by Gary Gordon
This November the citizens of Gainesville can choose to move our city elections to the fall and to lengthen the terms of city commissioners and the Mayor to four years.
I urge my fellow citizens to choose to vote no.
Do not bundle our election with the others.
I write this as a former City Commissioner and Mayor-Commissioner who served 1983-86, so you can judge what my thoughts are worth.
The stand-alone election of city officials is one of the most valuable assets this city has. It allows citizens to concentrate their focus, at election time in the Spring, on city issues and the candidates who want to serve them. It is, in essence, an element of home rule.
Moving the elections to the fall, every four years when all the other elections take place, from the U. S. presidency on down, would eliminate that singular focus.
It would also make fundraising and volunteer recruitment more difficult as everyone and their dollars would be stretched thin or drawn to the more dramatic presidential, senate and up-ballot campaigns.
With all the campaigns happening at once coverage of the city campaign would inevitably shrink: there are only so many column-inches, only so much air-time.
The all-candidate, all-campaigns forums would obviously be even more marathon-like.
But the loss of singular focus, although primary, isn’t the only reason to oppose this measure.
The poison-pill in this is the lengthening of the terms from three to four years. Adding a fourth year, if you haven’t realized this yourself, means adding one more year during which the elected official does not have to stand accountable.
Gainesville has a system now that holds its elected officials accountable every three years. Accountability is of the utmost importance. Granting a fourth year just to align this election with the others is sorry reasoning. So sorry, the argument is made, the elected official needs the first year to learn on the job.
That dog don’t hunt.
Jean Chalmers, Mac McEachern, Mark Goldstein, Court Collier, Aaron Green and others from the era I served did not need a year to learn the job. Why? Because they were paying attention, attending meetings, participating and figuring it out before they got elected.
Giving them a fourth year so they can learn on the job their first year is not the solution.
So the argument is also made that a three-year term means they learn the first year, work the second, and run for re-election the third.
Well, they’re always running for re-election.
Another reason to keep the city elections in the spring is to preserve their non-partisan status. Moving the elections to the fall will set in concrete the partisan stamp when it doesn’t have to be that way. They weren’t partisan when I served and keeping them as nonpartisan as possible will best serve this community. Fixing sidewalks, providing for public safety—basic municipal issues—these were not and should not be Democrat or Republican.
So we come to the final two items: cost and voter turnout.
It will cost what it has always cost. According to the Sun, that’s around $230,000. I can’t argue with that. I can’t come before you and say no it won’t. I can say if I was on the Commission I would do what I did then which is to find the money if it came down to it but I’m not and won’t be. So all I can say is I think it’s penny wise and pound foolish to think the cost is too great, with what’s at stake.
As for voter turnout, it is obvious more people vote in the fall. But I return to my primary statement: the voter turnout in the spring represents the people who are dedicated to voting on city issues for city candidates to serve them on the city commission. The people who vote in the fall…?
I want people who care about the city to vote in the city election. It’s on the candidates and media to accomplish increased turnout—not a sleight-of-hand change in the calendar to take advantage of increased turnout for other elections. Focus on the city is not what will happen in an election that is bundled with every other election; that’s not the way to preserve home rule.
Gary Gordon was a City Commissioner (83-86) and Mayor-Commissioner (85-86).