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Written by Jordan Marlowe

 

Recently, the Gainesville Sun Editorial Board published their opinion that the Growth Management Area (GMA) referendum inspired the spread of misinformation.  They also expressed their opinion that the GMA would help prevent sprawl.  While the Sun’s Board is entitled to their opinion, it would have been reassuring to see their opinion supported by facts.  It does seem like there was a time when professional journalists would, even in an opinion piece, show how their opinions are fact-based. Certainly, it seems there was a time when professional journalists would support a claim that someone is spreading false information with evidence. Since the Editorial Board failed to do so, I find myself in the ironic position of having to correct the false information they spread.

After giving the margins of the vote and letting the reader know there is a pending lawsuit, filed by four cities in Alachua County, they claim that I spread false information. And, yet, the next paragraph provides no argument to support that claim. They don’t even try.  Instead, they outline what the GMA is “supposed” to do.  Well, the difference between what something is “supposed” to do and what it will do is exactly the point of the eight cities protesting this attack on Home Rule, a point of such simplicity that even an editorial board should be able to comprehend it.  But, since this point seems beyond their comprehension, let’s state it succinctly here: good legislation addresses and achieves the stated goal, bad legislation does not. Since the GMA does not actually address sprawl, it will not achieve what it is “supposed” to do.

Now, since I’ve made a claim, let me support it with facts.  (Editorial Board, feel free to take notes.)  Fact: the GMA doesn’t give the BOCC any new power.  Fact: it simply elevates the BOCC’s rules over a municipality’s, if that municipality annexes into the GMA.  Fact: the BOCC is already in control of all of the land in the GMA.  Fact: the bulk of sprawl occurring in Alachua County is in areas completely under the BOCC’s control.  Supporting fact: Jonesville, Haile Plantation, Celebration Pointe, and Archer Road are all textbook definitions of sprawl, and all of them are in territory that the BOCC already controls.  

Now, considering these facts, a more reasonable conclusion is that the GMA keeps the BOCC in perpetual control of land they already control, land they have a twenty-five year record of allowing sprawl.  Therefore, I assert that the GMA is not about controlling sprawl.

We can argue over my assertion, but no one is arguing over the facts. The GMA just handed perpetual power over to the one board in Alachua County that has proven itself incapable of properly managing development on the west side of Alachua County or creating development on the east side of Alachua County. The GMA is a divisive measure. Its true intent, beyond its power grab, is to point a finger at the smaller municipalities in order to get the majority of residents to blame those cities instead of the BOCC.  

Instead of working with the cities to build partnerships to sincerely address growth issues, which are real, the BOCC decided it was easier to seize power. They disguised their true intent behind “feel good” ballot language, and they made eight of their cities the “bad” guys who are the real cause of sprawl. It’s an old trick, really: find a minority group to blame, in this case eight smaller cities whose population is less than 11% of the entire County, point the finger at them, get the majority’s anger focused on them, and then ask for more power to control them.  For students of history, it doesn’t get more textbook than this. 

All that being said, however, we shouldn’t lose sight of what we’ve witnessed from this Editorial Board. I firmly believe in a free and unhindered press.  We need our press to be diligent, to hold power accountable, to ask hard questions and never blindly accept what they are being told. This piece from the Sun’s Editorial Board, published…timely…in the Sunday edition, just two days before this case was supposed to be heard in court, fails to live up to that duty.  It sounds like it could have been written from the desk of the County’s public relations office.  It is ok to agree with the County over me.  It is not ok to turn our County’s largest paper into a dogmatic mouthpiece spreading the ‘official’, County-sponsored propaganda. 



  

Written by Ward Scott — The Ward Scott Files

 

Rather than explain why 265 votes separated those for and against the Alachua County Growth Management Area charter amendment, The Sun’s Nov. 22 editorial proclaims the “election led to misinformation being spread by the losing side.”

Citizens did not vote against the amendment because the language was unclear, nor did those citizens spread misinformation. Nor is the issue about urban sprawl.

The issue is representation. Why should the opinions of 47 duly elected city commissioners about how their respective municipalities want to grow be overridden by five county commissioners who don’t necessarily even live in those municipalities? This charter amendment renders each municipality’s specifically elected officials powerless.

The question is particularly ironic when juxtaposed against The Sun’s Nov. 22 article with the headline, “Gainesville apartment boom may be overbuilt.” What group of Gainesville City Commission geniuses opened the door for that?

Finally, to add insult to injury, once again we have a situation where the county uses taxpayer money to set up a surrogate Charter Review Committee, complete with its own attorney, and conceived and born by Gainesville-centric representatives who couldn’t care less about rural interests. Repeatedly and condescendingly the charter review commissions have rejected single-member districts proposals, a rural initiative, while fast tracking this growth amendment, an urban initiative.

And to fight the county initiatives, the citizens have had to spend their own money in an attempt to inform the public about what’s at stake. So, in effect, the citizens have to dig into their pockets twice.

First, the county uses taxpayer money to fight the taxpayers, and then the taxpayers have to dig into their own pockets with their personal money to fight back. Only $35,000 of a projected $75,000 citizen budget was raised to educate the public about the charter amendment.

