Tuesday’s meeting revealed the most important trait a commissioner can have. The Board voted 3-2 with Commissioners Holly Davis, Ron Kitchen and Scott Carnahan in favor of the county re-integrating emergency services under purview of the county, cancelling the contract with Naturecoast EMS effective Oct. 1 of this year.
This column will stop shy of arguing whether or not this was the right move. That will largely depend on the overall execution of the transition and the efficiency achieved in the first few years of service.
What we can know in retrospect, however, is more about how the Board arrives at decisions through a careful analysis of behaviors and rhetoric.
In this order, this is who I think had the best meeting on Tuesday: Holly Davis, Ruthie Schlabach, Scott Carnahan. If you look at the outcome of the vote above and see Commissioner Schlabach’s name absent from those in favor, you might be puzzled by this. How can commissioners who had opposite votes top the list?
What I focus on is not the outcome of the vote but the process through which they got there. Each of these three commissioners demonstrated an openness to new information in the meeting and made their decisions in the chambers rather than before they got there.
Earlier in the week, Commissioner Ron Kitchen had accidentally pressed “reply all’ when responding to an email from a constituent. This caused Mr. Kitchen’s response to go to all other commissioners as well the person who had written to him advocating for the county to take EMS.
Mr. Kitchen’s email read, “thank you for your comments. I plan to recommend at Tuesday's meeting that we do what you recommend. I have heard the same sentiment from many other people.”
Retired Chronicle reporter Mike Wright reported this in a Facebook post that explained how it is a grey area for the Sunshine Laws that prohibit commissioners from discussing county business outside the public eye.
Commissioner Jeff Kinnard responded to Commissioner Kitchen’s comments saying, “That’s his plan. That’s not my plan.” Both of these statements were made prior to the meeting and both of the commissioners wound up voting in their pre-announced manner.
I recalled in the podcast my most unpleasant moment in Citrus County government, which happened at the school district office, not in the commission chambers. Before the meeting to decide if a guardian program would replace some school resource deputies from the Sheriff’s Office, a school board member approached me, thrust her finger into my chest, tapping it as she spoke for emphasis, and declared, “I’m not leaving here without my police department.”
CCSO gave a great presentation on why sworn law enforcement is better than guardians and retired Capt. Doug Dodd, the only member of the board with school resource experience, spoke passionately against the idea of the guardians, but it was evident the board had made up their mind before the meeting.
Commissioner Holly Davis at one point in Tuesday’s meeting after some new information was brought up said, “this is why I will probably make my decision right before this is called for a vote.”
Chairman Carnahan said something similar. Paraphrasing his words, he said he had come to the meeting intending to support more funding for Naturecoast EMS but based on the information he was receiving in the meeting, he could no longer hold that position.
His contingency for Naturecoast to receive more money was for them to fully dissolve their board of directors and replace it with city, county and community leaders, which NCEMS seemed unwilling to do.
Commissioner Ruthie Schlabach earned second place on my list for her long pause before answering as her name was called for a vote. This also demonstrated that she was giving the issue serious consideration up until the very end, although the vote had all but been decided with swing votes from Davis and Carnahan having already voted in favor.
Her decision making could have been one of personal political posturing since the outcome at this point was determined but I’m inclined to give her more credit than that.
Dr. Kinnard is capable of changing his mind. He had earlier that meeting on a vote regarding allowing hospitals to seek federal money. Commissioner Kitchen has too though more infrequently.
Thoughtfulness as a deliberate decision maker is the most important trait in a commissioner. Now it’s on us as the public to make good arguments to a Board that has proven themselves to be just that.