Davis: How to make headway on the future of Citrus County

Davis: How to make headway on the future of Citrus County

Guest column by Holly Davis, as published in the Citrus County Chronicle July 30, 2020:

If you’ve ever wondered why Citrus County doesn’t make real headway on the issues we face and fully leverage the opportunities that come our way, you’re not alone. I’ve spent my entire 30-year career in business, with strategic planning making up a large portion of my duties, so it was a head-scratcher for me.

The short answer is, the county commission is spending too much time in the weeds — day-to-day issues, and reacting to near-term problems and decisions — and not nearly enough time on the big picture of what we want this county to look like, 10, 20, even 50 years out.

The Board of County Commissioners spends one full day a year on bigger-picture thinking for the county. In my career, after one day, we’d just be getting warmed up. Early, easy answers are never where the good stuff lies, and one day is certainly not enough to simultaneously address the future of infrastructure, attainable housing, clean waters, a broadened tax base from higher-paying and more diverse careers, walkable communities, mental health and excellence in our emergency services. And that’s the short list!

The reason the county commission hasn’t done more than a day a year, is that it’s admittedly much harder for a governing body than it is in private industry. Government must be “in the sunshine” so any of this planning must include public access, which entails more planning and staff.

In private business, we’d lock ourselves in a conference room and paper the walls with our ideas as they evolve. Our first step would be vision statements, especially what we value as a community. Do we (for example) value our history as commercial fishing villages on the west side, and similarly, hunting/fishing/camping on the lakes of the east side and throughout the county? If so, we should state that on our vision board. As we work through the rest of the process, we make sure we protect all identified priorities. For the record, I do value this example personally, but I am only one person — the community must decide.

During this process, we include people who’ve already thoroughly studied various issues, such as Citrus 2020 and the newer Citrus 2030 Destiny by Design, and other groups, as some of this work has already been done and may only need refreshing. Once those vision statements are defined, we’d present them to all citizens, to let them decide if we got it right for the majority and choose among alternatives where options exist.

From an agreed-upon vision, we perform a SWOT analysis — a listing of strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats — with an eye to achieving our vision statements. We must identify the obstacles to success to overcome them and the opportunities that we’ve not yet leveraged. From there, we develop action plans.

Here’s the real kicker: measuring success of those plans. Otherwise, how do you know if you’re making progress? While this is touched on by the current BOCC agendas, in the listing of longer-term projects and who’s responsible and when, we can do so much more.

As part of the planning process, we’d develop KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) by which to judge our progress. One aspect of our county government that has come under fire is that we’re not business-friendly. Stories are told about businesses having a rough time with permitting and other aspects, but human nature dictates that a poor customer service experience will be told to at least 10 other people, whereas a good one will be told to a fraction of that. To make this an objective measurement, let’s set KPIs for speed, efficiency, and helpfulness in county government, and then hold the county administrator accountable for delivering on them. This is not a “for” or “against” statement on the current staff and commission, it is simply my proposed strategy on how we can get unstuck from the bog we find ourselves in.

So that’s how we’d do it in private business, and it can absolutely be done with the county commission. We just have to “git ’er done” by holding more meetings than the current two per month, which really do need to be about running the near-term business of the county. My answer is simple: Instead of a single day per year on a planning workshop, we need to have something like 24 of those workshop days a year, at least in year one, to get ourselves caught up on the long-term business. After that, the schedule might lighten a bit, as we re-examine what’s been visioned and planned, and review the results. We revise as needed and move forward.

We are blessed to live in Nature Coast paradise, and the Suncoast Parkway extension will have far-reaching long-term impacts. Adding to this is the enormous change the pandemic has spurred nationally: accelerating telework and migration to more rural areas. Citrus County is an ideal spot for people looking to escape the cities, and we need to avoid being run over by progress … we must instead proactively make good decisions now to shape a successful future for a county we can continue to love.

Reach out to me anytime at [email protected], or call 352-400-9726.

Holly Davis is a candidate for Citrus County Commission, District 5.