I was driving down Apopka yesterday morning when a caravan of Discover Crystal River vehicles passed me heading toward downtown Inverness. Sure some of the other areas, incorporated and not, are listed on the logo: Homosssa, Inverness, and Floral City, but this small text is nothing compared to the manatee and the dominant letters of Crystal River that comprise the majority of the graphic.
This has never bothered me much, out of towners - particularly those from cities looking to visit more rural areas - still put their trust in other cities but I understand those living in the unincorporated portions, especially those who work in tourism or run hospitality businesses, who are bothered by it.
The Chronicle has been highlighting the cities a lot already in 2022 from a recap of Crystal River’s accomplishments to a guest column from Inverness Mayor Bob Plaistad. Cities undoubtedly play a vital role in our county, but there’s an underlying narrative being created that does bother me, and it’s particularly being created by the Chronicle, that needs to be addressed before it spirals out of control.
This is Bobby Winsler - welcome to my weekly podcast covering the conversation in Citrus County. The city of Crystal River is known as the gem of the Naturecoast. The Chronicle spent much of the first 10 days of the new year highlighting its numerous accomplishments from 2021, culminating in this Sunday when Save Crystal River was named nonprofit of the year. This isn’t inherently a bad thing, Crystal River is worth celebrating, but it’s building a false narrative that their approach is the only correct way to govern. In truth, it’s more complicated than that. A lot more in fact. I’ll talk to former Inverness city manager Frank DiGiovanni to try to simplify it a little bit, but before we get to that, let’s start with this.
The more media covers something, the more likely of an outcome we think it will be. This can be in entertainment or in news. Watching a fictional show like a Law & Order SVU marathon will make you overpredict the number of sex crimes that actually occur per year, but so too did, for example, the wave of high-profile child abductions in the late 1970s and early 1980s cause parents to drastically change best practices in fear of a crime which is still incredibly rare.
The Chronicle creates a narrative like this. It goes something like this: Crystal River does everything right, anything east of 19 or south of Ozello has little appeal to out of towners, and the county government is lucky if it can put its shoes on the right feet.
Crystal River does a lot of things right, so the first part of that statement holds much truth to it. But if we assume that the city is model for how governing should work, then when Crystal River does things like raise its millage rate from 4.8 to 6.59 mills then we should at least pause to ask ourselves if this type of tax raise is necessary.
People who live in cities expect to pay more, and taxes are typically raised to match that, but the same isn’t true for those that live in other parts of the county. Because of this, governing styles should be very different and expectation of services different as well.
To fully understand the difference between city management and county governance, I sat down with someone who made a career out of it locally. Frank DiGiovanni became city manager of Inverness in the mid-1990s and spent more than four decades in public service. If anyone knows about the differences between city and county government, it is Frank.