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Letting Go of Past Hypocrisy for a Better Future for Roads

How do we let go of the past? I don't know. Thank you for reading my column, that's all the insight I have for today.

Kidding aside, the question of how to achieve this seemingly impossible task is important because the impossible is exactly what the county commission faces this budgeting cycle.

Board Chairman Ron Kitchen told the Chronicle editorial board as reported today that Sheriff Mike Prendergast, “needs to step up, be forthright and transparent.”

My gut reaction, what psychology calls an intuitive response, to this quote is to cringe at the hypocrisy. The county commission has overseen tens of millions of dollars in stimulus funds since 2020 and millions more in additional tax revenue from new Duke Energy structures and a Sabal Trail pipeline since 2019.

Now the board is considering raising our property taxes in addition to advocating for voters to approve an increase in the sales tax because budget priorities can’t be met.

I know this is unfair to the board. Much of the stimulus money had stringent restrictions and was intended, at least in part, to reach the public directly rather than help through offsetting the cost of public services. To the Citrus County government’s credit, we had one of the highest rates of stimulus funds making it to small businesses in the state, which was achieved at a fraction of a percentage point in county staff overhead.

This last part is what is known as the rational response. Rational does not mean level-headed such as comparing it to one definition’s antonym of irrational, but rather it means more logical, objective and free of emotional reasoning influence.

The rational mind knows it's unfair to point to the tens of millions in cash infusion the county has received in the last three years without any change in service to priorities such as road resurfacing and use this as evidence of why the commission needs to be more forthright and transparent.

Yet the intuitive gut tells me Chairman Kitchen’s quote is one of the most intellectually dishonest statements I’ve read from a politician, and that’s saying a lot after 12 years as a consultant.

How can the two be reconciled? Let go of the past. It’s not just me who has to do it.

The board is having a public workshop on road resurfacing this Tuesday. Since it is a public workshop rather than a special meeting, no voting can take place, but a decision to ask for a sales tax increase on the ballot or to propose putting a property tax increase on a future agenda are likely outcomes.

The most likely outcome is that some on the board will lament the state of the roads and cast blame onto others, whether the blame be toward other commissioners or on a public that hates cost increases, for the road problem rather than accept responsibility for it.

The intuitive response to this is to once again nearly double over at the hypocrisy. The commissioners most likely to chastise others for the problem are those who will have sat on the board for the longest time. It’s been nearly eight years for Commissioner Scott Carnahan and Chairman Kitchen. Commissioner Jeff Kinnard has now had well over five years.

Just as I am finding it hard to see any merit in Chairman Kitchen’s comments about transparency that reek of hypocrisy, so too will the two newest commissioners find it difficult to keep from pointing out that the only reason the current road problem is so bad is because of the fundamental failure of the previous board for over half a decade to address it.

And yet restraint is still encouraged.

There’s an old fable of two monks walking through the woods on the way to a monastery when they see a woman struggling to get across a river. The older monk breaks their vows to refrain from touching women, places her on his shoulders and carries the woman across the river to safety.

The younger monk is indignant at the act, constantly reminding his elder of the vows on their walk. When they reach the monastery, the younger one once again says he must report the act to leadership, and the older responds, “do what you must, but I left that woman at the riverside whereas you have carried her with you all this way.”

How do we let go of the past? I don’t know. But we must in certain situations to create a better future.


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