Randall Reid: Reflections on 12 years in Florida's Eden

Published: Sunday, January 8, 2012 at 12:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 6, 2012 at 4:59 p.m.

As I write this, I am putting the finishing touches on my final annual report to the citizens of Alachua County.

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Special to The Sun

I have accepted the county manager position in Sarasota County. The past 12 years as Alachua County Manager have been some of the most satisfying in my 36 years of public service. It has been a pleasure to serve the County Commission and our citizens. It has been my privilege to live in this amazing university community.

I have had the honor of watching my three children graduate from UF. I am very proud that the leadership ethic of "Respecting People and Place" is reflected in our County programs, our innovative community that respects individuals, and the preservation and creation of the beautiful natural landscapes around us.

I leave behind a financially sound organization, a very qualified acting county manager in Richard Drummond, and an extremely talented staff. While public organizations must always adapt to such change what remains constant is the need for public servants dedicated to integrity and public trust when handling the resources of the County. Alachua County is in very good hands.

In recent days, I have been reflecting on the achievements of the last 12 years and the challenges still pending for this community. Managers are temporary stewards of the communities they serve, and each era brings new problems and challenges. National emergencies highlight our tenures, as do the impacts from economic cycles.

For me, my tenure started with the preparations and fears concerning the Y2K transition and the worldwide shut down of computer systems. I remember vividly announcing the unfolding tragedy of 9-11 at a commission meeting and the immediate intensity of anti-terrorism planning activities.

In 2004, we survived the four hurricanes and the major clean up. I am thankful that we were spared other natural disasters. More recently in 2008, the recession disrupted our revenues streams and bonding abilities and we dealt with the international events associated with the Quran burning.

I am proud of the many accomplishments of the last twelve years. Alachua County is recognized nationally as a community that takes planning and sustainability seriously. We have created an award winning comprehensive plan, financed the construction of a criminal courthouse through passage of the One Cent, One Year Infrastructure Sales Tax, passed the Wild Spaces/Public Places Infrastructure Tax and through it acquired more conservation lands, constructed a senior center, and broke ground on a new recreation center at Kanapaha Park.

Citizens approved a sales tax for CHOICES in 2004 that created an innovative health care program for the working poor. We constructed an Emergency Operations/Combined Communications facility, three additional fire rescue stations, and expanded and modernized the jail. Each of these investments improved service delivery and the quality of life in our community.

Alachua County has received national recognition for our budget and performance management systems. We have increased the quality and quantity of our communications with the public through digital products and social networking. We instituted cutting-edge energy conservation, alternative energy and fleet reduction practices, created programs to reduce homelessness and hunger, adopted campaign finance reform, worked towards a no-kill animal shelter, and reduced jail crowding through the nation's best alternative treatment programs.

We have sought methods of diversifying revenues away from property taxes due to the significant amount of non-taxed property in the county.

In this year's annual report, I included four charts that highlight transportation expenditures, criminal justice expenditures, employee reductions, and land conservation. The charts focus on the following:

1. Transportation Expenditures: The past 12 years have seen the greatest investment in roads in the county's history. Since 1999, general fund and gasoline taxes totaling over $151 million have been budgeted and expended on road maintenance. I was disappointed by the narrow defeat of the Better Parks and Better Roads sales tax referendum, in 2004. However, I remain hopeful that the future surtax issue being discussed by citizens and the County Commission has a chance to address the growing backlog of transportation projects and road maintenance through a non-property tax source of funding. Many of our peer counties have collected this tax for decades.

2. Criminal Justice Expenditures: The County Commission has demonstrated through budget allocations that the safety and rehabilitation of our citizens is important. These expenditures to abate criminal behaviors dominate our general fund spending. The criminal justice umbrella, which includes jail spending, law enforcement, the judiciary, and court services, makes up 46 percent of general fund expenditures your taxes pay for each year. While law enforcement is always a basic function of government, preventing future jail inmates increasingly requires more publicly financed programs that focus on reducing delinquency, treatment of substance abuse, and shifting resources from incarceration to early educational programs that promote a lifetime of success for our citizens.

3. Reduced Staffing: Through responsible and frugal budgeting, the county has responded to the economic downturn in many ways, particularly reducing personnel costs. While adding citizen-approved programs such as CHOICES, we have reduced operations under the county manager by 57 employees since FY2007. I am very proud of how county employees absorbed a heavier workload in the midst of these changes and reduced the costs of individual programs. There is a need to fairly compensate employees in the public sector and assure qualified and innovative people enter the field locally.

4. Alachua County Forever: The voter's approval of the Alachua County Forever land conservation program has preserved nearly 20,000 of acres of habitat and sensitive environmental land. Through this innovative program, the county has been a conscientious and progressive leader in land conservation while protecting property rights through the purchase of these lands from willing sellers. This program has improved the quality of life for current and future generations and effectively leveraged county dollars in acquiring lands typically of lower taxable values.

Maintaining a sense of community in an urbanizing county requires a commitment to constructive dialogue and relationship building, the articulation of community values, and our personal fiscal support for community institutions. A secure future will require a continued spirit of cooperation and collaboration among citizens and their elected officials.

I am confident that Alachua County will continue to be an innovative, vibrant, and sustainable community. We have a dynamic, well-educated citizenry and our commission-manager form of government works well.

Sarasota citizens frequently call their county paradise. I think of Alachua County as Eden. I am very fortunate to have lived in Eden and to relocate to paradise. I have appreciated the opportunity to serve the commission and the citizens of Alachua County. I wish you all peace and prosperity in 2012 and the years ahead.

Randall H. Reid is outgoing Alachua County Manager.

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