Interviewee: James Edison Notestein
Interviewer: Susan Hudgens
Date: April 17, 1989
H: This is Susan Hudgens interviewing James Edison Notestein on April 17, 1989 at
three p.m. in the Florida Museum of Natural History. Mr. Notestein was born in
1943, is a fifth-generation Floridian, and is originally from the Sarasota area. He
came to Gainesville, Florida in 1961 to attend the University of Florida. In 1971
he received a master's degree in architecture and city planning. Between 1981
and 1987, Mr. Notestein produced a weekly radio show for Florida Public Radio
WUFT-FM called "The Florida Plant Kingdom." Between 1984 and 1988, Mr.
Notestein served as county commissioner for Alachua County. Presently, he is
re-establishing his inventory for a plant nursery and is very active with the public
information organization called Friends of Alachua County. Good afternoon, Mr.
Notestein. Let's just start right in on the issue of growth versus no-growth that
we are going to be discussing this afternoon. Where would you say that you
stand on this issue?
N: Well, on some things, for example, growth in parks, growth in locally owned and
operated businesses, growth of citizen participation in local government, growth
of some neighborhood organizations, or growth in the level or quality of
information about what is going on in Alachua County and maybe much of the
world, I am very much pro-growth.
In terms of things that may have a negative effect, in other words, the simple
physical increase in size and area of our city (Gainesville), of just simply adding
more and more complexity to government, or more and more bureaucracy, those
forms of growth, although some people may measure that as satisfaction to
themselves, on closer analysis probably do not have any net positive effect. In
fact, if we allow urban form to continue to sprawl and have to deliver roads,
schools, parks, police and fire, and all the other services to that sprawled out
development, it is not very economical. In fact, in Florida, and especially in
Alachua County, all the past errors of poor land-use planning and very
shortsighted objectives on the part of those who are promoting physical growth
are now coming home to roost on these plans and goals that we will simply have
to get bigger.
Bigger was not better. Now we are seeing a need for new taxing sources, and
we are also seeing a decrease in the quality of life, if we measure things like
human and public services. So we have to decide: we are talking about the
growth of what.
H: I guess growth, in terms of this project, would be physical growth that you would
associate with development.
N: Another distinction that might be important to make would be between the words
growth and development, because those are key differences. Oftentimes
people think of growth as largeness, size, physical qualities. If we look at a
biological example, all creatures have their natural size. If they grow
unnecessarily large, they are considered abnormal, freakish, they do not fit in the
environment, or they have impediments in getting around. If people get too big,
they have got problems. If you have a growth of some kind in your body that is
not under control, the doctors may want to remove it. As regards development,
it could be something where you are gaining wisdom through experience,
learning more things, or you have some other ways that you are more useful in
the community, as in education or a new job skill it makes you more developed
as a human being. You could say that you have grown mentally, socially,
experientially, but I think it is an important distinction. Too often it is simply
played as a yes or no, when it is really much more complicated.
H: Where would you define or end good growth for Alachua County?
N: Well, again, the biological model is a good thought to take off from. Looking at
the concept called carrying capacity, biologists have for a long time looked at
what are called the limits to growth in terms of natural phenomenon. In fact,
there was a very famous international study done by a group called the Club of
Rome back in the 1970s which was looking at what might be some natural
limiting factors to certain kinds of growth and development in the global scene.
But looking at the scale of Alachua County, some of the critical details, of course,
are energy, food, water, public facilities, and the various kinds of infrastructure
that have to be paid for. Our economy in Florida and Alachua County is very
much internationalized. If the Japanese yen fluctuates or the Japanese stock
market fluctuates, it has a ripple effect that reaches us here in Alachua County.
So we are no longer as isolated as we might have been 100 years ago.
But I think that looking at the things that people wish to be as a vision is an
interesting kind of community exercise. For example, the idea of planning is
something that is almost unique to human beings, as well as dreaming and, of
course, our ability to converse and write and read and things like that. But if
Alachua County and many communities have done this were to in a very
democratic fashion look at where we are, and then look at where we wish to be,
and finally talk about all the ways we can get to where we want to be, that kind
of growth planning can be very interesting. That might help to demystify the
relationship between quality of life and good planning, or the quality of life and
education, or all those various relationships.
