Carbon fever dreams

I drove to St Augustine for the Christmas lights.

I saw a strange lady in my bathroom at the Casa Monica. She was laughing at me.

I looked out my window to see the Christmas lights. I saw cars.

Cars spewing carbon on ancient streets where conquistadors once strode.

I asked Henry Flagler what the hell happened.

He said “You got the wrong Henry, pal. Ask Ford.”

And St. Augustine’s lion scowled.

What damnable infestation is this!

But things forever change.

Eventually the rising sea will claim what Menendez built.

And even the cars, spewing their carbon still, will have to give way.

The future is in the water.

And the past will fade into memory.

And the lady will laugh. And the lion will scowl.

What would Flagler think?

It is a city under the sun. The oldest continually occupied European city in the New World. Ageless.

But if you have ever been to St. Augustine at this time of the year….

You know that when the sun goes down…

Something magical begins to happen.

Everything begins to change in the light and the shadows and the hues.

St. Augustine makes its own sunlight.

From the Matanzas River.

To the town square.

A symphony in black and white.

And, really, it’s something to see.

Like a whole city wrapped up in tinsel and colored bulbs.

Faces fade while facades brighten.

Entire houses come gift wrapped.

And if I you happen to be looking at it all through your hotel window, the reflections themselves are seductive.

As the city rolls slowly by beneath you.

And the creatures of the night come out to play.

And you find yourself wondering: What would Henry Flagler make of all of this?

And indeed, what would the Lion of St. Augustine make of it all?

No we won’t back down

I dunno. Maybe it was the ridiculous Springs County mafia that got my back up.

Or the Trumpets in all their majestic outrage. “We didn’t lose! We won! Losers!

Or the way our slick suburban legislators pretend to represent us while going out of their way to stick it to all things Gainesville.

Listen, our backs are up against the wall, Gainesville. Keith and Chuck hate us. The John Birchers want us gone. the Governor wouldn’t even give us the vaccine if he had his druthers.

We couldn’t get a sympathetic ear if we went full press Van Gogh. Heck, we’re the People’s Republic of Gainesville so far as Red Florida is concerned.

Plus, I remember what another visionary said when he was up to his keister in ravenous gnats.

“Now, we could fight ‘em with conventional weapons. That could take years and cost millions of lives.

“Oh, no. No, in this case, I think we have to go all out. I think that this situation absolutely requires a really futile and stupid gesture be done on somebody’s part.”

And not to forget what his intellectual aide de camp contributed:

“Nothing is over until we decide it is! Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor? Hell no!”

So, yeah, let’s tilt windmills. Let’s carpet bomb the enemy with tons of futility.

It’s not like Keith and Chuck have a discernible sense of humor. So we’ve already got ‘em surrounded, outgunned and…um…outwitted.

Heck, with all the craziness out there in the Heartland, it’s a good bet we could declare ourselves a city-state and no one would even notice.

No, we won’t back down. Even if they stand us up in the gates of hell.

We’ll keep this bunch from draggin’ us down.

Hey, baby, we know there ain’t no easy way out.

In a world that keeps pushing us around.

We won’t back down!

I think somebody from around here said that. But I can’t remember who it was.

Anyway, what’s the point of being acquitted if we can’t have a little fun ridiculing the establishment?

When you come down to it, we’ve got as good a chance of making GNV an Independent City as the troglodytes have of getting Springs County. Better even.

Because we are dogged in our determination. How many national championships has High Springs brought home?

We have nothing to lose but our innocence.

Oh, and one more point:

Swine not?

Restoring Boulware Springs

This is where Gainesville was born.

Alachua County’s original seat of government, Newnansville, having been passed over by not one but two railroad lines, was deemed too remote. So in 1854 we had a picnic at Boulware Springs and voted to make Gainesville the center of county government. This because abundant water was literally spewing out of the ground.

This of course, inevitably set the stage for Gainesville’s growth.

The first waterworks consisted of a simple split-level structure powered by a wood-fired steam boiler.

Producing 194,000 gallons a day it was Gainesville’s main source of water for half a century. Indeed, the promise of “free” Boulware Springs water lured the University of Florida to town.

