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City Government Needs a Culture Change

City Government Needs a Culture Change

Robert Mounts, Gainesville

The recent citizen campaign to stop GNV R.I.S.E. was wildly successful by any measure. At least for now, it derailed a flawed and poorly thought-out policy initiative that many believed would destroy neighborhoods and do little to increase affordable housing. At it’s worst, we believed it would primarily benefit developers seeking high density infill (i.e. more market rate bedrooms for rent to students), not the community, especially in vulnerable and racially diverse neighborhoods close to the urban core. 

Now we await a promised effort to develop a comprehensive plan for affordable housing, as well as a serious community engagement plan (one that was supposed to get underway in January).  It’s not happening, in part, perhaps, because of the sudden resignation of City Manager Anthony Lyons.

We never expected Lyons to resign.  Lyons is justifiably credited for being a “change agent” responsible for many positive improvements in our city.  He might still be City Manager today if he had shown some degree of humility, as well as a willingness to openly engage the public regarding perceived mistakes that have been made, and make a course correction. We just wanted a “culture change”, especially in the Department of Doing. 

We wanted more than a change of policy; we wanted a change of attitude that would put people first, over the greed of investors and developers.  We wanted actual implementation of the Department of Doing’s motto “Citizen centered; people empowered”.  So far, we have not seen evidence that this will happen.

Instead, we have seen Mayor Poe and members of the City Commission complain that the problem with GNV R.I.S.E. was not that it was bad policy, but that it was not rolled out well.  If only there had been a more effective public engagement plan they believe, it might have passed. No one has acknowledged that what was bad policy today, will be bad policy tomorrow, and will still be bad policy three years from now.

Instead, the Mayor “preaches” from the podium and routinely puts citizen comment last.

Instead, the Department of Doing is failing individual citizens, like Lee Malis of the 5th Avenue neighborhood, who has repeatedly pleaded for the City’s help in protecting his home from the excesses of a powerful developer. 

Instead, the Department of Doing issued a hasty demolition permit after Christmas to another developer, in outright contempt of citizens seeking public review of a proposal for historic preservation of St. Michael’s Episcopal Church.

Instead, the Commission is pushing forward with plans to eliminate reasonable restrictions on amplified music events downtown, threatening peace and tranquility in nearby neighborhoods.

While the Mayor and the City Commission may have heard some citizen complaints, they cannot direct corrective action or make personnel decisions below the Charter officers. However, they can require the Charter officers, to include the Interim City Manager, Deborah Bowie, to change the culture in city departments. They can “put people first” (but so far, this is not happening).

This may well require new leadership.

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