In the podcast this week, I asked the question, “is doing the right thing the wrong way still virtuous?” I concluded the show with my answer: I don’t know.
The easiest way to define what this question is asking is to look not at the local level, but at a policy from the federal government.
President Joe Biden directed the CDC to extend the moratorium on evictions another month. Biden initially said, “maybe it’s illegal, but it’s worth it,” comments that his press secretary then walked back.
The press knows the President doesn’t have this power, meaning this is the wrong way to do things, but it’s seen as the right thing to do so it is hailed by some as an act of civil disobedience.
In Tuesday’s meeting, we saw a commissioner come forward with a proposal that again raised the question of, “is doing the right thing the wrong way still an act of good?”
Commissioner Holly Davis has been a vocal advocate of an initiative created by the Florida Chamber of Commerce Foundation called the Florida Prosperity Project. The goal is to eradicate generational poverty through engaging and educating a younger generation who aren’t exposed to many life skills necessary to pursue gainful employment when they reach the workforce. Nine of the 67 counties in Florida have launched local prosperity initiatives including Prosperity Citrus.
Though technically a Chamber project, the committee that supports Prosperity Citrus are elected officials and community leaders rather than Chamber officials including but not limited to former Judge Patricia Thomas, Clerk of the Court Angela Vick, Sheriff Mike Prendergast, county lobbyist and local philanthropist Gene McGee, Education Foundation Chairwoman Shaunda Burdette and as previously mentioned Commissioner Davis.
Davis drafted a resolution for the board to vote on Tuesday that consisted of two provisions. The first declared the county in support of the Prosperity Citrus effort. The board approved this unanimously.
The second provision stated, “the Board of County Commissioners thereby extends its support to the goals and objectives of Prosperity Citrus to the extent of utilizing staff and resources as appropriate within defined duties, objectives, and budgets of various departments.”
Examples of this would be if Prosperity Citrus needed a flyer for an event and the county public information office employed a graphic designer, then that employee could spend time designing the flyer for the initiative during work hours. If that event was at a county park that would typically require other organizations to pay a fee, that fee would be waived for Prosperity Citrus. This portion was stricken from the resolution.
The commission was divided over this second provision before its removal. Commissioner Ruthie Schlabach wanted to revise the word “budgets” to be more specific. Commissioner Jeff Kinnard was in favor of passing it as written. His argument was one many reasonable people will make: the county regularly invests in nonprofits to do work it cannot do on its own. And if viewed only in that context, then it is hard to disagree with that argument.
Chairman Scott Carnahan’s ardent opposition wasn’t philosophical, though, it was structural. It wasn’t about the role of government (should the county invest in nonprofits?); it was about chain of command (can the commission order staff?). His answer to the second question was no.
And he’s right.
The county commission has two employees: the administrator and the attorney. Everyone else works for the administrator.
“We don’t need politicians messing around with how each of the county’s employees does his or her job,” wrote the Chronicle’s editorial board when former Commissioner Jimmie T. Smith called for the firing of a county department head.
The Chronicle was right in making that statement then for the same reason Chairman Carnahan is correct in opposing this now. It only feels different because the cause of helping people find jobs is much more worthy than attempting to remove someone from theirs.
Commissioner Davis is trying to do the right thing, but the second provision of this resolution was doing it the wrong way. That’s okay. The board corrected the action. The system worked.
Commissioner Davis shouldn’t be discouraged or disheartened for putting herself out there in pursuit of doing the right thing.
The onus now falls to us as the public. We can’t blame the board for making a decision that looks like they aren’t willing to invest in the county. They were protecting taxpayer interests and preserving the workings of the institution. It’s on us to make the initiative a success.