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Changes, more of the same ahead for local government

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By GREG HAMILTON, Citrus Times Editor of Editorials

© St. Petersburg Times
published November 24, 2002

Now that the election season mud has dried to dust and finally settled, it's time for the various governmental bodies to sort out their rosters and perform their reorganization rituals. How these first steps are taken often predicts how effective the boards will be in conducting the public's business.

Here, then, are how your starting lineups have changed:

Citrus County School Board: Striking a blow for gender equity and diversity, Lou Miele has become the first male board member since 2000, when Carl Hansen lost to Ginger Bryant. Even though board attorney Richard "Spike" Fitzpatrick is often called the sixth board member, it is Miele who has broken up what some have referred to as the good ol' girl network. He replaces Carol Snyder, whose legacy will be that she had the courage to ask a seemingly simple question (Why can't the opening prayer at School Board meetings be respectful of all faiths?) that got blown all out of proportion. For that, she was vilified in a most un-Christianlike manner by many in the community. Her contributions will be missed.

The new board will be facing daunting financial challenges this year, and they tackled their first one last week by agreeing to set their own salaries so that all five will get the same pay. That they're paid at all comes as a surprise to many people. That their annual salary, $28,147, is more than what a starting teacher makes, has rankled many more. It's going to be an interesting year.

Crystal River City Council: In an astounding phenomenon, more than 70 people applied to become the new city manager in a city that goes through managers like a kid goes through his bag of Halloween candy. The City Council decided to stick with interim manager Susan Boyer rather than initiate yet another lengthy search. New council members Roger Proffer and Robert Holmes (who served two council terms in the late '80s and early '90s) came on board, and, in yet another minor miracle, the council held a meeting that did not involve calls to the National Guard or to boxing promoter Don King.

Inverness City Council: There were no elections this year, but the council members in this quiet city continue to generate campaign issues for the future. Just as the fireworks over the flag project for downtown had died down, the council took a puzzling stand by being cheap to the police department. The officers have picketed to plead to residents their case that the city's raise offer of 1.5 percent (coupled with a huge boost in health insurance premiums) is unfair. Note to council members: The voters are taking notice.

Citrus County Commission: Taking over the title as the most volatile board this side of Crystal River, the commissioners are poised for a year of personal attacks and pettiness. The animosities that have simmered below the surface for the past few years of 3-2 votes are starting to burst through. There is no love lost between Commissioners Josh Wooten and Gary Bartell (and Bartell's wife, Joanne, whom Wooten once referred to as the Hillary Clinton of Citrus County). At the reorganization meeting, Wooten trampled protocol by pushing for Jim Fowler to remain as chairman, even though Bartell was scheduled to move into the post. Joined by the third leg of the triumvirate, Roger Batchelor, the commission also punished Vicki Phillips by replacing her with Wooten as second vice chairman. Next, Fowler reportedly labeled Bartell a "weenie." Real statesmanship, that. The Tuesday afternoon commission meetings are quickly becoming must-see TV.

State House and Senate: While not technically local boards, expect these esteemed groups to be energized by Citrus County's dynamic duo of Nancy Argenziano and Charlie Dean. It will be impossible to muzzle these two forces of nature, and Citrus residents will soon begin to see if their forceful personalities translate into tangible benefits for the county.

U.S. Congress: Will new congresswoman Ginny Brown-Waite go to bat for Citrus County, which went heavily for her opponent, Karen Thurman, in the general election? Don't hold your breath waiting. Citrus seniors and veterans, who have gotten used to the quick and efficient services provided by Thurman's staff, can expect more bumps in the road, but they probably won't be ignored entirely. After all, the next election is only two years away.

Citrus County Democratic Party: A wrap-up like this would not be complete without noting the passing of a political party that once was the only game in town. The local Democrats are following the lead of their state and national brethren by imploding, turning against each other in very public and embarrassing feuds. Two words of advice: Grow up.

Citrus County Republican Party: While trying to be a bit less smug about the results of the Nov. 5 voting, Republicans should be aware of the burden their party is under. Anything that goes wrong from the County Commission chambers to Tallahassee and on through Washington is entirely on the GOP's watch now. Once you're on top of the mountain, there truly is only one direction left to go. Enjoy the ride.

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