Of course, that would be a major project for a lot of our institutions. It certainly
could be done. In fact, it is being done to a small degree by some folks at the
University. Bert Swanson [University of Florida professor of political science]
works with the Institute of Government and is conducting Vision programs. He
invites people like Dr. Grant Thrall [University of Florida professor of geography]
to speak. In fact, I noticed in today's or yesterday's paper that he was a
High Springs was the first small city that began their Visions Project. I think they
have pretty much come to a closure at least on one phase. They looked at
where they were, where they wanted to go, and how they wanted to get there.
Newberry, Archer, Micanopy, and maybe even some of the other small cities are
starting to do this. It is a very healthy exercise. One of the things that High
Springs looked at, Archer looked at, and Micanopy is looking at I am getting
back to your original question is that if they do not establish some larger limits
to their incorporated area, they have the likelihood of always remaining a very
small municipality. And since tax revenues are based on either population or
value, it is very limiting, then, for those small cities.
The formulas for tax distribution are such that the small cities get only a small
percent of the state sales tax distribution. About half goes to the county, half
goes to the city of Gainesville, and maybe 6 or 8 percent is divided between the
other eight municipalities. So you see that with a small percent of the annual tax
distributions, they are not going to get much. That is why Archer does not have
a central sewer system or a central water system of any dimension, and so on
with all the small cities. They are looking at a very interesting idea, which is to
incorporate or set an urban reserve out to the extent where they might bump into
Gainesville. So instead of there being a lot of unincorporated area in between,
actually there would be no more unincorporated area.
This is very similar to many of the New England states that have what they call
townships. The whole county is divided into townships so the county
government would not be trying to run a city. They would run the city services,
like fire departments and so on; those would be municipal functions. Instead,
the county might do things like comprehensive planning, codes enforcement,
environmental services, large-scale planning functions, animal control, operate
the jail, provide physical space for courts and public defenders and state attorney
and health officers, those kinds of things. Emergency communications might be
a county-wide function. So it would mean that the county government could be
performing actual county-wide functions. Municipal type services would be
provided by municipalities. They would all have an expanded area, and
therefore expanded tax base, and there would be an opportunity then for the
cities that surround Gainesville to grow and be more balanced.
As it is now, Gainesville is getting most of the growth. Right now there are forty
or fifty square miles within the city limits. They have an area of 150 square
miles reserved for expansion. If the smaller cities were to divide what is about
750 square miles of Alachua County, that would amount to almost 100 square
miles per little city, which would be much larger.
For example, right now Archer is only a couple square miles. If they would
increase that physical opportunity for development and control to 100 square
miles, roughly, that does not mean they would have to be a city that big, but they
would have control of land-use decisions. Their elected city commissioners
would have control over that territory and could make decisions about their urban
services boundary. They could make decisions about what area they wanted to
hold in green space, farms, parks, all that infrastructure, and the tax base for that
enlarged area would flow to the city of Archer. Presently they are ringed by
low-value, low-density trailer park sub-divisions that have been permitted by the
county commissioners over the years. Children that live in the unincorporated
area around the city go to the school in Archer, but their parents do not contribute
any money to Archer school tax base. [Ed.: In Florida, all public schools are
funded on a countywide basis and receive no city taxes.] All the other services
that are needed and have to be provided by Archer are not being funded by
these non-city residents. They are also in an income bracket (because of the
Homestead exemption process in Florida) where they probably do not pay any
property taxes at all. So you have this proliferation of low-value, low-density
habitations which require high-level, expensive services. Those people are
getting a free ride, and they are going to pay the piper soon. The bubble is
going to burst.
H: How can this be corrected?
N: Well, I think in individual situations, [the people could have a referendum]. For
instance, High Springs, which is first on this process and may be the first to act,
since they have a charter, they could have a referendum which would call for
amendment of their city values.
