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Rising Above the Inevitable Conflict Creation in Tuesday's Upcoming Budget Meeting

I blame my parents. Or maybe that's the easy way out.


At 17-years-old, they let me sign up as a creative writing major in college. Yes, you heard me. A creative writing major. The seven years of grad school I did after the four years of undergraduate work starts to make a little more sense now.


What makes this irreversible part of my educational history even worse is one glaring fact that I’m reminded of every time I sit down to write. I’m not even a good storyteller.


That’s not entirely true. I’m not a willing storyteller might be a more appropriate phrasing. Take this week for example.


This upcoming Tuesday will be the commission meeting where the board will take a deep dive into all of the constitutional officers’ budgets with close eyes on how they will handle Sheriff Mike Prendergast’s multi-million dollar requests.


A good storyteller would set the stage. The room will be at capacity. Tensions will be running hot. The gavel will boom above the angry murmur as Chairman Ron Kitchen threatens for a third time to throw people out.


A great storyteller would take it a step further. I would take the Sheriff’s side and make all-or-nothing claims like “the commission should give him everything he wants or We the People will remember this in the next election!” then post that to Facebook and watch the comments pile up.

And yet I can’t.


Don’t get me wrong, if you want that story, there will be plenty of people who will write it. But it’s intellectual dishonesty - plain and simple.


When people say they hate the media, situations like this are what give their arguments merit. It’s when members of the media don’t report the news but rather create narratives that don’t exist. The distinction can be subtle and it’s often felt before it’s understood. A certain story will make you mad and you’re not sure why.


Some recent past Concurrent columns have talked about controversial Harvard professor Robert Putnam, but another Harvard colleague of his named Steven Pinker is also quite controversial although for different reasons.


One of the sources of Pinker’s polarization is that he believes the world is getting better and he light-heartedly jokes that the media and the academy can’t accept this position because it goes counter to the image of a world constantly on the brink of destruction.


In a TED Talk promoting his 2018 book Enlightenment Now, Pinker said, “you never see a journalist say, ‘I’m reporting live from a country that has been at peace for 40 years.’”


He followed this with, “the papers could have run the headline ‘137,000 people escaped from extreme poverty yesterday’ every day for the last 25 years. That’s one and a quarter billion people leaving poverty behind but you never read about it.”


He even goes as far as to cite a satirical headline from the comedic publication the Onion, “CNN holds morning meeting to decide what viewers should panic about for rest of day.”


That’s a Harvard professor making a joke at CNN’s expense. You can tell why he’s controversial among his circles.


His point is a good one nonetheless. If we stop inventing the bad and instead appreciate the good, we recognize the world is not a bad place to live.


A majority of the county commissioners have either scheduled or already met individually with the Sheriff to discuss his budget. To Commissioner Ruthie Schlabach’s credit, she was first but Commissioner Holly Davis has been proactive as well and Commissioner Jeff Kinnard has been more than willing.


The story here is not one of conflict but rather that steps are being taken by serious people to resolve an immensely complicated situation.


I wish I could give you a good story. I really do.


But much like Professor Pinker’s view of the world, my view of Tuesday’s upcoming meeting is that Citrus County is a great place to live because smart people act like adults even if others are willing to create divisive narratives to tell you otherwise for their own personal benefit of audience engagement.


We are fortunate to have caring commissioners who take time beyond meeting twice a month to educate themselves on the issues. We, and by this “we” I mean local media and not the people of Citrus County (the majority of whom voted to keep him in office), generally under-appreciate the caliber of leadership we have in the Sheriff’s Office.


That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.


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