Although it sits at the trailhead of the Gainesville-Hawthorne Trail, the old waterworks is now closed up, windows shuttered, and awaiting restoration.

If not for a few artistic touches here and there, the old building would be a sad sight indeed.

But hope, like water, springs eternal. Flaws notwithstanding, it is still a beautiful structure.

This is, after all, where it all began for Gainesville. A piece of history, certainly worth preserving and celebrating.

Because water is destiny.

The building dates to 1905, and age notwithstanding, its reinforced brick walls – the “bones” – are still good.

“The variegated yellow-to-pink color and relative softness of the brick indicates that it was fired of local clay, possibly at the long-defunct Campville Brickworks in east Alachua County.” From the National Register of Historic Places nomination form.

After the first of the year, city commissioners will be asked to add Boulware Springs restoration to the list of park improvement projects. And who can turn it down? It’s where we came from, after all.

Depot Park after dark

No matter how often you’ve walked Depot Park, it never grows old. This is especially true during the holiday season when the very trees themselves are wrapped up like glowing presents and the woods take on a magical cast.

Seriously, if you haven’t strolled Depot after dark during this time of the year you are missing something special.

Both sides now.

Lights over water. And a noir look around the coffee truck.

A lone reader in the pavilion.

Lines, shadows…and arcs.

Don’t know why. But I had this eerie feeling I was being watched.

Wheels within wheels within wheels.

I believe this is where Bogie met Bacall.

Don’t ask.

Starry, starry night.

In case you’re wondering, everybody’s inside watching football.

What’s that old Gainesville slogan? Oh, yeah: Every path begins with passion.

Time for a culture check

Turns out that a cultural audit really is a thing. Who knew?

I hadn’t heard the term until the Gainesville City Commission met a couple of weeks ago to decide what, if anything, to do about their manager, Lee Feldman.

On the job only a year, Feldman has drawn complains from inside City Hall. And an outside investigation report recommended he be fired for (maybe/maybe not) retaliating against an employee who accused him of discrimination.

After a testy discussion, the commission voted 4-3 in support of Feldman. “We can’t fire our way out of a cultural problem,” Commissioner Harvey Ward said, noting that Gainesville’s last two city managers have found themselves at odds with entrenched senior staffers.

So rather than shop around for yet another manager, they opted to do a cultural audit of city government.

The suggestion was brought to commissioners by City Auditor Virginia Bigbie, a city charter officer who is herself relatively new to City Hall, having been hired only last December.

“It was a new concept to me,” says Mayor Lauren Poe. “After learning more about it I saw a lot of opportunities. It looks at how the organization functions, from how policies are developed, to internal management and communications procedures.

“I guess the best way to describe it is to look at how the gears of the organization fit together and identify the weaknesses. We have all these internal policies developed over several years by different managers and charter officers. They don’t necessarily make sense any more, and are not conducive to getting the work done.”

Wanting to become an instant expert, I of course turned to Google.

“A cultural audit will help you to assess where your organization is at and whether workplace culture is supporting your overall business goals. It will help you to assess the effectiveness of your working environment, employee engagement and internal communications.”

Got it.

As far as I can gather, the process involves employee surveys, focus groups and a parsing over of decision making procedures, city policies and management practices to try to determine what’s what and who’s who…or who isn’t.

Bigbie gave commissioners case studies of cultural audits of San Francisco’s Transportation Agency – which had been plagued by high absentee rates – and Oregon’s somewhat dysfunctional Department of Revenue. The San Francisco audit found that employees felt undervalued and complained of poor internal communications and accountability.

And like Gainesville, Oregon’s DOR had a high turnover of top managers, creating confusing and conflicting directives that impacted on employee moral and departmental efficiency.

“What we are trying to achieve here is to identity a common purpose,” Commissioner Ward said. “I want to believe that after changing managers four times in five years people have a hard time knowing what direction we are going.

“At its root it’s a question of getting reoriented to a common purpose,” he continued. “For all of us to remember what we’re doing here.”

There’s no question that something needs to start meshing in city government. Like his predecessor, Anthony Lyons, Feldman’s tenure here has been marked by internal turmoil. And for their part some commissioners have grown frustrated about making policy decisions and then having to wait months, or longer, for staff compliance.

