Priorities should be Decided by Merit, Not Popularity


Our podcast this week talked about popularity. This popularity was defined by pop-psychologists like Dr. Jon Haidt and pop-economists like Malcom Gladwell whose ability to deconstruct complicated concepts into easily understandable narratives earned them the popularity of the masses as well as the derision of their academic peers.


Another thing these popular authors have in common is their analysis of how groups form. We are internalizing political positions as part of our identity.


This makes our political stances more than just opinions on policy, but rather a reflection of personal character. This distinction is subtle, but immensely consequential. It can lead to people believing in a position because of what it says about them to their friends rather than for the merits of the policy for the county.


Today’s column is not about popularity, though, it is about another word that starts with the same letter. Priorities.


“I love all my candidates equally,” I tell each candidate I’ve represented. To those who are having a strong day or need a little boost, I will add, “but you’re the first among equals.”


This is how the County Commission has a tendency to treat priorities as well. Every major issue is equally a number one priority; some just become a first among equals.

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At the end of the meeting, Commissioner Ron Kitchen (who reaffirmed he was not seeking re-election) voiced his support for trail projects. Commissioner Kitchen heaped praise on Commissioner Jeff Kinnard for being a worthy successor as the Board’s advocate for trails in Citrus. Commissioner Kinnard responded with his resounding support for the Ft. Island Trail bike path.


It’s been a while since we’ve written about the bike path. This isn’t because I’m ashamed that I flip-flopped on this issue - at one time being for it while having since changed my mind - but rather because the people I talk to had told me few people are taking the project seriously.


It did surface as the third priority on the county wish-list given to the state delegation last month and may come up again when Rep. Ralph Massullo and Sen. Wilton Simpson host a meeting in Citrus in December to hear the final input from the public before session begins in 2022.


To review, the Ft. Island Tr. bike path is a proposed 9-mile widening of Ft. Island Trail road to include enough room for cyclists to safely ride without the risk of colliding with boat trailers. The project is projected to cost between $50-$60 million.


The county could access up to $25 million annually in Sun Trail money from the state, but only if Citrus qualifies first for the Sun Trail Priorities List. The county would likely have to start building parts of the trail to show its own commitment to the project before it would know if it is eligible for Sun Trail funds. This is a risk that shouldn’t happen. It’s time to remove the project as a priority.


I am not an outdoor cyclist but I do ride a stationary bike indoors five or six times a week. Nine miles takes me on average 34 minutes to achieve.


I am 32-years-old, indoors and even I am usually ready to call it quits after reaching the 300 calorie-burned threshold which this ride does. And this would only get me one way on the trail.


Cyclists like destinations. Cyclists like shade. Much of Ft. Island Trail offers neither.


The project would be inexplicable other than what we know about popularity, which keeps it a priority as restated in Tuesday’s meeting.


This column is not to make Commissioner Kinnard look bad, because I don’t think his support for the project is any reflection on who he is or his ability to do the job well. It’s not Commissioner Kinnard that is bad; it’s the policy that is bad. The two are completely different.


As someone who had originally taken the same stance he did, I know the reasons why I did. Some of the trail could be paid with bed tax money, some of it would be paid with state money and, most of all, influential Crystal River residents wanted it done. So if we could do a large project with out-of-county money to score a win for people who had helped us locally, of course that was worth supporting.


The project’s logistics simply doesn’t have the merit to warrant support however. We have too many other priorities that deserve more attention than ones pushed by popularity.


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