I have just come back from the last candidate forum, and I saw no Gainesville Sun reporter there. They have probably had their fill of the forums, with the same questions being hit over and over again. But what about you? What have you missed? You haven’t learned much about them if you read the Sun, because you only get a few of the least relevant sound bites in each story. So, I have decided to give you a quick rehash of these forums and the questions that were asked by the moderators of various forums and candidate screening committees. I will stick with the questions asked in my race as answered by Richard Selwach, Thomas Hawkins and I. Jeff Fiedler has been missing in action since the Human Rights Council forum on January 31.
Homelessness and the Meal Limit
St. Francis House is a downtown homeless shelter that has been in operation for many years, and the city has decided to limit the number of people they can feed each day to 130. The city commission has also decided to get into the homeless business themselves by planning to create a One-Stop homeless Center on the outskirts of town, across the street to a small business park, the owner of which is preparing to sue the city. Richard Selwach is in favor of the meal limit and against they city spending money on the homeless center. He is offering to donate a piece of property to the city for rustic camping, which he calls “Camp Selwach”. (If memory serves me, this is a kinder, gentler Richard Selwach. During last year’s Mayoral race, he said he wanted to provide the homeless vasectomies so they could not reproduce.) The incumbent, Tom Hawkins, is in favor of the meal limit and supports the One-Stop Center as a compassionate act of good government.
I am against the meal limit, and have been since I first heard of it a couple of years ago, because I don’t believe the local government has any business regulating good works. And now, since they want to be a competitor of St. Francis House, I believe it is a conflict of interest. I am also against the One-Stop Center because it is not a function of city government. I have been involved in ministry to the homeless a great deal in the past, and every person I have ever known who has made it back to the main stream has done so through the work of some church that spent their own time and effort to make the judgment calls that government agencies are unable to make. The prognosis for this center, in my opinion, is an ever-growing government make-work drain on the community as we think of more and more “necessary” services in the name of compassion. We are already talking about providing transportation back into town after we have moved them all out of town. Eventually, many citizens will decide to be “homeless” for a week so they can get the city to pay for whatever services they have not been able to get from other agencies.
The Biomass Plant
During the Mayoral race last year, hardly anyone asked about this. Now they all do. Last year, it was Koppers that got all the attention as the city was scrambling to get them out of town just in time for Craig Lowe to take credit for it. This followed 27 years of yawning and posturing by many other commissions.
Richad Selwach is adamantly opposed to the biomass plant, and never stops waving the redacted contract during the forums. He even kept holding up the pages and pages of blacked out text while Tom Hawkins defended the decision to transition from coal to wood, and the not-so-public deal with American Renewables to build the wood-burning plant.
I am also against the plant, which I have been calling the tree-burner, because most people don’t seem to know what biomass is. So much for public notification. From the beginning I knew this was a step backward, going from coal to wood. A few years ago I asked Pegeen Hanrahan at a public forum if wood burned cleaner than coal, and she could not give me a straight answer. This was while the biomass plant was still in the planning stage. And a one minute forum answer is all the public got to a question that was not even asked by the organizers. Since this time I have discovered that there was a whole raft of local environmentalists who have been opposing the plant without getting much press. I took up their cause as they were going to court to fight it, and now the case has been settled. They got the secret contract to be made public, and that is a very big deal. One of the plaintiffs told me they are just getting started, now that they have more ammunition. As a city commissioner, I will be committed to revisiting this the way it should have been in the beginning: skeptically.
Fire services fee
I am a little confused on where Richard Selwach stands on the fire fee as it applies to churches. I thought he was for it originally, but last I heard he is against it. Tom Hawkins says he was against it and voted against it. I have a problem with this because when I talked to the Fire Fighters Union and failed to get their endorsement, it was because I was opposed to the fire fee. And I was told that Tom Hawkins was for it. This sounds like last year’s vote was one of convenience. He could vote against it without stopping it, and then he could appear as conservative as his opponent.
I think this comes down to whether or not you will fight to remove the fee. I believe fire services should be paid for first, out of the property taxes we already pay. When you separate it out, you make more room for property taxes to go up. This fee kept them from having to cut any of their pet projects, like the Homeless Center, Ironwood golf course, money-losing mass transit, narrowing car lanes to make more room for bike lanes, and other unnecessary taxpayer hardships.
More tomorrow! I have to go to work!