Silva: Gainesville should scale back General Policy Committee, reinstate standing committees
October 8, 2023
Letter to the editor
This letter concerns the beginnings and consequences of a direction the City government took in early 2016 called “effective and efficient government.” It led to the opposite by abruptly replacing standing committees with individual commission members “sponsoring” their own ideas.
The paragraphs below are from a March 29, 2016 memo from the City of Gainesville Charter Officers to the City Commission:
In follow-up to the City Commission Workshop held on February 23, 2016 regarding Effectiveness in Office, the Charter Officers met to identify areas in which the Charter Officers and Commissioners could improve how we respond to citizen issues, evaluate policy issues, communicate with each other and conduct the public business meetings.
Step 1: Beginning immediately, stop referrals during Commission meetings and instead follow this process for initial review, analysis, and informed action:
If citizen raises a policy issue during a City Commission meeting or in a communication with Commissioner(s), at least one Commissioner must “sponsor” the issue.
If a Commissioner is interested in his/her own policy issue or “sponsors” a citizen-initiated policy issue, the Commissioner brings the issue to an upcoming “Charter Officer Briefing”… to be initially reviewed for feasibility.
If Commissioner desires further action after meeting with Charter Officers, appropriate Charter(s) will prepare a “Staff Analysis”… for a future Commission or General Policy Committee agenda.
Step 2: At the April 21, 2016 City Commission Meeting, the Charter Officers will provide the Commission with a recommended action to dispose of all outstanding Committee referrals…
Step 3: At the April 21, 2016 City Commission Meeting, adopt a Resolution… revising the City Commission Rules to repeal all Commission Committees except the General Policy Committee and Audit & Finance Committee…
Step 4: On April 30th of each year (commencing in 2017), all referrals pending in the General Policy Committee and Audit & Finance Committee will sunset… unless the Committee affirmatively votes to retain the referral for further work.
March 29, 2016 memo from Charter Officers to the Gainesville City Commission
The General Policy Committee (GPC) was formed in 2014 and met only twice that year, back to back in October, to learn about and discuss the budget. It met three times in 2015 about GRU governance. It was intended as a less formal, low-pressure, nonvoting way to discuss particular topics like those two. Standing committees functioned, if imperfectly as anything else, like those of legislative bodies, giving commissioners, relevant staff, and interested constituents an opportunity to craft policy recommendations together on referrals to return to the full Commission.
The full City Commission met 22 times in 2015. There was no policy research team and no need for any, with Commissioners and the public bringing perspectives of anyone interested, involved, and experienced in the issues. In contrast, the full Commission met 51 times last year and is on track for that many this year, with Charter Officers, top staff, and often consultants providing input but less and less participation by constituents and little institutional memory or depth of local, diverse experience and knowledge. Despite the busy work and spin surrounding policy-making and what passes for strategic planning, big decisions pop up with no notice or vetting, and one Commissioner comes up with detailed prefabricated rules and policies, over and over again.
Not only is that inefficient and ineffective, but it’s also undemocratic.
There was a laudable effort last year to reinstate a few standing committees for continuity and collaboration and to reduce the GPC to its original intent in maybe quarterly meetings, but the effort disappeared without explanation. Picking up that effort would be the most beneficial action this commission could take to engage and learn from the awesome collective wisdom in Gainesville.
Tana Silva, Gainesville
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