Maybe you really can’t fight City Hall. Even if you are the city manager.
Lee Feldman has been Gainesville’s manager for about a year. During his first few months on the job, as he was planning a major reorganization, city employees began to complain that they were being demoted, discriminated against and talked down to by their new boss.
Now, commissioners have been handed a report recommending that Feldman be fired, as he may have retaliated against a city employee who filed a discrimination complaint against him.
A straightforward reading of the report doesn’t exactly prove retaliation. But the law firm hired to investigate contends that Feldman, as the head guy, should be held “to the highest standards” and sacked.
Feldman is a seasoned manager who has worked in Fort Lauderdale, Palm Bay, North Miami and North Miami Beach, apparently without blemish. Still, it may be that his management style is simply too – let’s say, South Florida acerbic – to play well with others in Gainesville’s bureaucratic mosh pit.
On the other hand, we have seen this movie before.
Feldman’s predecessor, Anthony Lyons, ran Gainesville’s Community Redevelopment Agency quite successfully for more than a decade. It was only after he was kicked upstairs – and had also embarked on a staff shake-up – that Lyons began to incur the wrath of senior employees.
Two years ago, after the commission voted to subject his job performance to trial by public hearing, Lyons resigned.
Still, it’s possible that both Lyons and Feldman were bad hires. It happens.
After all, their predecessor, Russ Feldman, was city manager for more than ten years. And he never seemed to make anybody unhappy.
On the other hand, Blackburn never tried to shake the city’s organizational tree to see what might fall out.
Which raises an intriguing question: Is there a Gainesville deep state?
Are city managers who come in as change agents – who seek to disrupt the status quo – doomed to failure in the face of determined resistance from within?
“We can’t fire our way out of a culture problem,” Commissioner Harvey Ward commented during a special meeting Tuesday night. “We tried that two years ago and ended up in similar place.”
Speaking of intriguing questions: Five years have gone by now and we still haven’t answered The Gainesville Question.
Some of you may remember TGQ. How can Gainesville become more a economically competitive city in which to live, work and prosper?
In 2015 the city commission appointed a blue ribbon committee to answer it. And the finished report neatly framed the big challenge: “We will design a city government so that it serves the needs of the people, rather than those of the city government itself.”
Commissioners turned to Lyons to implement The Gainesville Question. And he gave it his best shot.
It’s clear that, for now, Feldman has the support of the commission majority. Whether he can do his job effectively going forward, in the face of what is likely to be an ongoing investigation into his conduct, remains to be seen.
Anyway, The Gainesville Question may be moot by now. Since it was written, commissioners have left office and others elected. New commissioners usually bring new priorities with them.
Which may be the one thing Gainesville’s deep state has going for it. With commissioners and priorities coming and going, it seems quite doable for entrenched employees to simply wait out the change agent of the moment.
So they can get back to city business as usual.