Since we’re likely to be talking again in 2022 about whether Gainesville needs a strong(ish) mayor, it is wise to recall how we got our current form of city government in the first place.
Gainesville started out with a mayor possessed of enough authority to actually sentence miscreants to hard labor on our public streets.
But then the Roaring Twenties blew in. Sensing prosperity just around the corner, the Chamber of Commerce and local Realtors wanted a modern city government for those modern times.
So state Sen. J. H. Colson gave them a proposed commission-manager charter…without bothering to hold so much as a public hearing.
Maybe even back then we voters were wary of change for growth’s sake. Maybe it was because Colson’s charter was modeled on Miami’s (and you know how we feel about those people).
Or maybe we just didn’t like being told what to do.
In any case, the charter failed 255-93.
It’s what happened next that’s really interesting.
Long story short, the Sun started editorializing for better city government. UF profs began to preach the virtues of the elected commission-professional manager setup. A community meeting was called. A citizens committee formed. A series of deliberations commenced.
And in 1927 Gainesville presented the Legislature with a home-baked charter proposal that, 896 residents would later approve on an 85-vote majority.
Cut to these modern times.
Imagine if the 2018 referendum to create an appointed board to run GRU had been a true grassroots movement. With reform-minded locals doing the requisite gathering of signatures and the hard work of winning hearts and minds.
It might even have passed.
Instead the so-called “GRU Governance” bill was shoved down our throats by suburban legislators who never had Gainesville’s best interests at heart.
And city voters said “Hell No!”
Having failed to win Gainesville hearts and minds, our legislative overlords, Chuck Clemons and Keith Perry, now seek to remake county government in their own image.
They propose to increase the influence of suburban and rural residents by diluting the voting power of an urban-centric county majority (and maybe, incidentally, carve out a new commission seat that might one day be filled by a term-limited legislator out to fatten his state pension payout).
This to be accomplished by increasing the number of commissioners from five to seven while depriving all county voters of their right to vote for all county commissioners.
Essentially our GOP lawmakers want to divide this blue county into smaller political fiefdoms so as to lessen the influence of the Democrats clustered in and around (surprise!) Gainesville.
Talk about opening the door to gerrymandering.
Last year a locally-appointed Charter Review Commission considered single member county districts but declined to put it on the ballot. One supposes that those who truly feel disenfranchised under the current at-large system might have responded by gathering enough signatures to get the issue on the ballot themselves.
But why bother when modern day pork choppers in the Legislature are ready to spare them the heavy lifting?
County commissioners still hope to dissuade lawmakers from authorizing what would amount to a semi-autonomous Springs County inside Alachua County. Given the GOP’s contempt for all things home rule, that quest smacks of a fool’s errand.
No, commissioners are better advised to start working right now winning the hearts and minds of voters who, history tells us, are not easily fooled.
Don’t tell us what to do, Tallahassee.
Ron Cunningham is former editorial page editor of The Sun. Read his blog at www.floridavelocipede.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org