There are three mechanisms for annexation. One is voluntary, where an
adjoining property to a city simply requests to become part of the city. That is all
that has to be done if the city agrees. Another would be by a vote process,
[outlined in Florida Statute 171,] where the two groups vote the group wishing
to come in and the citizens of the city. If both are a majority, then annexation
Then there is a special mechanism called the Corporate Limits Council, [which
applies only to Gainesville]. If the city of Gainesville and the Alachua County
commissioners agree as a group, then they can put a certain area for annexation
on a ballot issue. Then the total number of voters both inside the area to be
annexed and the city of Gainesville are totaled, and a simple majority of that total
voting group determines the issue.
[The annexation of] Northwood Oaks Pines was the only instance this has been
done. It was very unfortunate for them, because about 97 percent of the people
in Northwood Pines did not want to be annexed, but because the Corporate
Limits Council put this on the ballot, it triggered a requirement that all the people
in Gainesville and the people in Northwood Pines were pooled in one sum. As a
result, the civil majority, that total group of people, carried the issue. Promises
were made to Northwood Pines for various improvements, which to this day have
not occurred. Those citizens were brought unwillingly into the city of Gainesville.
Gainesville needs to make itself attractive as a place to live. That is one reason
why the mayor is talking about removing the occupational license. That is only
half a million dollars of income, but they think since the county does not have it
that if they reduce it there will be less differential.
The utility rates are different for the city and county. The opportunity to vote on
people who have something to do with your utility bills [is different]. If you go
outside the Gainesville city limits you are paying a utility bill to Gainesville, which
then transfers profits from the utility to run the general government. So the
citizens who are not residents of the city of Gainesville are actually paying for the
general government of Gainesville through the utility transfer. It is about 8 or 9
percent a year of their profits. We figured once about 40 percent of the
revenues that Gainesville utilities generate goes to the city and comes from
So there are a lot of questions, like where they money goes, where it is coming
from, and who gets to decide. If those discussions came out in the open, if the
media were more responsible for factual information, if other institutions like our
schools and neighborhoods spent more time looking at the facts, sort of a
"Sesame Street" for adults, I think the democracy we expect would work more
smoothly. People would go to the marketplace of ideas well-informed. As it is
now, they are easily manipulated with propaganda and misinformation. Now it is
whoever has got the biggest shout and wave gets the movement.
H: What do you think of the Gainesville Sun?
N: It is a paper that has gone through a lot of changes. It is an old paper; it has
been around for a long time. I guess it has had different names. I think
sometime in 1986, probably as a culmination of a variety of issues that that paper
had presented in a light that was favorable to a humanistic or environmental point
of view, certain interests in the community, primarily associated with the
University of Florida management and with the upper echelons of the business
community--people often identified as the Chamber of Commerce and perhaps
a few other interests, went to, or at least it was reported that they went to, the
managing directors of the New York headquarters [The Gainesville Sun is a New
York Times regional paper and magazine. Ed.] and requested a different
publisher, a publisher who would be more supportive of the interests of business,
of the objectives of physical growth and numerical size, and who would stop
giving so much editorial and news support to environmental issues.
So that was done because, after all, big corporations like the New York Times
are simply interested in squeezing profits out of its small satellite enterprises.
As we have discovered, people who have been to New York and have talked to
the directors of the New York Times Corporation [reported that] the directors
seemed somewhat insensitive to the plight of the environmentalists and the
humanists in Alachua County. They simply brush off the complaints being made
by those who, in many cases, appear to be the victims of a press [that is
unresponsive to the community]. The press exists only for those who own the
press. When you buy ink by the barrel, you can get away with a lot. So the
character of the paper certainly changed.
Of course, it is the nature of newspapers to represent a philosophy or policy
which is conducive to what they believe are their own economic self-interests. If
a newspaper is making money, which all newspapers attempt to by selling ads -
they do not make money by circulation then they want to promote more
advertising. They probably believe that if there are more businesses, then there
will be more advertising revenue. If there are more citizens, there will be more
Again, you have to return to this basic biological concept of carrying capacity.
