There are no dumb questions

February 10, 2018

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.

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But one at a time, please!

 

For the most part, when recipients open an email that includes others they are less inclined to take it personally. Make sure your message resonates by sending it to each commissioner separately.

Scott Franklin - Stephanie Madden -  Sara McCarley - Bill Mutz

Bill Read - Justin Troller - Phillip Walker

Each of these noble citizens represents all the rest of us. The four geographic designations - Northwest, Northeast, Southwest, and Southeast, etc. - apply only to the residency requirements for commissioners, not to their constituents. Bill Read, for instance, lives in the city's northeast quadrant and is likely to be more in tune with the businesses and neighborhoods in that area, but serves us all as our representative to the city management and staff.

It will always help to send your message to City Manager Tony Delgado  because it's his job to implement whatever projects, resolutions, and ordinances the Commission proposes in response to our communication.

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