The last men standing
At least three formal question-and-answer forums among candidates for the City’s Southeast District Commission seat have been live-streamed on Facebook and are available for review. All also had live audiences, but thanks to the new normal of ZOOM meetings and the positive power of social media it is likely that these events had much larger audiences online and reached more of the voters than they might have otherwise before COVID brought new ways to communicate.
This digest focuses on the key topics that were raised in all of them.
Both candidates, as well as virtually all candidates for all offices, proposed that City spending might need to be reined in, or reduced, or simply cut, without offering any specifics beyond the specific target of Cleveland Heights Golf Course, of course.
The Heights used to be what the City classified as an enterprise fund which would be expected to “pay for itself” by collecting more revenue than it expended. That has probably never happened and so, five years ago, the City moved its operation under the Parks and Rec department which is not expected to pay for itself, but which exists - and flourishes - in order to make and keep our city attractive and welcoming.
The golf course is an easy mark because of its niche user base. Non-golfers wonder why the city should absorb a loss on behalf of what is often seen as an elite activity. Two words: Dog Park. VIDEO
The RP Funding Center, owned and operated by the City, not by RP Funding, falls in the same category, but draws a much larger and more diverse audience. The City’s position for both of these enterprises is that they draw residents and out-of-towners to the city and its service industries like hotels, restaurants, shops, and other local entertainment. This behavior translates as economic impact and the difference between the cost of operation and the value delivered to the economy adds up to a positive number.
Some of the conversation at the forums centered on “transparency”, and the suggestion that more of it was needed. Again, neither candidate offered any specifics. However, whomever prevails and takes his seat at the dais will be well positioned to add to the City’s cvic engagement in a myriad of ways including outreach to neighborhood associations, civic clubs, and public gatherings. We hope they will.
But it only seems fair to note that Lakeland’s city government, like all such in Florida, is subject to the state’s “Sunshine” laws which require public access to all meetings involving any two (or more) of the Commissioners.
Commissioners are not allowed to co-mingle, collaborate, or communicate with each other out of the public eye. The City Commission records and publishes video of all its meetings as well as meetings of some boards and committees and public facing departments like Community and Economic Development. Citizens who are interested in what the City is doing have a wide array of resources to choose from.
An airline revenue guarantee, the City’s fiber-optic network, police body cameras, the South Florida Avenue road diet test, and support for small businesses are certain to be on the agenda for budget planning and the Commissioners will need to strike compromises and set priorities.
But some forum questions addressed issues that are well beyond the province of the Commission: taxing electric vehicles and minimum wage legislation, and some, like a mask mandate, which have already been decided by other authorities.
The likeliest value of such discussion is to reveal a candidate’s general political philosophy, allowing voters to determine which one might be most sympathetic to their own viewpoint. There is a risk in this that might prompt citizens to allow their chosen candidate to act on that philosophy without any further input. Satisfied that they are in agreement on one or more key issues, citizens may simply cast their vote and leave the candidate to do whatever that candidate thinks is best.
This is not what we think is best.
City Commissioners are public servants. They are not chosen to lead, they are hired to represent. We are the leadership of our city. We must inform the Commission, not the other way around. But that requires information and involvement more than once every two years. So yes, please vote, but make that the first act of your civic engagement, not the only one.
If you want the City to do what you want it to do, you have to pay attention.