So, yes, let’s do a cultural audit and see if we can figure out why people aren’t playing well together in City Hall.

And, listen, if that doesn’t work, we can always run out and hire another city manager.

Ron Cunningham is former editorial page editor of The Sun. Read his blog at www.floridavelocipede.com. Email him at rondarts2008@gmail.com.

The unkindest cut of all

Well that hurt.

Shortly after posting my Time To Free Our City blog on Friday, I received a message accusing me of “mocking” the Springs County movement.

They called me “elite.” Elite!

And they said that during my editorial page editor years I “helped make the BOCC what they are today.”

Well that was harsh.

For one thing, I was editorial page editor of the Sun for 30 years, and I defy you to find one Alachua County commissioner from that time who would say “Yup, Ron Cunningham made us what we are today.”

And frankly I found them all to be ungrateful wretches for refusing to say that.

Still, the charge has been lodged and in response I think two points are in order.

Point 1. Am I not human? If you cut me do I not bleed?

Point 2. Don’t these Springs County folks realize that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery?

Here I am single handedly kicking off the Free GNV Initiative.

They started the Springs County Movement. I started Free GNV.

How flattering is that?

They opened a Springs County Welcoming Center.

I nominated First Mag for our FGWC. Because…beer.

Flattering, flattering, flattering.

They want to rip Alachua County in half.

I just want to take a bite out of the middle (aka Gainesville city limits).

Same deal, different geography.

I do not wish to jump to conclusions.

But I am beginning to suspect that the Springs County brigade lacks a sense of humor.

Not to mention a sense of history, a sense of perspective, a sense of competition and a sense of common.

Not to put too fine a point on it.

Heck, Springs County even has its own Facebook page.

And now so do I. Check out Free GNV on Facebook. Heck, follow it. You won’t be sorry. It’s the opening salvo in Gainesville’s Declaration of Independence.

And I owe it all to Springs County.

Mocking? Eau contraire. These guys are my heroes.

I want to be just like them when we all grow up.

Time to free our city

Listen, the only problem I have with Springs County is that the idea is so….oh I dunno…prosaic.

Been there, done that.

We already have 67 counties. What will 68 prove, except that we’re boringly repetitive?

And let’s be honest. Springs County advocates haven’t been fighting with Alachua County nearly as long as Gainesville has.

Their beefs go back years. Our city-county wars have ground on for decades.

Oh, and one more thing. What’s really got so many goats out in the rural hinterlands isn’t that Alachua County doesn’t represent them. It’s that too many county commissioners live in and around Gainesville….that being where the votes are.

Come on, Sen. Perry. Seriously, Rep. Clemons. Let’s try something new and daring.

Something that will make the rurals feel better and get Alachua County off Gainesville’s back to boot.

Instead of creating yet another cookie cutter county, let’s do something Florida has never done before.

Make Gainesville an independent city.

Yes, that really is a thing.

St. Louis is an independent city. Baltimore is an independent city. So is Carson City, Nev.

And the Commonwealth of Virginia is a hot bed of independent cities…also known as “free cities.’

Virginia has 38 of them, including Richmond, Roanoke, Williamsburg, Virginia Beach….and Charlottesville, home of Mr. Jefferson’s University of Virginia.

As per Wikipedia, an independent city “is a city that is not in the territory of any county or counties…Independent cities are classified by the United States Census Bureau as ‘county equivalents…”

So let’s make Gainesville its own county and give everybody outside city limits the freedom they crave. That would include the long-suffering folks of Hawthorne and Waldo, who shouldn’t be left out just because they happen to be east rather than west of Gainesville.

And why not Gainesville?

Cities are supposed to be democracy’s laboratory of ideas. And given our strategic partnership with the University of Florida, we are intellectually equipped to make the most of independent status.

Lord knows what we could come up with in the Innovation-in-Government Dept. It could be revolutionary.

Heck, cities all over Florida would be watching us do our stuff.

Why, it could be the beginning of a Florida city-state renaissance.

So do I expect the Legislature to make Gainesville an independent city? No.

