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Time to start electing commissioners by district?

Let’s get after it on a Monday, hope you had a great weekend I know I did. But this week is all work and no play as I am back in the classroom starting at UF on Thursday and I’ll be back at UT one week from today. Okay, I still get to play on these podcasts so it’s not all work. Plus it’s debate week with the first Republican presidential debate on Wednesday so there’s that to look forward to.

Speaking of these shows, welcome to all of our new listeners! Friday’s numbers spiked so thank you to those who shared it as well as to those who came back to listen again. It’s great to have you in. Monday’s include a fan-favorite segment called That’s Just Wrong which I’ll get to in about three minutes, list just keeps growing each week, it’s where I recap everything I got wrong while doing these shows. If you are brand new to this show, then the way most of the episodes work aren’t like Friday’s where there’s original reporting on news, although I will provide you with fresh information from time to time and if you download the free Concurrent app then I do breaking news push notifications to be sure you get the news first.

But I’m not a reporter. I’m a consultant, and a commentator. So the actual structure of these shows is that I read the morning opinion content from the Chronicle editorial to Just Wright Citrus and today we’ll even introduce a topic from someone who wrote into the Concurrent, I spend a little time recapping the news or one of those in the intro, and then usually one of them presents me with a topic of the day that I can provide greater context to whether this is outright disagreement, critical analysis like you heard on Friday, or a deeper, academic understanding of the point one of the writers is trying to make. Let’s get right to it.

The Chronicle editorial today is an interesting piece about the Inverness Medical Arts district which I encourage you to read but that I’m not going to touch on here. The Chronicle also had two local feature stories about young-ish people, my age, mid-30s, stepping into new roles - one from a musical and military career into teaching at a public school and a promotion of a Sheriff’s Office captain into leading the behavioral health unit. I would love to do an entire topic on how these two people appear to be excelling despite their professional identities changing and how that relates to Right Rudder, maybe we’ll do that tomorrow depending on the news, but it’s amazing to see the way, especially teacher Scott Chmura, has been able to ground himself to the identity of drummer and be so flexible beyond that. Lots of lessons there we can all learn from.

Okay, should I mention it? The Mike Wright Sunday commentary? The one where he pretended like he was going to run for commission, but then halfway through revealed it was a joke? I’ll admit it, I skipped to the end to make sure it was a joke. What this reminded me of is an innocuous two second exchange in one of my favorite TV shows 30 Rock where a business executive played by Alec Baldwin compliments one of his employees who pays it right back to him and he says confidently but dismissively, thank you, but I wasn’t fishing. And that’s what I think was missing from this. I could have used just one disclaimer to not make this feel like a piece fishing for comments like, “you should do it!” or “you’d be so good at it,” or the best compliment a voter can pay a potential candidate, “you’d have my vote.” and on the Just Wright Citrus page, that’s exactly what happened. But without this disclaimer, then you can tell from these inevitable reactions that that makes the piece about you, and that misses the point of commentary which is the content should be about all of us. And just to wrap that up before we get into That’s Just Wrong, the hilarious part about that is the one comment on the Chronicle website on his piece is the exact opposite. Alllivesmatter wrote, “too much bias in my opinion to be a commissioner. I’m not impressed at all.” Brutal man, the pajama people tell it like it is.

We’ll be touching on this morning’s Just Wright Citrus piece in the main topic so without further ado, That’s Just Wrong on a Monday here we go:

Wrong Wrong Wrong Wrong

Play stupid games, win stupid prizes. I know I’m bad at making predictions, but I thought for sure I had nailed the Chronicle’s media strategy to advocate for Right Rudder in the commentary this weekend, even going so far on Friday as to say because that’s what I would do if I ran an activist publication. Boy was I wrong. One line in the Saturday, not Sunday, Saturday editorial and it said, “We should acknowledge that that the current airport and the county are at odds at the length of the operator’s lease. We hope that is resolved quickly so the county’s vision for the airport can move along.” That is…exactly what they should say. I stuck my neck out to make accusations and I deserve to eat a little crow today, I was wrong.

Wrong wrong wrong wrong

On August 7th, I advocated for a minority of lot owners in a neighborhood to have sway over what the majority of lot owners would want in the case of Inverness Villages IV. Now, I still believe that to be true but the Mike Bates piece on Meadowcrest gates that was front page Friday at the very least has me second guessing myself. Even if they are in the minority after survey responses regarding gating off the neighborhood are collected, the Meadowcrest Community Association leadership has made it clear that they intend to move forward with plans for a gate regardless of what the residents say. The president of the association even went as far as to refer to anti-gaters as the resistance, I mean, come on - these people are your neighbors, not central American guerilla fighters. I’m all for advocating against the tyranny of the majority but it’s not a blanket policy for the minority to act on behalf of everyone, I was wrong.

You’re Wrong

One of my favorite rock n roll bands growing up was Rush. The Canadian rockers have a song, I forget which one, maybe Limelight, that says, “if you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice.” Well I thought the commission was right to table the decision on splitting a commercial parcel until they could have a better discussion than what something pulled from the consent agenda would allow, but we found out at Thursday’s PDC meeting that tabling the discussion effectively ended the project, which was a self-storage facility, because it needed a plat. Now I wish the commission would have taken a stronger stance on it to show leadership rather than kind of clumsily killing it through inaction. Remember the eternal words of Rush lead singer Geddy Lee: if you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice.

You’re wrong.

Lastly, it was pointed out to me that my Bobby Winsler show graphic still says that these episodes are only on Tuesdays when they are now all weekdays. That’s an amazing catch in attention to detail and both me and the graphic were wrong.

You’re wroonnggg

That’ll do it for That’s Just Wrong, can’t wait until next week. Let’s get to our topic.

