Silva: Gainesville should scale back General Policy Committee, reinstate standing committees

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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  • Policy committee was a public prevention trick that allowed Poe, Ward and their followers to duck as much exposure as possible at regular commission meetings where public reaction made them squirm because of their proposals votes and deals. The pre-meeting serves to minimize commission squirming and resident’s hope to change their plans because the deals are done and agreed to in advance in the policy committee.

  • It’s not complicated, unless self-interest is the primary motive among our esteemed local leaders. Many hope to use G’ville as a stepping rung up their career ladders to Tally and DC. — and the people here just get in their way. But if they focus on solving problems instead, we’d gladly vote to promote them. It’s not rocket science.

  • I do not trust this cities government, I think they are made up mostly of PROGRESSIVE SOCIALIST’S.

  • Tana: “Not only is that inefficient and ineffective, but it’s also undemocratic.”

    The People’s Commissar of Gainesville sells inefficiency as a public utility and accuses all who question it as an existential threat to democracy.

  • Tana has raised one of the most serious governmental issues we face in Gainesville.

    Preventing genuine participation by qualified and concerned citizens/residents/voters.

    In the past (pre-2016) citizens volunteered their time to address issues in a more democratic and deliberative fashion by reviewing, site visiting, holding meetings, with staff input and support, asking for residents input, comparing other cities and the best options BEFORE making recommendations to the Commission.

    I chaired a committee of citizens for several years, and am well aware of the effort we expended to be democratic, check performance records of those who were awarded funds, and get the “biggest bank for the buck” with limited funds.

    Right now, many important areas lack input from citizens and are being decided by someone’s agenda that may not be the best for the city as a whole. For example, how did we get high rises (building over 3 stories) designed as dorm-style and primarily for students all over town? Yet we need affordable housing, with apartments designed for non-students.

    Under the claim of “New Urbanism” a small minority hold sway despite the fact that they are not applying the tenets correctly, just cherry picking. New Urbanism is based on transect zones that go out from density in the center to less in the suburbs and protects activities that fall between zones. Hence, a 12-story high rise for student apartments would NOT be allowed next to a historic district.

    Currently, commissioners deliberate on limited options supported by staff with an agenda. We can solve many city issues with deliberative and democratic processes, and a thorough review and revision of current land use, zoning, and more.

    • “Preventing genuine participation by qualified and concerned citizens/residents/voters.”

      Kind of the idea wouldn’t you think?

  • Yes Tana the policy committee is one of many filters in the fog
    machine we call Gainesville City Hall. The city manager checks to be sure it’s working every day.

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