time around Ken or Cindi, the little I have they are infectiously in love and it’s so heartwarming to see especially given Cindi suffered the unspeakable tragedy of losing her son in a car crash recently. I’m actually not worried about the ethical violation in this case, although this is hypocritical of me too. A lot of that going around today. I’m worried about the group think Ken could bring to the board.
There’s something called the disconfirmation bias threshold. It’s the ratio of dissent needed to avoid group think. It’s actually been measured in some hilarious studies. You put a group of people in a room, let’s say 10, and eight of them are part of the study. They’ll flash a color, green for example, and the eight who are in on it will confidently say the color is blue and the researchers will test the other two to see if the eight who are wrong sway the opinion of the two who have the truth literally staring them right back in the face. The threshold needed for disconfirmation is shockingly low. In most cases, somewhere between a 3:1 to a 4:1 ratio was sufficient to get people to question what they were seeing, meaning out of a room of 10 people, the eight being knowingly wrong would be sufficient to make the other two go along with what was blatantly against their knowledge. That’s crazy.
And we see this happening in other aspects of life, not just government. Academia rightly gets a bad rap for being liberal because studies have found your average department is 18:1 Democrats to Republicans with some humanities departments getting as high as 40:1. Of course a left-leaning curriculum would be created. Interestingly, the only field of study to be within the 4:1 threshold that the survey I read found was economics.
Now I’ve worked personally for Mayor Joe Meek and for Councilman Ken Brown and I can tell you neither would fall victim to group think. Both are independently-minded, strong leaders as I’m guessing almost everyone on the council is – Ken Frink included. But just like with the ethical transgressions, all it takes is one major decision that the spiral of silence happens because the council is packed with group think members and the city’s direction could take a turn irreparably for the worse. Okay, that’s too much doom and gloom. I’ll end today by saying congratulations to councilwoman Cindi Guy and future councilman Ken Frink. Despite annoying opinions from guys like me, their love is truly an inspiration to our common humanity, and I wish them the very best.