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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.