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Commission's tight-fisted policies went too far

As a critic of the performance of past Boards of County Commissioners, I now give credit to our present board. Overall, our new commissioners give Citrus County a new look and a more organized way of doing business.

Especially welcomed is the serious and open-minded examinations now given to issues on their working agenda, with all members contributing, some more than others, but all having input, leading to a more practical and efficient work product.

In the past, board members seemingly marched to the same drummer and gave little study or discussion to topics before reaching a vote on any given subject. Refreshing, too, is the new spirit of respect and cooperation existing between board members and staff and their willingness to engage in open debate without spawning long-standing feuds that lead to gridlocks in resolving questions.

Also commendable is their unwillingness to capitulate to some organized groups who pack their hearing room demanding that their special interests be served to the exclusion of the majority.

Having said this, there is one area where a little criticism seems in order: this being the board's recently displayed inclination to be overly tight-fisted in spending tax dollars to the extent that they appear to be penny-wise and pound-foolish.

It was cost-ineffective to deny a few hundred dollars to the county administrator to attend a nearby, if out of state, meeting, bringing together top managerial leaders to discuss critical problems now facing all state and local governments with too little money to meet too many emergencies and too many demands for new services.

It also projected a vote of no confidence and disrespect for their newly appointed administrator, who has more than adequately overcome the shortcomings they found in his predecessor, saving them time and tax dollars in doing their jobs.

Any meetings bringing together experienced and highly regarded managers from national, state and local governments throughout the country, along with expert guest speakers to discuss new and better ways of accomplishing the public's business, inevitably makes the attendee better-equipped to do his job on his return.

The $500 or so denied him for the trip would have been many hundreds of times repaid had the administrator's modest request been granted. After all, he was not attending a meeting in Texas, Alaska or some other exotic or far-away location where the subject matter had little relevance to his duties, as his superiors in past boards have done.

Equally ineffective and grossly inefficient was the decision to deny the administrator a cellular phone. Even without the everyday potential for countywide destruction and disaster from named or no-name storms, and the always present threat of nuclear leaks or breakdowns at the Crystal River Power Plant, there were endless other reasons for giving the county's chief executive and trigger man the wherewithal to direct and coordinate needed response actions to emergency situations. In today's world, the cellular phone is no less needed than the telephone in yesterday's far-less-complex and demanding work environment.

Finally, the board's refusal to let Judge William Edwards spend money already allocated to provide administrative support services to the Citrus County court system just doesn't add up to good government. The denial comes at the time of a loaded court docket, when court functions already were impaired by the illness of one judge, the announced retirement of Judge Edwards himself and the possible forced retirement of the remaining judge.

It is to Judge Edwards' credit that he has willingly accepted extra responsibilities for performing the dual functions of judge and administrator for the court for all these years without asking for help. Then, to deny the help when the court is crippled in this period of upheaval doesn't argue well for the good sense of the board and good justice in the county.

Like many others who have expressed opinions on this matter, I was disappointed to see Judge Edwards react as he did to the board's decision, but that does not alter the merits of his long-overdue request.

Let's hope this compulsion to nit-pick is an aberration and not a political ploy to enhance our commissioners' image in the eyes of a no-spend-, no-tax-minded public.

Commissioners, you really are not spending our tax dollars unwisely, but in denying these requests from dedicated public servants, you have not served them, or the public, well.

Jim Noone lives in Inverness, where he retired 13 years ago. Before his retirement, he was a personnel manager for the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md.

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