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Grading the Two Newest Commissioners' First Business Meeting Performances

Our two newest members of the county commission took their seats for the first business meeting on Tuesday, so now it’s time for this college professor to hand out some grades on how they did.

I wrote down my initial notes and the result of just the notes was three times the length of a normal fully developed column. I tried my best to cut it down but this one still runs about 1,000 words. That said, I’ve tried to keep the most important parts so let’s get right to it in alphabetical order

Commissioner Rebecca Bays: A

One Sentence Summary: Perception as Reality Might be a Problem.

The benefit of experience was on full display Tuesday for Commissioner Rebecca Bays who returned to the dais for the first time since 2014. She was helped by several agenda items that were right in her field of expertise with some zoning and planning issues as the county prepares itself for smart growth. She got her pitch and she didn't miss it.

Commissioner Bays also offered up the idea of pausing fines levied against the private corporation overseeing the prison, something I would personally be against, and something that the commission ultimately decided not to pursue. Instead of faulting her for bringing up ideas I don't agree with however, she deserves to be commended for laying all possibilities out on the table in the same way that Chairman Ruthie Schlabach did with the change to the open to the public portion proposal. That doesn't negatively effect her score but one thing did keep her from achieving the highest A+ grade possible.

A saying that can annoy serious business professionals who are more concerned with results than image is “perception is reality.” Reality is reality to them and I imagine this is the case with Commissioner Bays as an established professional.

But she had a moment where perception will be reality even if that is different from reality being reality.

After the conclusion of a roughly hour and a half first public input session, Chair Schlabach asked if anyone would like to offer comments as is customary and Commissioner Bays initially said no. She ultimately added a few things after others had spoken but the optics of this weren't great.

I believe the reality is that she's an efficient speaker who doesn't talk for the sake of talking. The perception, however, is disengaged or that she’s above commenting on public input coming off as potentially elitist. Whatever the case may actually be is irrelevant here when perception is reality and that perception keeps her from scoring perfect marks with a plus after her A.

Commissioner Diana Finegan: A-

One Sentence Summary: Her two high moments showed potential of unrivaled greatness but the sole low moment was a serious red flag.

A first-time commissioner should only be expected to land one good moment in a meeting as they start to learn the process, if they can even achieve that. Commissioner Diane Finnegan had two great moments.

Early on, she paused an otherwise routine approval of the bid process to make a comment about keeping more money directed toward Citrus County vendors. I do think the commission does more than what meets the eye with this process, however, there is plenty of room for improvement her calling attention to that was a necessary first step to making changes.

It was a bold move to challenge something so embedded in custom right off the bat and she deserves recognition for doing so.

The second high point was during the discussion about the public portion in which she cited that the change would have to be an amendment to the county ordinance and not just directing staff to change the usual agenda order.

This may seem like semantics but it revealed a tremendous attention to detail that not even the most senior commissioners on the board had caught. Unfortunately, as high as the highs were, the one low point was low enough to knock her down below the grade her fellow incoming commissioner received.

The board had to make appointments to other governing boards and one of the nominees was Timothy Gilbert who briefly ran for county commission as a Democrat in the other district from Commissioner Finegan’s, but who was a vocal critic of her campaign. And I mean vocal.

So when his name was brought forth, it was no surprise that Commissioner Finegan immediately asked about his qualifications versus the other person who applied for the same position. That’s understandable.

Commissioner Holly Davis gave a brilliant explanation that the boards have quotas of seats by profession, the other applicant was a Realtor and the quota for that profession was already met. In addition to that, this position was for a general citizens role which Mr. Gilbert fit better.

I don’t fault Commissioner Finegan for having her reservations about his appointment based on their previous history, but it has to end there. Personal feelings have to be set aside when new information is presented, like in this case, which should overcome even the deepest of biases.

Except in this case, it didn’t. Maybe she knew it would be a 4-1 vote so she didn't think that her nay vote would matter.

It does - not in the outcome of the decision but it does send a message for the type of commissioner she is going to be. That message in this instance was someone who will hold grudges over reason even when governing.

I don't think this defines who she is, everyone is entitled to rookie mistakes, and the only reason why this low feels so low is because the highs were far beyond what I think even her colleagues on the board expected as evident by their praise of her first meeting performance.

Overall, we’re clearly in the most capable hands we’ve seen fill the chairs in quite some time.


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