On the other hand, I don’t expect it to create Springs County either. Hasn’t been done in nearly a century and isn’t likely to happen now.

This is just a way for messers Perry and Clemons to pander to their base while piling even more insult upon Gainesville. That’s their hobby, and they do it very well.

So why even bring it up? Because we’re losing the propaganda wars, Gainesville.

We’re quietly sitting while the Springs County people garner all the publicity.

Why concede the court of public opinion? We can play the “What If” game too.

That’s why, today, I am announcing the formation of the Free GNV Coalition.

We will start small. Just me and Don Quixote.

But this is a movement whose time has come. The Big Mo is ours for the grasping.

First, we’re going to open our Free GNV Welcome Center at First Mag. (I would do it at Swamphead, but, you know, that’s west of 34th street.)

We will have Free GNV pep rallies. Free GNV bake sales. Free GNV guzzle-offs (hey, it’s First Mag, right?)

We will send out press releases. We will load up buses with hippies, drunken frat boys, socialists, liberals and city commissioners (not to be redundant) and march on Tallahassee.

We will milk the PR cow till it runs dry. Maybe we can even get endorsements from the Kyles. Or the ole’ head ball coach.

And ours will be a rainbow coalition: Reds, blues, greens, pinks…we don’t care the hue, just what you do.

Seriously, Gainesville, what’s the point of even having a Springs County movement if we can’t make fun of it.

And we’ve got plenty of ammo. The population base. The tax base. The really cool breweries. The 4th Avenue Food Park.

Yeah, Newberry’s got that equestrian thing. But we have Depot Park.

Horses don’t vote, Gators do.

Come to think of it, that’s a pretty good campaign slogan.

And, listen, once you have a slogan, the battle’s basically over.

The Deep State at City Hall

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.

The wall

For most of this year I’ve been cycling around Gainesville and taking photos of murals. Downtown murals. Pleasant Street murals. Grove Street murals. Main Street murals. Murals, murals everywhere.

But up until now, I haven’t really taken on the Grandaddy of all GNV murals. The Wall. Where it all started. Where primitive scribblings met high art met political manifestos met frat boy symbolism met sheer nonsense met artistic anarchy.

And where the remembrance of the student murders is the only permanent presence. And that only because somebody comes and patiently restores it every time some thoughtless spray paint radical covers it up. Bless you for that.

So on Thanksgiving morning I stopped by The Wall. And the sheer artistic anarchy of it gave me pause. This is not your father’s wall.

And so naturally I thought about “The Wall.” How could I not?

Thus with apologies to Pink Floyd, here is the latest apparition of GNV’s ever changing, ever evolving Wall.

Right now it still has a decidedly Halloweenish flavor.

With just a smidgen of In-Your-Face insolence.

Or perhaps it’s just a manifestation of the sheer frustration of young people who are struggling to acquire (or to avoid) an education in this maddening Age Of Covid.

We are an education city after all. But you can tell the frustration is mounting. And the masks are coming off. At least on The Wall.

On the other hand, maybe it’s simply a youthful nostalgia for all of our favorite Saturday morning cartoon characters.

Or not.

I am reminded of the “Kilroy Was Here” graffiti of World War II. With perhaps just a bit of, um, (blood)lust mixed in.

Which is not to say that our street artists are totally unaware of the supreme struggles that confront our nation post-Trump.

Walking The wall, which has been covered and recovered and recovered over and over ad infinitum, I thought: If these paint layers could talk, oh the stories they could tell.

But in the final analysis, you have to settle for the stories of the moment. Because tomorrow they will certainly be gone.

Listen, all the world is a canvas. Even the trash cans and the sidewalk in a pinch.

I keep thinking that a lot of this stuff is in code. And if only I could find the Rosetta Stone of graffiti interpretation all would become clear.

On the other hand, do I really want to know what this is all about?

Maybe artistic ignorance really is bliss.

Hey, I knew that if I walked The Wall long enough I would finally catch sight of my old girlfriend.

And her mom.

Welcome to Gainesville, pal! Nothing is as it seems.

Yes, at the end of it all, I did stomp on Trump. After all, he was on the sidewalk and not The Wall.