In honor of starting back to school, I’ll give you part of my first day lecture. I ask my students an existential question, one that you should try to answer for yourself, the purpose is to make you question your very existence, I ask, “what are you doing here?” And then let it hang. What. Are. You. Doing. Here? This can be difficult to answer because of the word “here.” At this moment? Professionally in my job? On this earth? What do you mean, what am I doing here? And so to answer the question, whether you’re one of my student or whether you’re playing along right now, we have to define here.

To define something, we have to name it, put a label on it, categorize it. This is easy in class if you think about institutions of higher learning structurally. At the top, there’s the university. Colleges, such as the college of arts, college of science, college of business, make up the University. Departments, such as the communication department or theater department, or philosophy department, all comprise the college of arts. Finance department, economics department, etc in college of business. But then there’s programs within departments. Within the communication department we have journalism, and Advertising public relations, and speech, and then there’s even concentrations within programs such as either ad or PR within programs. Why is any of this important? Because categorizations can be very helpful to answering what are you doing here? I am an adjunct professor of advertising and public relations in the communication department of the college of arts and letters at the University of Tampa, I know what I’m doing there when I step foot in the classroom.

The reason I get students asking themselves this question early is because it takes practice to answer and so it’s easier to start asking it when there is a clear answer. What are students doing at college? Well, the easy answer is they are there to graduate. Certainly to learn is a better answer, but the pragmatic one is graduate. The question becomes much more difficult, though, when you enter the professional world. Just look at local media, and then we’ll pivot to the commission.

The Chronicle needs to ask itself, what are we doing here? Because I don’t have an answer to that, and as a dedicated reader, it’s showing that neither do they. At the philosophical level, I think the Chronicle and I would disagree about the answer: I would say they are here to inform the community and they would say they are here to improve to community - those two things require different approaches but that’s fine, I mean, it’s not, but it is. But both of these philosophies are in conflict with Paxton Media Group, that just bought Landmark and thus the Chronicle about two years ago, that would answer what are we doing here as maximizing revenues.

And so you get some practices that neither inform nor improve the public, like how the Chronicle has become the number one news source for the Hawaii wildfires with the number of front page stories they’ve run on it, almost reminiscent of the way CNN went all-in on the missing Malaysian airliner almost a decade ago. And you have good local commentary from Sheriff Mike Prendergast detailing our falling crime rate to Chamber CEO Josh Wooten advocating for a new business project as the leader of a business advocacy group should and both fail to make the front page of the opinion section on the website and in the print edition because of a needless point/counterpoint over a meaningless feud between former President Donald Trump and his former vice president Mike Pence. I don’t know what that is. I don’t know what we’re doing here.

Let’s pivot to the board. After the regular meeting, there is a 5 o’clock hearing scheduled on the approval of a glamorous camping, or glamping, ground that is requesting a zoning change to start the business in Ozello. Just Wright Citrus covered this topic this morning and concluded that a yes vote by the commission to approve the zoning change is different from the situation from Sugar Mill Woods and Pine Ridge because, I’m reading a little in between the lines here because it’s not that clear in his words, that no one lives near this Glamping ground in Ozello. He also says no votes, quote “start to add up” and the commission has been saying no a lot lately.

I don’t know much about the project, but it’s been explained to me that it’s low impact, environmentally friendly, and the plan started in a good place and has only improved with the intense scrutiny it’s received so it should be approved. So, with my limited knowledge, I would go into the meeting with an open mind but the burden would be for someone to disprove why it shouldn’t be approved rather than vice-versa. But I think, rationally so, it will be the opposite for the commission. Three of the five are up for reelection, and as Mike Wright’s non-announcement announcement said, being against any and all growth is the fastest way to local political success. Commissioner Diana Finegan knew this during her campaign last cycle so that means potentially four commissioners will be leaning no before hearing the arguments.

So how do we fix this? Elect people who aren’t worried about political ramifications? It’s a political board, just like our congress is a political entity, I don’t blame the people for this, it’s a systemic problem so let’s assume that’s not going to change. But there is something we could change. This idea was presented by one of the Franks, not sure if it was Papcin or Lovell, but I don’t want to steal it as an original idea, but there might become a time when voting by district should be reconsidered.

If the commission votes no on the Ozello project this Tuesday and no on the Pine Ridge project next Tuesday, then that will be four major projects in which the county commission has overruled the PDC recommendation, albeit one, the Meadowcrest project, was pro-growth. The rest might, not saying they did, but might have some political element to it as Sugar Mill and Pine Ridge are massive voting areas. So how do we make sure good projects aren’t killed simply because representatives are worried about voter backlash? Reduce the size of their representation. Take Pine Ridge for example. Chair Schlabach would almost certainly vote against it because it’s what her residents want, maybe Commissioner Jeff Kinnard too since a sliver of his district is Pine Ridge. But the other three wouldn’t have to fear voter backlash from that major center, and maybe someone like Commissioner Diana Finegan still opposes it on principle, but it at least gets a fair shot.

Citrus County is the 32nd most populous county of the 67 in Florida, right smack dab in the middle. On cursory research, I would need to go into this more in-depth, it looks like you have to go up in population to Leon County, the 23rd most populous county, so nine spots up and at almost 300,000 people, Leon County is roughly double our size, before you get a commission divided among district representative and at-large members so we would have a ways to go. But when you clearly have a district, or you clearly represent the county at-large and have the bigger picture, it becomes very easy weigh heavy decisions like the ones the board has these next three weeks against who exactly you represent. Instead, commissioners are left asking themselves, what am I doing here? And having to answer it with their own political futures against what is potentially best for the county, and it’s a lose-lose for both our representatives and the people.


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