The stubborn status quo

Elections are supposed to have consequences.

For instance, the last two elections have clearly wrought a pivotal change in thinking on the Alachua County School Board.

And whether you like what she’s doing or hate it, School Superintendent Carlee Simon appears to be moving at flank speed to accomplish the goals of the new school board majority.

“We have some major initiatives that are on the horizon that include the reimagining of all of our schools to ensure that all students are getting a high quality education no matter what school they’re attending…” spokesperson Jackie Johnson said after Simon notified nine senior administrators that their contracts will not be renewed.

That elections have consequences is, in this instance, clear.

Simon is undertaking a major reorganization of a district administration that has, in some respects, been change-resistant for decades.

If she gets positive results, she will presumably retain the confidence of the school board majority. (This assuming that Board Member Diyonne McGraw does not end up having to relinquish her seat for violating the residency requirement. If she does, Simon’s narrow three-member majority backing will vanish.)

If the reorganization fails she can expect to be…well, non-renewed.

Likewise, board members themselves can expect to be renewed, or not, depending on whether voters think they are on the right track come the next election. But for now, at least, board members committed to fundamental change can legitimately claim to have a mandate from the electorate.

That’s how elections are supposed to work.

Still, I have to wonder what would happen if Gainesville commissioners similarly tried to “reimagine” city government.

First, they couldn’t just instruct the city manager to get it done. The manager is only one of six co-equal charter officers. Commissioners would have to oversee half a dozen mini-reorganizations and hope they all end up working in concert.

I suppose they could have the city manager devise a plan, and then oblige other charter officers to follow it.

But in that case, senior level employees who worry about being, um, non-renewed would fight back by filing discrimination complaints against their charter managers.

Then the city’s independent equity officer, not wishing to judge fellow charters in-house, would hire an outside law firm to investigate.

That could be the work of months, even longer, during which time the status quo would be cemented in place. Eventually, new elections would occur, and the previous majority’s reorganization plan might or might not survive. (Hey, whatever happened to “The Gainesville Question” anyway?)

Arguably, the city commission’s ability to affect change is more problematical than the school board’s. Gainesville’s bureaucracy being more, let’s say, Byzantine in its complexity.

One might even say that city government is structurally designed to resist change from without.

Lately, commissioner David Arreola has been lobbying fellow commissioners to get behind a strong-mayor executive, arguing that “for too long people have known that our structure of government is an impediment” to getting things done.

“How do we set up a structure of government that allows us to be accountable, effective and good stewards,” he wondered.

Good question.

Honestly, I don’t know if a strong mayor is the answer. Heck, most Florida school superintendents are elected. But change-agent Simon isn’t. She’s just following her board’s direction.

But suppose that, unlike the school board, city commissioners are powerless to challenge the bureaucracy they were elected to govern?

Wouldn’t that mean, by extension, that Gainesville voters are equally powerless?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s