I want to thank all of you for your dedicated support during our recent campaign. We made many new friends. We shall live to fight another day.
On February 7, 2019, I formally announced my candidacy for Gainesville City Commissioner, District 4, as well as my three campaign goals. The election was March 19, 2019 and unfortunately, we lost. However, these were, and still are, my goals:
First, change the culture of city governance;
Second, ensure fiscal responsibility as new projects are proposed; and
Third, faithfully "protect neighborhoods".
My plan was summarized as follows:
Three Point Plan for Reform
Change the culture of city governance
More than a change of policy, this requires a change of attitude that will put residents and citizens first, especially in decisions impacting the place they live or work. Our elected officials work for the citizens, not the developers, not the staff.
As a private citizen, I will continue to work to ensure greater transparency in the decision-making process, consistent with Open Meeting and Sunshine laws, to include General Policy meetings, which are not televised, and one-on-one Commissioner meetings with Charter officers. The Commission needs to set a tone in public meetings that welcomes public comment before motions are put on the floor and Commissioners "telegraph" how they will vote.
Ensure fiscal responsibility as new projects are proposed
The Gainesville Sun recently acknowledged that GRU reserves are being rapidly depleted and that the GRU transfer must be reduced. This leaves the City with only three options: raise taxes, raise utility rates, or cut services. We are in this predicament because of the two incumbents' 2017 decision to acquire the biomass plant.
In my recent campaign, I asked voters to hold the incumbents running for reelection accountable. However, the voters decided to reelect the incumbents and the chances of anyone being held "accountable" are slight.
A timely Jake Fuller cartoon reprinted in the Gainesville Sun, Editorial page, Sunday, February 10, 2019
Faithfully "protect neighborhoods"
The Gainesville Sun recently recognized that development decisions must be carried out in a way that protects the essential character of our historic neighborhoods.
While my former opponent has long promised this, he backed the GNV R.I.S.E. high-density infill plan sold to the public as a way to incentivize "affordable housing" (nearly to the end). Many of you knew it would destroy neighborhoods and benefit developers.
Seeking a “vibrant” downtown, he proposed an outdoor amphitheater at Depot Park (and backed off again in the face of opposition).
He also tried to eliminate limits on the frequency of loud, amplified music events that will make life miserable for nearby residents (then seeing massive opposition, backed off again and moved to"vote it down" and revamp the entire ordinance when challenged). These efforts continue, even during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In 2018, I helped stop GNV R.I.S.E and pledged to work with all stakeholders to develop a serious comprehensive plan for affordable housing. I still firmly oppose making downtown Gainesville a full-blown party center at residents' expense.
Although the incumbents have been returned to office, we all have reason to be extremely concerned that the city will not be able to afford new spending, even to raise employee pay, or to incur more debt without serious consequences.
I have over 45 years of public service to my state and country and have spent much of the past five years back home in Gainesville heavily engaged in public policy as an "active citizen". I will continue to stay engaged, both as a neighborhood leader, and as a monthly contributor to the Gainesville Sun. Visit the "Issues" section to see the positive impact my common sense writings have made.
NewsWednesday, June 16, 2021 1:11 PM
Here is the text of my comments, which begin at Minute 58:37 of the linked video:
I am Robert Mounts, speaking on behalf of myself and the University Park Neighborhood Association (UPNA).
First, Mr. Mayor, I would like to place into the record three items which have been handed to the Clerk, Mr. Terrill Arline’s February 5, 2021 letter, an excerpt of the 2nd District Court of Appeal decision in the Charlotte County case he cites, and a copy of UPNA’s letter of June 9, 2021.
Next, I would like to read two key passages from the court’s decision:
". . . when, as here, public officials delegate their fact-finding duties and decision-making authority to a committee of staff members, these individuals no longer function as staff members but 'stand in shoes of such public officials insofar as application of Government in Sunshine Law is concerned.' "
"Because the authority of final project approval has been delegated to the DRC (Development Review Committee) by Charlotte County ordinance, county staff members who serve on the DRC function as public officials. Hence, any DRC meeting at which quasi-judicial action will be taken is subject to Florida's Sunshine Law."
This is the same authority given to our Technical Review Committee (TRC), which allows final approval of development plans by staff review only, without a public hearing.
- In short, every development plan approved by our TRC is subject to challenge for violation of the Sunshine law. I believe that is what Mr. Arline meant when he wrote that this system was perhaps "unconstitutional", as it is a denial of due process of law.
- In our common law system, we are governed by both statutory and case law, that is, the rulings and precedents provided by court decisions.
- You might be able to claim ignorance of a court decision, although "ignorance of the law" is no excuse, but confronted with a court decision so obviously on point as the Charlotte County case, the city's continued refusal to comply with the law would be both willful, and flagrant.
- The city's obligation to follow the law starts now; you don't really need to pass an ordinance to do so, although Commissioner Johnson's proposed amendment requiring greater public participation, which also contemplates some sort of "board approval" is a step in the right direction and should be passed.
