Bud Byrd: We can do better

Published: Thursday, January 8, 2009 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 7, 2009 at 11:32 p.m.

In its Jan. 1 editorial "Year of crisis," The Sun is quite correct to argue that we can do better than our current multi-tiered local governments. We must do better.

To squeeze the maximum value from each tax dollar it has become even more necessary to scrutinize every job position, every program, and every action of our collective governments. We cannot afford overlap of services, duplication of roles, nor fluff that appeals to the vanity or sense of entitlement of office holders but provides little value-added to the community.

A useful example of government excess that provides little value to the community is the recently built $7 million city hall and police complex in the City of Alachua.

The best form of government is the one that provides adequate and required services at the lowest cost. Overlaying state, county and multiple municipal governments within each county frequently provide overlapping services.

The Sun's editorial points out that County Manager Randall Reid is asking citizens to offer "suggestions to help write an 'alternative future' for county government." While I have no doubt that Reid's offer is genuine, I do doubt that suggestions offered will have a discernible effect on the future of county government. The various governments are too entrenched in their respective domains to reach outside the box and make changes. Any action taken within a single government body will not make the fundamental and sustainable change required.

As a community, we know it needs to be done; 65 percent of the respondents to a Sun survey in 2004 said so. How then might we go about making the changes? Governments will not initiate an action that may threaten their bailiwicks. People with vested interests in keeping their jobs and their personal power bases will do nothing to put these interests at risk. Mayors will not come forth with suggestions to eliminate all their positions but one. The same is true of commissioners, police chiefs, city managers, the county manager and any number of county and city managers and executives.

So citizens must come up with another way to effect change. What might that way be? I suggest that an ad hoc commission form to drive the issue. The commission should include men and women of the community who have exhibited excellence in past community service, in the business community, new residents of the county, the young, the elderly, working people and the retired.

The commission should be no more than twenty or so people with provisions to rotate a number of new people into the mix every few months. It should have no government affiliation. It would be advisory; its purpose to counsel the community and government alike in the benefits of bonding the county together into one frugal, efficient and effective government.

The commission should set goals for accomplishing the combined government within the next two to three years. It should build the model, research and determine what obstacles must be overcome and provide the legal trail-blazing to accomplish the goal of one Alachua County government body.

A public minded entity, The Sun as an example, could initiate and nurture the effort by publishing and sustaining the call to community action; something more than an editorial.

The task that I suggest is a large one. It will take visionary community leaders. It will take talent to understand what must be done, skill in building the appropriate government model and perseverance in overcoming the many roadblocks that will be thrown-up by entrenched, vested interests within the respective governments, by some business people, and other entities from within and from outside the community.

I am sure that there are many fine people in the county who would be very effective on the commission. Let us make this "year of crisis" the beginning of change that will propel Alachua County, all its municipalities and citizens into a prosperous, happy and secure future under one countywide government.

Bud Byrd lives in Alachua

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