I wrote this for the Gainesville Sun about the need to formalize town-gown collaboration.
Big Sid Martin tried his best to inject a little LOGIC into the way we do the pubic’s business hereabouts.
After 15 years on the county commission Martin – a homespun Hawthorne politician – spent nearly as long in the Florida legislature. And throughout he continued to be frustrated by ongoing city-county feuds, annexation wars and a wide town-gown chasm.
So during the 1970s and into the ‘80s, Martin ran Leaders Of Government In Cooperation (LOGIC). Basically Sid periodically corralled city, county, school and higher education officials together and tried to persuade them to come to agreement on long festering points of conflict.
Martin was a mountain of a man who tried his best to breach political and jurisdictional barriers. But when Sid passed on, so did LOGIC.
It would be nice to think that, decades later, those barriers have come down. But we still see far too little logic in the way our public officials and community leaders interact with each other.
So it’s encouraging to hear UF CEO Charlie Lane talk about bringing about a “strategic alignment” between the city, county, schools, the business community, health care and other crucial partners.
“If we are going to be successful we need to take a team effort,” Lane says. “We’ve got to get smarter about how we tackle some of the issues and how to sustain those efforts over time.”
Lane has been something of a pioneer – maybe even a latter day Sid Martin – on the logic front since he launched a UF strategic planning process that dared to look beyond campus and brought local government leaders and community stakeholders into the planning tent. This on the very rational grounds that UF cannot be a great university unless it is surrounded by a great community.
As a result we’ve seen UF and city government collaborate on a variety of fronts, including a downtown strategic plan and a health clinic for east Gainesville.
And for the past several months Gainesville Mayor Lauren Poe has been hosting a series of meetings intended to widen the town-gown partnership to also include the county, schools, business community, Santa Fe College and UF Health Center.
The impetus behind this was a 2018 report pointing out widespread racial inequities in housing, education, transportation, economic opportunity and more in Alachua County – inequities that cannot be addressed, much less solved, by one entity or another acting in relative isolation.
“The reality is it’s being left up to each institution to address the disparities under their particular umbrella,” Poe said. “We need to address how all of the partners can better align their own plans and find ways to collaborate on common goals.”
What earlier collaboration efforts lacked – Martin’s LOGIC being a prime example – was a formal organizational structure that could endure despite turnovers in elected and appointed leadership.
Poe brought the Community Foundation of North Central Florida into the discussions, ultimately to recommend an operating model that could sustain ongoing collaboration.
“The Mayor reached out to us to help conceptualize” what such an organization might look like, said foundation President Barzella Papa. “It’s crucial for the overall community good if our institutions are in regular and intentional collaboration.”
She added “It’s been done in other communities very successfully.” Papa cited, as an example, the Foundation For A Healthy St. Petersburg, created to address issues of racial and economic disparities in Pinellas County.
Poe said that participants in the discussions will be asked to go back to their respective organizations with recommendations to buy into some sort of organized collaborative effort.
Poe said “We will have new leadership” at UF, on the school board, at the city and elsewhere. “I feel like this is an amazing opportunity, with all these new faces coming in with new enthusiasm, to establish something that can really help Gainesville over a long period of time.”
Which sounds almost Sid Martin-like in its logic.
Ron Cunningham is former editorial page editor of The Sun. Read his blog at www.floridavelocipede.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org