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Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Broken Record

There goes Ron Cunningham again, taking a right jab at his favorite punching bags, Alachua County commissioners Penny Wheat and Mike Byerly.

Wheat and Byerly are successful public officials. Wheat has won all four of her election campaigns, and Byerly was elected in his first campaign four years ago and is about to be re-elected on Nov. 2.

This gives Ron Cunningham heartburn. As chief propaganda writer (Editorial Page Editor) for The Gainesville Sun, it is his job to support to the costly government subsidy of growth, to parrot the position of the elite power structures, and to oppose citizen control of the community, at least when it comes to managing and paying for growth.

Wheat and Byerly consistently support managing growth and making new growth pay for itself.

This rubs people the wrong way when they make money from new growth – developers, big land owners, realtors, engineers, contractors and such all prefer as little regulation on growth as they can get away with. More importantly, they want the rest of us to pay for it.

New subdivisions and shopping malls create more traffic and eventually clog existing roads, requiring larger roads, sidewalks, traffic signals and such. They require water, sewer and electric facilities, as well as additional police and fire protection.

As more services and infrastructure are added, more growth follows, and again comes the demand for more services and infrastructure, and so on. When an area finally becomes too congested to get any larger, the growth moves further out of town, and the same cycle starts.

The massive costs of those services and infrastructure are mostly borne by the taxpaying public, which may or may not receive any benefit from these expenditures.

Which leads us back to Ron Cunningham and his current thumping of Wheat and Byerly. This time it involves impact fees and their vote against the compromise fee schedule worked out this week between some members of a few environmental and business groups.

Wheat and Byerly wanted to go with the original proposal, which put far more of the cost of new growth on the new developments. That proposal was opposed by two other commissioners, Lee Pinkoson and Cynthia Chestnut, and semi-supported by Commissioner Rodney Long.

Pinkoson and Chestnut would only consider a proposal that would continue having the public pay for most of the costs of new growth. Long went along, and that "compromise" was enacted.

Of course, Cunningham chose to vilify Wheat and Byerly for sticking to their principles, saying that they need to “understand that governing is all about finding the middle ground.” Cunningham admitted the compromise would provide “less money than originally anticipated,” but that something was better than nothing.

That’s an interesting concept. Maybe the next time there is a new subdivision built, the county should only build one lane of traffic or lay water and sewer lines in only half of the development. How’s that for middle ground?

If not for Wheat and Byerly, the County Commission would not have even been discussing impact fees, and the entire cost of new growth would be shouldered by the rest of us. Thanks to them, there was a debate. They're both real smart people, and they decided that the compromise was inadequate.

If you're wondering why The Sun would so eagerly attack these open, honest, obviously well-regarded elected officials, consider two important facts:
  1. As a media company, The Sun makes money from advertising sales, so more growth means more advertisers and readers, and, therefore, more money. Gone are the days when The Sun, or many news publications for that matter, put news ahead of profits. I've worked for The Sun and other publications, and I am in touch with dozens of colleagues who continue to work in the mainstream press all over the nation, and I've witnessed its downfall first hand.
  2. The Sun’s paymasters are the local big business elites – the car dealers, realtors, bankers and big business executives who clamor for more growth to fuel their business interests.
So when a county commissioner has the gall to suggest that these special interests pay their fair share, of course Cunningham’s cell phone starts buzzing, and he goes into attack mode.

I spent considerable time and effort documenting this pattern over the past 14 years. I believe it is important for the public to understand the self-interest The Sun has in this issue. Stay tuned for regular media criticism of the local press.

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