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Parsing the Possible Interpretations of What the Commission Wants in the Next County Administrator

Thursday’s column was about the importance of timing. Talent, intelligence and even quality of product rarely reach their full potential if the timing isn’t right. To restate this another way, if something falls short of achieving what it should or ceases to exist entirely, it does not necessarily take away from the talent, intelligence or quality of that thing.

Today’s column extends this idea beyond the commission to include County Administrator Randy Oliver, who tendered his resignation Friday and will step down before the end of November this year. Mr. Oliver is one of the rare people in government who is the target of bipartisan criticism in the sense that Citrus politics can be divided into two ideologies.

Those who are actively involved in the civic community have thought that his indifference toward Citrus County, for example he lives in Pensacola, disqualifies him from doing the job well because he doesn’t care about Citrus enough.

Their evidence for this, in addition to his commuter status and unwillingness to show for social affairs, is also that his ability to construct razor thin budgets has held Citrus back from making necessary investments in the county’s future.

Those less actively involved on the social scene but who have been making statements in the grassroots political circles see Mr. Oliver as an unelected tyrant who manipulates the commission to do his will rather than taking their direction as the voice of the people.

Their evidence for this largely comes from the criticisms levied against Mr. Oliver by former county commissioner Jimmie T. Smith, who had many public disagreements with him over staff management which may have led to him being passed over for chairman during his single term on the board.

Both sides have flaws in their thinking, but contrary to what you might think, it is the mentality described first that is the more concerning criticism.

There are several interpretations of Commissioner Ruthie Schlabach’s statements about community involvement being a prerequisite criterion for qualified a county administrator. Chairman Ron Kitchen reached for the worst way that the words could be taken in Tuesday’s meeting when he accused Commissioner Schlabach of not liking Mr. Oliver because he doesn’t go out drinking with her and her friends enough.

This was childish, uncalled for and it actually distracts from what the real concern about her statement is because this juvenile interpretation is easily, and rightfully, dismissible as nonsense.

She, “wants someone who is better at fostering relationships between herself and the rest of the board. She also wants him [the next administrator] to attend more group functions” reported the Chronicle in yesterday’s paper.

The most charitable interpretation of this statement is that she wants someone who shares enough common ground that the cross-sorts diffuse potential future tension. What are cross-sorts?

Cross-sorting is an academic term that refers to intersections of life that people have in common. For example, a white middle class school teacher from the Midwest might meet a black marketing executive from Manhattan and in most interaction they may avoid each other entirely. But if they find out that they have a mutual love of baseball and a guilty pleasure of blasting Adele’s music while alone in the car, these cross-sorts will diffuse the other traits that might otherwise make future interactions – even the difficult ones where they disagree – less intense.

What is happening in our political landscape is that we are getting more sorted. We make political assumptions about someone based on the car they drive, the sports they watch, the music they listen to, the clothes they wear and even where they live and then we band with those who are fundamentally sorted like us while disregarding those who may only be cross-sorted on a few things.

The troubling interpretation of Commissioner Schlabach’s statements would be if she meant that she wanted someone who is uniformly in agreement as a way of fostering relationships. In a hyper-reciprocal culture such as Citrus where agreement is the currency of social capital, this is a high possibility of what was meant.

Mr. Oliver’s time with Citrus may have passed him by. This doesn’t make him any less talented or intelligent. It is debatable whether, at this present time, he was still the best option for Citrus’ future, but it is indisputable that he saved the county from past financial insolvency. His decision to resign does not diminish the quality of his time served and we will, in the short-term, be worse off without him.


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