People who are economic geographers and who are population biologists can
talk about the economic energy that exists in a particular area and why a city
becomes a large city. Atlanta, Jacksonville, and Tampa are three interesting
points on the map. They became important centers of trade and commerce for
physical reasons, not just because somebody said "I think this is a nice place to
have a city. It is going to be a big city." Usually it is transportation oriented and
there is a certain distance factor.
It is like when you go to the beach, there are waves, and they come in certain
intervals. In order for the waves to be bigger or more frequent, there has to be
more energy put into the system by nature. The winds blow harder, or raise the
ocean so the waves are higher and more frequent. In a calm day when there is
not a lot of energy in the system, the waves are smaller and farther apart.
Well, it is like that in economics. When these interactions of energy waves,
which could be measured as money or people or whatever, interact in physical
ways, you form physical structures, like cities. The fact that there may be
persons or groups in this area Alachua County who would like to have a
regional airport, which is an appealing dimension of Atlanta, or would like it to
have some research triangle or research park or something like that that they
have seen or heard of, just because they want that to happen like a surfer
floating on a calm sea and wanting there to be a crashing wave it is not going
Rather than denying the natural qualities of this area, which are really the basis
for why people are here, [we should be promoting them]. In fact, there was an
article that was published just today or yesterday in the Wall Street Journal about
Gainesville's being one of the top five cities in America that appear to be
attractive to people because of its very seductive natural aura image. The
ambience of the University [may be a contributing factor], but it is mostly the
natural features, the benign climate, and lots of greenery that have drawn people
We also have a very literate citizenry and people who are independent, if not
even rebellious, when they are stepped on too hard by economic interests. So it
is interesting. Here we have a place where we can capitalize on natural features
for recreation purposes, retirement, health care (which is a very important
economic generator), education, and all kinds of intellectual enterprises. These
are things that can be very strong, clean industries. Celebrations and cultural
activities of all kinds are very important kinds of economic generators. Car lots,
shopping malls, apartment complexes, and all this stuff will turn Joe Blow's ten
acres into a million dollars of profit maybe. But, on the other hand, there is
only but so much energy in the economic curve.
It is like [the downtown district]. When there was just downtown, it was a thriving
economy. Then Sears wanted to expand their downtown store, but the
downtown property owners would not sell to Sears, so they built a shopping
center over on [Highway] 441 [13th Street]. So downtown became decrepit, and
they eventually demolished all the old stores. Then the Gainesville Mall on 441
also deteriorated, so Sears moved out to the new mall [Oaks Mall] even further
west. You see, there is only so much energy in the curve. If you draw that
energy out, the curve flattens down. Now we have a lot of economic centers,
none of which is very dynamic in the local sense.
The Oaks Mall, because it is a transportation hub, is drawing people from many
counties. If you were to poll today the number of people from Alachua County at
the Oaks Mall, you would find that probably only 10 to 20 percent of the people
out there are from Alachua County. Most of the locals avoid that area because it
is such a nasty transportation boondoggle. It is kind of like a zoo. It is an
interesting place to go see if you are from the hinterlands, but many people do
not desire those kinds of experiences.
It is a real conflict in objectives. If we want to have higher quality economic
development in Alachua County, we should establish limits to urban services,
and we should put up a high burden on people who wanted to live beyond that.
