As our debt builds, utility rates and taxes rise, and the dysfunction of our local government becomes evident, the magnitude of poor judgements and lack of public oversight of the Gainesville City Commission by the majority of residents is beginning to become clear.
We must realize that all of this is our — the residents — fault. We have let the current situation continue build by not holding our elected officials accountable for costly mistakes on the biomass plant, the effects of unbridled growth on our city and county, and overly generous spending on well-intentioned but ineffective social programs.
Voter turnout for local elections has been ridiculously low. Generally only 15% to 20% of us have turned out to vote. I would venture a guess that this also indicates how much we’ve been paying attention to local issues until they hit our pockets. Well, we have gotten what we deserve.
Wake up, Gainesville and Alachua County, and pay attention. We need to take a comprehensive look at our local governments. It’s a tough job and it will take years to accomplish but that’s how we got here, one year at a time.
I don’t believe that our current political parties are capable of this introspection because of all of the cozy relationships that have developed through the years. One idea that I’ve had is to develop a platform of goals that candidates could pledge to support. I have decided to call it the Gainesville Version 2.0 Update Platform.
It’s long overdue. The city needs to do a complete evaluation of all of our spending and policies including the actual structure of the government, because the structure has caused a lot of in-fighting and inefficiency through the years.
With these goals in mind, here is a draft of the positions that I think candidates should endorse and then — the most important part — the public must pay attention to what happens and hold them accountable:
• Develop ways to get our city out of our deep financial hole with fresh thoughts and consider creative practical solutions (including possible asset sales) to our problems.
• Evaluate the performance of all non-essential spending (anything beyond bare-bones operations) and terminate or modify all of those that aren’t accomplishing our goals.
• Bring a different focus of the city’s efforts to help the less fortunate residents of our city by creating and expanding existing programs that will break the cycle of poverty and crime. Pledge to give individuals and neighborhoods the resources they need to help themselves. This should involve skill or trade training as well as a job that allows people to get the necessary experience to move forward.
• Restore the luster to Gainesville Regional Utilities and gain back the respect for what was a well-run utility until the commission started making poor decisions for it several years ago.
• Ease the burden on law enforcement by restoring the many social programs and agencies that used to take on the many social issues such as domestic disputes and mental illness problems.
• Work to improve the poor relations between the city and county officials. There is more to be gained working together rather than against each other.
• Make use of GRU a touchpoint to the community. The majority of residents have one or more services with GRU already. These people are verified residents, allowing them to take part in online polls to get direct and immediate feedback on critical issues.
• Stop the wasteful practice of hiring so many consultants. The city staff should be knowledgeable enough to make informed recommendations. If we don’t trust them to do that, we should replace them with people that we do trust. This is also an obvious way to avoid accountability as it is “the consultant’s fault.” This practice needs to end and accountability taken for poor decisions.
I hope this will get some of you thinking in a different direction and if you would like to continue the discussion, please join us in my Facebook group called Gainesville Ver. 2.0 (www.facebook.com/groups/2057771861029799).
Greg Larvenz is a retired television executive who lives in Gainesville
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