Editorial: The new team
Published: Tuesday, November 20, 2012 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, November 19, 2012 at 2:42 p.m.
For all practical purposes, Mike Byerly, Chuck Chestnut IV and Robert Hutchinson ran as a team during the just concluded Alachua County Commission elections. And having won all of the three contested seats, they become the new commission majority upon taking their oaths of office this morning.
That's fine. We could stand a little teamwork, for a change, on a commission that has had more than its share of dissension.
The good news is that none of the three commissioners-elect are strangers to governing. Byerly is a veteran commissioner who has just won re-election. Hutchinson had previously served on the commission at a time when county government began to adopt a more comprehensive and thoughtful approach to growth management and land-use planning. And Chestnut is a former Gainesville city commissioner and state legislator.
Chestnut's presence on the majority team is especially welcome because the state of city-county relations these past several months has been as stormy as we've ever seen it. There are intergovernmental fences to mend and doing so should be a top priority for the new majority.
The challenges that lie ahead should not be underestimated. County government has seen a steady shrinking of fiscal resources even as demands to fund public safety, environmental protection, economic development, growth management and social services have been increasing. Balancing those competing needs in the face of continuing fiscal restraints may be the majority's biggest challenge. Perhaps it's time to reopen discussions about ways to save taxpayer dollars by unifying some big-ticket city-county services.
That said, there are opportunities to be seized upon as well. Thanks to an unprecedented degree of town-gown collaboration, Gainesville's innovation economy is beginning to explode. Supporting that ongoing economic expansion should be high on county government's "to-do" list.
In that regard, we know that quality of life factors figure heavily in attracting, and keeping, innovators in our community. That being so, smart growth management, protecting the county's natural environment and promoting better transportation options must also figure prominently on the commission's agenda.
Finally, it's no secret that the commission itself has been riven by personality, partisan and ideological clashes these past several months. Now that the election is over, we hope the new majority will reach out to what remains of the old majority — Commissioners Lee Pinkoson and Susan Baird — in an attempt to find common ground. The more-inclusive the team the better.
These are challenging times for local government. The key to success going forward is collaboration — across both partisan and city/county lines.