As it is, it is exactly reversed. There is a subsidy for people who want to buy
cheap farm land. Then they turn it into subdivisions, get utilities extended out
there, and demand services. Meanwhile, the Homestead exemption allows
them not to pay taxes. We have some of the highest taxes of any county in the
state of Florida. We have the highest dropout rate, we have some of the highest
crime rates, and we are high in hunger. There is really a great series of
problems that can be addressed only by a coordinated, informed community that
is participating for its own benefit. There is a lot of apathy, cynicism, and
ignorance among the general public. That is why information the "Sesame
Street" for adults is important. Somehow we need to get the message out
about how people can become effective if they become active in issues that
It is an interesting kind of prescription. Of course, people who support
prescriptions like that may be charged with all sorts of abuses by those who are
being upset. The old guard of any area resents change which reduces their
making a profit. Will Rogers once said, "We have the best government money
can buy." Well, if you look at the list of who contributes to the people who get
elected locally, you will see an interesting correlation between the contributors,
who then turn out to be the beneficiaries in land deals and zoning changes and
program approvals that kind of self-serving association of individuals who sit in
the circles of power in the community and our elected officials. It has been an
H: A question was posed to the Gainesville Sun on February 15 by Miss Elizabeth
McCulloch. The main question was actually omitted from the letter, and I would
like you to answer it. Why is it profitable for developers to go on building in the
face of such high vacancy rates?
N: That is an interesting paradox. For instance, take apartment buildings. Let's
say there are 3,000 apartments that are vacant. Or subdivision homes; there
are about 3,000 homes that are vacant. Why would somebody who is in the
building business continue to build when there is such a vacancy rate? It does
not make sense. Well, apparently some builders have the advantage of
location, so it is in their interest to get a building permit if they can because their
location is close to the University, or close to a shopping center, or close to a
transportation hub. So it is in their personal interest to try and proceed.
The government has, at this time, no thermostat on the permit machine. All of
the mechanical devices that we use to control our comfort in our homes and
buildings have a thermostat. We set the thermostat at the comfort level so it
does not get too hot or too cold, but stays just right. We could, and many
communities do, have a thermostat on their building permit process. They set
that building permit thermostat at a comfort level of so much vacancy rate. If it is
not economically healthy to have more than 5 or 10 percent vacancy rate in
apartments or houses, that is where they set it. That way if the thermometer of
vacancies goes up and indicates that we have more than 10 percent vacancy,
then the thermostat shuts down the permit machine. Well, the people could
continue to get their plans ready if they want to, but they would not be reviewed
because of the oversupply.
If economics were real it is not even a dismal science; supply and demand
have nothing to do with reality then when there was an oversupply there would
be a reduction of production in order to stabilize the supply and demand
equation, thus leveling the economy. But that is not really the objective in
economics. Generally, people are merely trying to maximize the use of
resources for their own benefit.
Governments should exist not for the enhancement of individuals or corporations,
but for the benefit of the citizens and public interest and to protect the natural
resources for the future. That objective has long been overruled by organized
greed. So you have on one hand the public need, and on the other organized
greed. Organized greedies are hard-wired to the system of government
because they have been able to put people in who are serving their interests
through this electoral process, which is "buy the best government we can afford."
Meanwhile, out here the public need is going unserved. There is a tremendous
racking of the natural resources of the economic future.
Did you know that we have more basketball hoops in the county jail than we do in
all the county parks combined? The city has a lot of basketball hoops in their
parks, and the school board has a lot of hoops in their playgrounds. But those
are not county parks, and we cannot use those as county parks. The county
runs the jail, and they have more basketball hoops out there than in their parks.
So here we are subsidizing bad behavior and taxing good behavior.
That is very typical of how we treat health care needs, education needs,
recreation needs, and natural resource protection. One third of this county is
what is called geologically a high recharge area. That means that things that
spill out of the ground go quickly into the aquifer. Yet, there is only lip service
given to our need to establish set-backs for certain kinds of hazardous chemicals
and wastes from 1,000 feet of sinkholes and the municipal water supply. Here
we are, one-third of the county just twenty-five feet away from the aquifer. That
is a multi-county water resource. If we spoil our water resources, sure, some
business may have been able to make a profit, but it may ruin the economic
future for this county forever. Who wants to do business in Love Canal or Three
Mile Island or Chernobyl?
When things go wrong due to sloppy management and if government is
supposed to be managing the natural resources and permitting reasonable
economic activity, then if they let things go awry it is a great fault and travesty,
but still the damage is done. All the hand wringing and apologizing will not make
up for it. We have too many situations in this county where foresight was not
used and blindness prevailed, and now we are reaping the results.