 

It is not a foregone conclusion that the lawsuit will prevail in support of no. It is likely, however, that the effort to defeat the amendment would have succeeded outright had there been more effective leadership as well as more money early to better inform the public.

But can it be that citizens are weary of having to reach into their own pockets again and again in an effort to make their voices heard?

Ward Scott is a Santa Fe College professor emeritus and host of The Ward Scott Files Podcast.

Sourced from: https://www.gainesville.com/story/opinion/columns/2020/12/08/we-need-help-continuing-watch-your-back-build-civic-bonds/6478145002/

Douglas Ray — The Gainesville Sun

This year will be recalled as the year of the pandemic, but it’s also the year of the infodemic – a brokenness in our civic life brought on by untrustworthy information or simply a lack of trustworthy news. 

Across the nation, as more newspapers fold, more communities are losing an essential source of social cohesion. Local newspapers like The Gainesville Sun are feeling the pinch, caught between the larger forces that are convulsing our national political discourse and disrupting economic life, and also feeling the local impacts of the coronavirus pandemic and the kitchen-table decisions that are forcing families to rethink their priorities. 

At a time when many of us are feeling more isolated and worried about the near-term future, good local journalism is important. We are committed to providing it. 

The Sun newsroom is working hard but, for the time being, we’re doing that away from our office. We’re also going through some significant staff changes. And, this past weekend, we made an unforced error in publishing an editorial cartoon that many understandably found offensive. 

The cartoon, if you didn’t see Sunday’s edition, showed a man and woman. The woman, with the label “Springs County Movement” on her apron, has a black eye and bandaged face. She says, “I want a divorce.” Her presumed husband, with “B.O.C.C.” tattooed on his arm, responds, “C’mon baby! You don’t think I treat you good? If you got a beef you can talk to me …" 

The intended message by cartoonist Jake Fuller — that some in northwestern Alachua County are in a toxic relationship with the Board of County Commissioners — is lost in the insensitive portrayal of domestic violence. 

That’s made much worse by tragic events that unfolded after the Sunday opinion pages went to print. A 26-year-old man was arrested and charged in connection with a northeast Gainesville shooting that left a mother and their infant son dead Friday afternoon. 

 

Like other newspapers, The Sun maintains boundaries between news and opinion content, just as we respect a clear distinction between news and advertising. Even so, publishing the cartoon was a mistake to begin with, and was compounded by a family tragedy that underscores the real terror of domestic violence. 

We have reached out to advocates for victims of domestic violence to hear directly from them the impacts of decisions like this. You can expect to find their voices presented in the opinion pages of The Sun in coming days. We also are reviewing ways to ensure similar problems are not repeated. 

The Sun recently lost several staff members to retirement. Among them are Robbie Andreu and Pat Dooley, our veteran duo covering Gator athletics, and Larry Savage, another veteran best known as our high school sports writer. You may already have seen that Zach Abolverdi has joined us to fill Andreu’s position. Abolverdi has been a contributor for us before, and his skills are well suited to the new demands of covering sports for a growing digital audience. The hunt continues for someone who will provide insight and perspective as a columnist. 

On the news side, Danielle Ivanov will join us next week as a reporter covering the University of Florida where she is finishing up as a student. Ivanov has been an intern and freelancer for us in recent months. We are in the process of adding two more reporters to the staff. That will give us more local reporters than we’ve had in the past couple years. 

We are investing in the future of The Gainesville Sun. I hope you are too. 

I have the distinct honor to oversee news operations at The Sun, Ocala Star-Banner and Daily Commercial in Leesburg. We are connected to a large network of newspapers across Florida. Together, our coverage of COVID-19 and the crazy hurricane season has been without peer, as has our work on recent elections. Among newspapers, our capital team is the most robust in Florida. And consider the investigative journalism that has continued to roll out from our terrific editors and reporters. The Torn Apart series on child welfare (with additional chapters coming out this month) sparked immediate calls for new legislation. 

Communities without daily newspapers are often referred to as news deserts. These are places where no independent watchdogs keep their local officials accountable, spread the word on events and community needs, and bind neighbors together with a shared narrative of what it means to live here. 

A study of news deserts by the University of North Carolina found that the loss of local newspapers can have an enormous impact on a community. 

“Our sense of community and our trust in democracy at all levels suffer when journalism is lost or diminished. In an age of fake news and divisive national politics, the fate of communities across the country, and of grassroots democracy itself, is linked — more than ever — to the vitality of local journalism,” researchers found. “Local newspapers have historically been a ‘tie that binds’ people in a community. Through the stories they publish, local newspapers help us ‘understand how we are related to people we may not know we are related to.’ They also educate us, providing us with information to guide important decisions that will affect the quality of our own lives, as well as those of future generations.” 

You may have friends who say they get their news from the social media. But credible posts on social media are often based on the work of professional journalists who have the skills, the time and the reputation for verifying what they are reporting. Too much of the division within our country and our community is rooted in untrustworthy social media posts. 

— Douglas Ray is executive editor and general manager of The Gainesville Sun. Contact him at doug.ray@gainesville.com.

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The Alachua County Supervisor of Elections Office is preparing for a likely recount of the County Charter Amendment Establishing County Growth Management Area referenda. This is a paid position. Follow this link to sign-up:
https://form.jotform.com/203083890606153

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