Learning Leadership from Elected Officials and Public



What is leadership? Hall of Fame Head Coach Jimmy Johnson has often said the way to recognize leadership, as Johnson did with quarterback Troy Aikman, is similar to the way a Supreme Court Justice in 1964 described how to recognize pornography: you know it when you see it.


Such an ambiguous description is not without its problems, particularly in an age when everyone’s perspectives can be shared over social media. One of these perspectives in the political context is a graphic that recurs advocating for people to stop calling elected officials leaders.


Political critics will humorously quote French Revolution era politician Alexandre Ledru-Rollin who allegedly said, “there go the people, I must follow them for I am their leader.” Regardless of ornery internet graphics and apocryphal quips, elected officials are leaders given the resources and capacity they wield to enact policy.


The sentiment arises because people in leadership roles can have bad ideas or moments of weakness. This doesn’t change the fact they are leaders. Likewise, people who we don’t consider to be traditional leaders can rise to meet challenges or start movements.

ADVERTISEMENT


County Commissioner Ruthie Schlabach is developing into a leader. She hosted a townhall last night for residents of Beverly Hills to discuss what they would like to see out of the Central Ridge Park. This was not her first time soliciting community feedback for the project.


Such an inclusive approach should be commended. However, this townhall comes as a bit of a stalling tactic. She had already hosted several, developed three ideas for renovations to the park but was stonewalled when she tried to push the suggestions at a commission meeting.


The commission isn’t opposed to renovations, they are in unanimous agreement something needs to be done, but they disagreed how to pay for it.


Commissioner Schlabach pushed for park impact fees collected from District 3 to be used, which would be enough to cover most of the proposed projects, but she met strong opposition from Chairman Scott Carnahan who felt those should be used for a future recreational football field and demanded instead an additional fee is placed on residents to pay for the renovations.


Commissioner Schlabach is right and shouldn’t back down. Any renovations will be used by residents from all over the county, such as residents of nearby Citrus Hills, who expressed support for pickleball courts.


Also, as Commissioner Schlabach pointed out, though impact fee money is collected countywide now this money is coming from her district. Beverly Hills has already paid for park improvements through new construction and the rest of the county would benefit. Any additional fee would be double taxation.


Hopefully Commissioner Schlabach returns to the next meeting with renewed confidence from her townhall and gets a project moving forward that doesn’t require an additional fee or general fund money.


The county shouldn’t overlook leadership coming from people who are not elected officials. The best display of this over the last week has been from someone who shares a name with a former county commissioner. Gary Bartell Jr. identified storm runoff pouring into the Halls River and launched into action.


He recorded videos, took pictures and organized a group called “Stand Up 4 the Outstanding” which now has over 600 members on Facebook. County Commissioner Jeff Kinnard recognized the seriousness of environmental harm in Bartell’s posts and immediately got a response from the South Florida Water Management District about how it can be fixed.


Bartell’s approach hasn’t been perfect. He thought, as logic would suggest to anyone, that the runoff was a result of unfinished work by former road resurfacing D.A.B. who abruptly closed their doors last week. This was not the case, and Bartell apologized for insinuating as such.


This was an oversight of Florida’s Dept. of Transportation (FDOT) and one that has led to millions of polluted gallons of water dumped into our waterways. FDOT initially denied there was a problem but yesterday concluded that, “while no water from Pond 4 is directly discharged into Halls River, it does flow into a drainage basin which ultimately leads there” according to the activist group’s Facebook page. Bartell’s advocacy led to a segment with Bay News 9 that airs this morning.


We are fortunate to have all kinds of leaders in this community. Some are learning, haven’t yet fully succeeded and don’t always hit their mark. But they are passionate and hard working, and their labors as evident by Schlabach and Bartell, will make the county a better place.

A 750 word column about Citrus County published every Thursday and Sunday