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Management shake-ups hit public, private sectors // ON THE MOVE

This year, the Citrus County Commission lost one member, gained another, debated little but decided a great deal, and voted unanimously for the resignation of the county's administrator.

Commissioners had decided to make water quality (its sewage and drainage systems) the board's No. 1 priority in 1996.

To that end, the commission bought land for a proposed regional wastewater treatment plant and, near the end of the year, made headway on agreements to extend central water and sewer pipes outside the city limits of Crystal River and Inverness.

But water certainly did not take up all of commissioners' time.

They also phased out the county's curb-side recycling program and opened a countywide network of drop-off centers in parking lots and elsewhere.

In June, Citrus became the first county to reject a new state law requiring children younger than 16 to wear bicycle helmets.

At other times, the commission cooperated with the state. In one agreement, the Department of Juvenile Justice persuaded commissioners to give the agency county-owned land in Lecanto to build a maximum-security detention facility for juvenile serious offenders.

The commission also went through an involved public hearing process on whether to build a community center in Sugarmill Woods with a special $25-a-year tax. Eventually, the anti-tax camp prevailed.

Commissioners followed the will of the property owners and voted down the idea, but later considered establishing a similar tax on a countywide basis to help bail out the county landfill in Lecanto, which is suffering from a revenue shortfall.

The commission also discussed the possibility of putting a 1-cent or {-cent sales tax before voters to fund various sewer expansion projects.

On the issue of privatization, commissioners stood their ground amid reports that Florida Regional Emergency Medical Services was not living up to its ambulance service contract, meeting required response times only with the help of _ as County Public Safety Director Tad Stone put it _ "lag time."

Commissioners, with little exception, declared that they were satisfied with Florida Regional's performance. In August, Stone came to the commission with Florida Regional officials and mounted a full defense of the county's ambulance service.

In November, voters appeared little concerned about Florida Regional. Incumbents Brad Thorpe and Vicki Phillips were re-elected by wide margins, even though their opponents were more critical of the private companies that now run the county jail and ambulance service.

In the only change brought by the 1996 election, Roger Batchelor was selected to take the place of his friend, outgoing Commissioner Frank Schiraldi.

Also in 1996, commissioners struggled with their position on the proposed Suncoast Parkway extension through Citrus County.

At first, the Department of Transportation told commissioners they were considering three exits on the proposed toll road _ one at the beginning, one in the middle and one at the end.

Later, when the DOT told commissioners that revised plans called for five exits, commissioners spoke out in opposition. Some said the road was sold to them as a means to take people (and their vehicles) through Citrus, not to dump them into Citrus.

The DOT, apparently responding to the cool reception, removed plans for the additional two exits. Then commissioners softened their stances, saying the DOT would know best.

Now, plans for the proposed 26-mile toll road again include five exits.

If commissioners were fickle on the parkway issue, they were resolute when confronted with the news that Commission Chairman Jim Fowler had asked County Administrator Tony Shoemaker to resign.

Aware that Fowler and Thorpe thought he should resign (and that Phillips had disapproved of his work for some time), Shoemaker decided to quit.

Afterward, Shoemaker said: "I had no idea this was coming."

Fowler said Shoemaker's primary shortcomings were "lack of communication" and "indecisiveness."

Some civic leaders publicly questioned whether commissioners had discussed Shoemaker's position privately, in violation of the state's open meetings law.

But denials from commissioners have been swift and emphatic. The board wasted little time in immediately appointing Gary Kuhl, the county's public works director, as acting county administrator.

Triumphant at recent progress on water-related projects, Fowler exclaimed during a meeting this month: "We've accomplished more in three weeks than we have in three years."

_ Information from Times files was used in this report.

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