I think we are just beginning to see some of the indicators. Just recently EPA
[U.S. Environmental Protection Agency] or DER [Florida Department of
Environmental Regulation] acknowledged that the Main Street Kopper's site is
major problem. Anybody who lives or works in that area probably ought not to
because of the levels of arsenic and chromium and other nasty substances.
Well, that has been leaking into the water for the past seventy years. There are
just all kinds of indicators, such as a high levels of children's leukemia. Parent's
whose children have died of leukemia are now networking together to discover
what the origins of exposure might have been.
So much is allowed. It does not look like there is any asbestos in the ceiling, but
do we really know? At one point in time asbestos was a great thing; now it is a
big expense to tear out. Fiberglass is another problem, as are byproducts of
gasoline combustion engines. Scientists who knew the facts could have made
more of a point of what they knew, but for intimidating reasons, like job security,
many people bite their tongue instead of blowing the whistle. So everybody
H: Would you tell me about the radio program you produced?
N: "Plant Kingdom." It was censored. It was taken off the air, I believe, because
persons who did not want even my name to be mentioned made it their objective
to pressure certain persons at the radio station to simply take me off the air.
Those persons were not strong enough to resist the pressures that they were
under. I cannot say that I blame them, but it is just unfortunate that a program
on horticulture, three minutes a week, was seen to be an insidious threat to the
powers that be. At any rate, it was determined that Mr. Notestein would become
a nonentity in terms of radio broadcast.
H: Why is Jim Notestein such a bad threat?
N: I do not know. You will have ask somebody who opposed me. Information is
powerful. There was not anything I was saying on that radio show that had to do
with politics or growth or development. We were talking about classical
information about the plant kingdom: gardening, working with plants, and unique
features about the plant kingdom, champion trees, the history of certain plant
materials, and curious details.
There is a certain reality in marketing. If you were to say your name once a
week as far as people could hear in this county, you would become known as a
person. Then if you wanted to run for re-election, your name would be more
easily remembered than if we had not broadcast your name. So it was a way to
diminish one name. At the same time, there was another individual who's name
was being trumpeted more broadly, so it had the effect of balancing what was in
effect seen by some as an opportunity to present me as a name to the
community. Since citizens oftentimes do not realize what their associations are,
but are able to remember that name, they did not want anybody to be able to
"name that tune." They wanted that tune to be vague and forgotten, and so it
was. I think one of my associates there at the station said they had received a
rather thinly veiled threat that if I did not leave the air, this other person would
have to leave the station. That kind of hardball is not surprising.
At a meeting of the county commissioners one evening somebody can bring in a
project to turn 100 acres of agricultural land into a shopping center. They can
make $1 million profit in a fifteen-minute vote. It is amazing how some people
will spend a large amount of effort to make sure utilities get extended to western
Gainesville, fire stations get built every five miles, etc. Certain people get
certain benefits and certain approvals, and it is simply amazing.
I am just glad I do not live in South America. I might disappear. People down
there disappear. The guy who was in charge of Brazilian rubber tappers was
shot because he was trying to promote the Brazilian forest as a sustainable
economy for Brazil. See, if you tap the rubber, you can do that forever; it is like
maple syrup. But if you cut the rubber tree down and make an orange crate out
of it, there goes the rubber tree. "Oops, there goes another forest." It is sad.
In the corporate view of things, there is a growing trend toward corporate
responsibility and corporate ethics in the sense of living on the Earth, doing
socially appropriate things, and not doing business with racists and war
mongering countries. In fact, those corporations that have been practicing
social equity and social principles are making net profits greater than those who
do not. It is also true of universities that invest their stock portfolios in similarly
appropriate technology and appropriate industry; they make a higher return when
they are fiduciarily responsible to invest in socially appropriate technology.
[Appropriate investments include] not doing business with South Africa, not
making war weapons, poison gas, pesticides. That is bad, dumb economics.