Lastly, as some pushed back on a requirement for “board approval” at the March meeting, the "by-right" process heralded in the backup as a "best practice" to lower the cost of housing relies on a false premise in this college town, as no developers have rushed to build affordable housing here under existing "by-right" rules, despite the absence of an allegedly costly public hearing. Instead, they are building luxury student apartments, available by the room at market rate. That's what got us Seminary Lane.
I offer a copy of my remarks to the Clerk.
Wednesday, June 2, 2021 3:15 PM
This piece examines the "search for equity", especially in housing. The editor kindly includes links to earlier opinion pieces on related subjects.
Thursday, April 29, 2021 5:50 PM
My original draft below includes the legal citations (for those who might want to read the cases).
How is America doing with the “rule of law”?
Our reliance upon the “rule of law” is among our highest ideals as a nation, upon which we long have based our moral leadership as an advanced democracy. This is the principle that America is “a nation of laws, not of men” (and women). As we celebrate Law Day, May 1st, I ask, how are we doing with that?
There is reason for some optimism. First, we witnessed the refusal of our Federal courts, including the Supreme Court of the United States, to overturn the presidential election based upon false claims of election fraud, despite some 60 lawsuits.
Second, we have just witnessed the murder conviction of former Minneapolis policeman Derek Chauvin for the brutal killing of a black man, George Floyd. However, as many have noted, without the cell phone video, the case might never have been prosecuted. So, there is relief for some that there was finally accountability in the courts, but renewed calls by many for systemic police reform. There is still much work to do to end systemic racism in policing.
Laws are enacted by human beings; they are implemented and enforced, or not, by human beings. Cases, including all appeals, are heard and decided by human beings. So how can we say we are a nation of laws, not of human beings? It is because our legal system applies a complex set of rules judges follow to ensure transparency and fair play.
It is the rules of evidence developed in the common law system inherited from Great Britain that gives us some assurance that in the courts, fair play will be observed. As anyone who watched the Chauvin trial knows, the judge applied those rules throughout the trial. Before the jury was allowed to deliberate their findings, he gave them detailed instructions concerning how to proceed, including what they may consider, and what they should put aside.
However, justice is often elusive, painfully slow, and often in the “eye of the beholder”. Accused persons in the United States have many Constitutional rights, rights that each one of us rely upon and want to preserve, especially if falsely accused. However, if every accused person asserted them fully, the system would collapse.
The system survives because most defendants do not get a jury trial, much less see their case played out on national television. Many defendants end up accepting a plea deal. The courts are crowded and there is intense pressure to dispose of most cases in other ways.
I have seen how laws are made, implemented, and changed. In 1972-74, I served as Assistant General Counsel to Florida Governor Reuben O’D. Askew, coming on board just as the United States Supreme Court struck down capital punishment in Furman v. Georgia., 408 U.S. 238 (1972).
Governor Askew and Florida Supreme Court Chief Justice B.K. Roberts commissioned separate panels to take public input. There was little debate in either panel about “whether” to reinstate the death penalty as that was a political imperative. Most of the debate concerned what crimes should qualify. It was left to the staff to figure out how to do it.
There were nine opinions in Furman. Attorney-General Robert Shevin’s staff believed the only way to meet the court’s objections was to enact a “mandatory death” statute which made the death penalty automatic upon conviction of a capital crime. We read the opinions differently, noting former Justice Harlan Blackburn’s warning that such a law would be “regressive and of an antique mold”, without consideration of mitigating factors.
As judges determined sentences, we asked judges to hear evidence of “aggravating” and “mitigating” factors; if aggravating factors outweighed mitigating factors, death was mandatory. Transparency was key; the judge had to explain the ruling in a reviewable written opinion, with only an advisory opinion from the jury, taking the sentencing decision out of the secrecy of the jury room.
Although this approach prevailed in Gregg v. Georgia, 428 U.S. 153 (1976) and Proffitt v. Florida, 428 U.S. 242 (1976), our attempt at transparency ultimately fell apart when the Supreme Court decided in Ring v. Arizona, 536 U.S. 584 (2002) and Hurst v. Florida, 577 U.S. 92 (2016) that such laws violated the accused’s right to a jury trial. We’re back to “square one” with juries making sentencing decisions in secret.
For the record, I am opposed to the death penalty; it erodes our moral leadership in the world. These decisions were all made by human beings.
As for the “rule of law”, we have work to do.
Saturday, April 3, 2021 9:22 PM
This opinion piece was posted online Friday, April 2, 2021 and will be published in the Gainesville Sun's Issues Section on Sunday, April 4, 2021. It is yet another attempt to challenge the assumptions behind efforts to eliminate single-family zoning, especially in a small college town with over 70,000 students willing to rent apartments by the room at market rate. However, it is clear from renewed efforts to update the Comprehensive Plan in pursuit of "equity" that some form of inclusionary zoning is once again on the horizon.
Saturday, March 20, 2021 11:54 AM
This opinion piece was published last week in the Gainesville Sun. Since the recent Terry Gross interview on NPR with Dexter Filkins, Pulitzer-prize author of "The Forever Wars", there has been a flurry of news items about the former administration's agreement with the Taliban to pull all remaining troops out by May 1, 2021. The issues are examined here.