by Joe Courter
Thursday, May 4, was a day where the hard work of political organizing bore fruits, as the new and re-elected City Commission candidates were sworn into office at a noontime event at the Thelma Boltin Center. New Commissioners David Arreola and Harvey Ward and returning commissioner Helen Warren took turns recognizing their campaign staffs and laying out their hopes and ideals for their coming term to a standing-room crowd of over 200. There was much support among all of them for an active addressing of community problems of income disparity, improvements to public services, and an especially welcome call for closer cooperation between city, county and school board. Low voter turnout was addressed by Harvey Ward with this story of his encounter with a potential voter while going door-to-door in Northwood Oaks:
Hi, my name is Harvey Ward and I’m running for Gainesville City Commission. Do you have a moment to talk?
Sure, I’ve got time, but I don’t really care.
There must be some city issues you’re concerned about?
Nope. I don’t care.
How about roads? Everybody likes to talk about roads!
This went on for several minutes before he finally asked me, “What part of ‘I don’t care’ don’t you understand?”
I didn’t want to tell him, “all of it.” The idea was totally foreign to me. I was ready for people to tell me they preferred one of my opponents or that they thought I was a godless communist or that they had no tolerance for bald men or any number of things.
I was not prepared for “I don’t care.”
I still don’t know what to do with that. Here’s what it has helped me understand: The great divide in America … is between those who show up and vote – who feel ownership in the system – and those who have been so disappointed so many times they have given up and left it behind.
The heart of a democracy, and really a word that should be intrinsic to it, is participation. Ward mentioned moving city elections to the fall as a means of both cost savings and greater turnout. This seems like an idea with merit, but beyond elections and voting, that participation is also needed for attending or at least paying attention to the process of governing, going to meetings, communicating with commissioners, weighing in on issues important to you. All three commissioners spoke of this, to be open to ideas and input, and keeping the tone positive and away from the recreational obstructionism which some citizens seem to practice.
Following the Boltin event, the new commission kicked off their first meeting, and there they heard from County Commissioner Ken Cornell, speaking as a citizen and asking the Commission to move slowly and carefully regarding the lingering issue of purchasing the Biomass plant. This is a huge financial decision, and it is a good sign that the County’s voice is being heard, as 30 percent of Gainesville Regional Utilities customers actually live outside city limits, We wish them wisdom in their decision making. D