Newly-elected City Commissioner, Michael Dunn, is staking out his territory as "the challenger" and during a recent City Commission Agenda Study meeting provided a look at his style. First on his list was the city's plan to renovate the main library to accommodate a casual coffee shop that will also serve light food. It came up on the agenda because the city manager was preparing to ask the commission for its formal approval of the project that was initiated in 2016. Mr. Dunn took exception.
Mr. Dunn seemed to believe that the city could better spend the project's $762,000 by doing something about the laundromat and convenience store that some see as a blight on the neighborhood. The money is not available for that. It comes from the county-wide library cooperative and an anonymous bequest. No Lakeland taxpayer dollars are involved.
Mr. Dunn also took exception to the idea of the city competing with private businesses like The Red Door and Mr. Fish in spite of the fact that the coffee shop will be leased to and run by a private business - Black and Brew - who won the right by being "the most responsive."
The commissioner then challenged the New York Cycle Tract project, which has also been in development for more than a year, was approved by the previous commission, and does not involve any Lakeland taxpayer dollars. Mr. Dunn not only questioned the cost, he found fault with the design.
Mr. Dunn’s ignorance of the facts is a proxy for general citizen ignorance.
What Mr. Dunn seemed to think in both cases was that the money could be better spent on something else. In this regard, he is not alone.
I met an old friend at Lake Morton the day that Elon Musk shot a $100,000 Tesla roadster into deep space aboard a $500,000,000 rocket. The subject of the coffee shop and bike track came up and he suggested that both might be a waste of “our” taxpayer dollars. This is pretty much the default setting for citizens who assume that all government activity is funded by their hard earned taxes.
It just isn’t so.
Almost 75 percent of the City's revenue - its income - is generated by Charges for Services and just under 10 percent comes from Property Taxes.
All citizens should be heartened by - and enthusiastically welcome - the kind of critical eye that Commissioner Dunn is likely to bring to government and city management. We all want our city to be up to the challenges of productivity, creativity, and sound investments in our community. So while we encourage Mr. Dunn to follow his heart and test whatever he's uncertain of, we ask him please to be more certain of the facts he is challenging. If he is seen as uninformed and unprepared his good ideas will be more easily dismissed, and that would be a loss for all of us.
There are no dumb questions. If one doesn’t know the answer, then someone who does ought to offer a polite and informative response. This is how we learn. However, the curious owe it to themselves to discover as much as possible before posing their queries.
Dig in, Mr. Dunn, but please use a shovel, not your heels.