One of the things I like best about my quarterly trips to Citrus County _ other than the excellent cuisine and beautiful scenery _ is the chance to take an outsider's look at local affairs and offer my own, humble, entirely objective suggestions about how to deal with problems. And I've always found that my suggestions have met with warm responses. In fact, fire and boiling oil have been mentioned on several occasions.
Weeding through the usual accusations of dirty politics, hopeful tales of newborn manatees, tragic tales of dead manatees and a completely moronic proposal to place a skeet-shooting range 1,500 feet from a school, I finally found myself on familiar, if not firm, ground.
Citrus County still sends so many people to jail that the county can't house all of them without breaking the law itself, which leads to lawsuits that could lead to contempt citations that could lead to county officials going to jail. That, of course, would have the unusual effect of aggravating and solving the problem at the same time.
A quick overview of the county gives the impression that all of its residents are either in jail, guarding the jail, or carrying bizarre picket signs around the courthouse.
The jail got so crowded a year ago that officials had to start putting inmates in the auditorium at the county fairgrounds, which also is full now.
Some lily livered, pinko-liberal, ACLU-loving, Bill of Rights huggers have gone so far as to suggest that the judiciary stop locking up people unless they actually have committed crimes, but those of us who know better than to waste our time have opted to seek more practical solutions.
Humbly, I leap into the breach.
Since the problem is space, I looked around for someplace accessible, comfortable and with a lot of unused space, and discovered the Crystal River Mall _ 485,853 square feet under roof, nearly half of the space as yet unrented.
Unlike a lot of malls, the Crystal River Mall has avoided that distressing tendency to clutter the place up with a lot of shops and stores _ so there is plenty of room for the inmates. The most prominently available food I noticed there was corn-dogs on sticks, which probably would lead to a lot of inmates complaining, but certainly would eliminate all of those constant accusations of coddling.
Mall supporters tell me more and more stores are going to be opening there soon, though, and found what they said were some basic flaws in my proposal, to wit:
"Go back to Dade City where you belong, fat boy."
My second proposal was that there is an awful lot of space in all of those cars stalled in the Inverness version of gridlock, which may be the world's longest linear traffic jam, hence the only known case of gridless gridlock.
Most of those cars are occupied by only one or two people.
Inmates could be loaded into westbound cars near the courthouse in Inverness and those with misdemeanor sentences of a year or less could be released somewhere around three blocks from
there. Felons would have to stay on to Lecanto, except for those with 25-year minimum sentences who would go nearly as far as Crystal River.
Again, with nothing to do but read bumper stickers, watch road-repair crews lean on expensive pieces of earth-moving equipment and count the number of people dumb enough to believe those PBA decals will keep them from getting tickets, nobody ever will charge the county with running a country club.
But county officials have the problem well in hand. They aren't solving it, but they have it in hand.
After gaggling over the problem for more months than it has been since Neil Bush was welcome at a White House photo opportunity, the Citrus County Commission had decided to swap 100 acres of land with a blind trust.
Not that anyone should care where a piece of taxpayers' land that appears to be worth a piddly $605,000 is going, but a proposal for a three-party land-swap aimed at keeping the trust from having to identify its principals has been approved by the County Commission.
Simply put, a company that doesn't mind having its principals identified will buy the property and then trade it for the county land, which leads one to assume either that the county land is of equal value or that the business person making the trade has been drying his hair in the microwave.
A lot of people wonder exactly who is involved, and theories abound naming a host of possibly .
. okay .
. probably innocent county officials, all of whom, by the way, say they have nothing to do with it.
One lawyer in the deal compared his position to being "like a member of a high-school football team when the head cheerleader shows up in a family way!"
Suspicious people _ even those offended by the analogy _ might suspect that, even if the result differs, a similar act might be inferred from the facts in the case.
But, as I said, the County Commission is on top of things.
"I'm not nosy enough to care who owns the property," County Commissioner Skip Hudson said.
Gee. I am.