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Bielarski: “The Real State of the City”

OPINION

BY ED BIELARSKI

Editor’s note: Yesterday, Gainesville Mayor Lauren Poe gave his last State of the City address, which can be viewed here, starting at 24:00 and going to time stamp 58:00. Here Mayoral Candidate Ed Bielarski offers his “Real State of the City.”

With several exceptions, such as Commissioner Desmon Duncan-Walker and newcomer Cynthia Chestnut, the current leadership of the city commission has weakened the State of the City with every passing commission meeting. While the strength of the City rests squarely on the shoulders of thousands of hard-working, dedicated workers, the city commission seems oblivious to releasing the unbridled horsepower of the workforce. Instead, the commission micromanages, interferes with, and wreaks havoc upon the City’s senior leadership. Over the past year alone, the City Attorney resigned to start a new position in a more remote county for almost $60,000 less pay; the City Manager left in the process deemed the “Great Reset” by Mayor Poe; and the Director of Inclusion and Equity resigned due to untenable working conditions. The City Clerk resigned and decided to come back. Of course, you all know my roller coaster ride as the General Manager of the utility and how it ultimately ended with my own termination. It doesn’t end there.

In the past seven years, there have been five City Managers, four Equity and Inclusion officers, two City Auditors, two City Clerks, and two General Managers of the utility. This lack of stability is corrosive to City departments and employees. Frankly, if the current city commission were a sports team, it would be on a record-setting pace of ineptitude. 

While the City is hemorrhaging leadership, employees are downright scared. Rather than fighting City Hall, top talent in the Gainesville Police Department (GPD), Gainesville Fire Rescue (GFR), Gainesville Regional Utilities (GRU), and the rest of the City employees are leaving for less stressful, more rewarding careers elsewhere. GRU’s vacancy rate is almost 14%–50% higher than average. Electric line worker vacancies are even higher. GPD and GFR are experiencing higher levels of turnover as well. In the face of low employee morale, the mayor makes statements to the public that the loss of charter officers is no big deal. They are just pawns on a chessboard, it seems.

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While the City of Gainesville has become a virtual dysfunction junction with four commission seats being held in lame duck session, crime is on the rise in City neighborhoods.

Along with the lack of stable charter officer leadership, low employee morale, high vacancy rates, and crime, the commission has failed to govern with the type of fiscal responsibility their positions demand.  GRU is still required to pay dividends to the City in amounts higher than its earnings. Each year, GRU borrows money from Wall Street to pay $36 million in a General Fund Transfer. That amount ($36 million) is what needs to be reduced to lower GRU electric rates. For four years, the city commission was told this practice had to stop. It wasn’t until a double-notch downgrade by a major rating agency that the commission even considered a reduction. When they did, they agreed to spread a necessary $12 million reduction in one year over 5 years. Too little, too late.

Speaking of too little, too late, multiple commissioners have waxed poetic about making sure City policies reflect the values of equity and inclusion. Unfortunately, their words have not been followed with any action. While experts in the field have told the commission that any equity policies must start with a formal disparity study, the disparity study has yet to be performed. For all the talk, projects at 8th and Waldo… nothing. Power District… nothing. East Gainesville development… nothing. Food desert solutions… nothing. Mobility hub… nothing. Event center… nothing.

It’s no wonder nothing has been done. Certain commissioners seem more interested in developing plans for a strong mayor structure, raising commission pay, reducing the number of charter officers, and/or putting forth resolutions at meetings denouncing genocide (as if there was anyone who would support crimes against humanity). These same commissioners allow the community to think the City can get to 100% renewable by 2045 with no pain or cost, while ignoring the studies of experts that tally the cost at over $3 billion before it’s done. They also haven’t told the community that it would also demand a bright, shiny, new biomass plant to facilitate the conversion.   

As a result of this mismanagement, poor governance, and disregard for reality, the City of Gainesville is at a crossroads. While the State of the Commission is poor, the State of the People of Gainesville is strong. It is not beyond repair. Let your voices be heard. Speak truth to power and don’t be afraid to tell the City emperors they wear no clothes. Only then will the State of the City be strong.  

The opinions expressed by letter or opinion writers are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of AlachuaChronicle.com. Candidates are welcome to submit opinion pieces or statements, which will be published at intervals of the editor’s discretion.

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