Biological pest control is a better way to control plant pests. It really works. Of
course, you cannot turn the oil into profits as easily because working with nature
does not require the use of poisons, at least not toxic poisons. There are natural
pathogens that can be encouraged which are host specific.
Use of knowledge can be a very effective tool for increasing the quality of life and
giving those who come after us something to enjoy. It is likely, though, that
those who come after Chernobyl and in that general area of the world are going
to have to suffer a great deal. Those who come from the area of Three Mile
Island or all over America where there are nuclear research facilities that have
poured billions of pounds of poisonous stuff into the air and the water and the soil
they are going to suffer the consequences. There is going to be a huge social
cost. The production of shoddy goods [is going to beget] a huge cost.
We are going to wind up with a lot of our corporations and businesses and our
territory being owned by foreigners in this country and in this county. There are
a lot of Japanese mortgage brokers in Alachua County. There are a lot of
Europeans who have purchased land in Alachua County. There are a lot of
South Americans who have purchased land in Alachua County. North Dakota
and Montana are the only two states in America that do not allow foreigners to
own more than ten acres of agriculturally productive land. Canada does not
allow more than ten acres of productive agriculture to be owned by a foreigner.
It is important to own the source of the food. If we are depending on California
and Mexico for our food, how free are we going to be?
Alachua County has a history of growing food. It had a number of slave
plantations before the Civil War. We have weather, soil, and information energy,
so we can be totally self-reliant. We have all kinds of small locally operating
enterprises producing, processing, and transporting food. It is nearly $300
million a year that we spend on food, so that would be something that people
could do for the local economy instead of going to a chain store that chutes your
money out of town and brings in foreign produce.
So there would be functional open space. There would be meaningful jobs.
There would be a natural balance to the urban sprawl because there would be an
economic reason to have open space that is functional as a farm. It would be
part of our culture. We could have strawberry festivals, pumpkin festivals, sweet
corn festivals a party every day. There would be something every day. We
could say, "It is that time of the year for those things, so let's go have a party!" It
could be good. That is the vision that many of us have: despite great adversity
and great odds and great resistance and inertia, it is still very ennobling and
pleasurable to work hard toward enriching the quality of life and the quality of the
community. There are a lot of people who believe that this could be even a
better place to live, work, and enjoy. Someone has to do something, and this is
a good thing to do.
H: You are working with Friends of Alachua County. In fact, I believe you are the
N: Well, by its bylaws, the organization does not allow elected officials to be
members. It has existed since the middle of 1966, and I was just pleased that it
existed and hoped that it would do great things. And they did some good things.
They had some noble successes in terms of effecting public policy. Once I
finished my term of office, then I was able to be more active with it.
The board of directors and I have found ourselves very comfortable with each
other, so I am spending some of my energy and interest to help build that
organization. I am working with them to help their membership increase, and I
am working with them to help them get a newspaper out on a regular basis every
One object is to open an office downtown. Then we can bring in very extensive
information files and make them generally accessible. [Having an office
downtown is important because we would be] in the midst of a government
setting. If there were a need, we could immediately get in front of government to
make a petition or make a presentation or to observe what is being done
allegedly in the public's benefit or behalf.
The government is of, by, and for the people. How did you know unless
somebody is there to check up on it? Right now, for example, the president of
Friends of Alachua County, Harold Graybill, is the only citizen I know who for the
past several years has spent every Tuesday afternoon in the county commission
meeting room observing them, asking questions, making recommendations. He
may not have received a lot of friendliness on the part of the staff or
commissioners, but while I was there it was a great joy to see him in the
audience and listen to his comments. As a former air force wing commander, he
had a great deal of knowledge and ability about the management of complex
systems, and his concern with our economy and operations was very well
placed. We have a great number of retired individuals whose years of
experience would serve this community well if they were encouraged to be
meaningfully involved. Whether the government wishes him to be meaningfully
involved or not, he is going to make his presence known, so I am pleased that he
is leading the organization now. In fact, I am going to a meeting with him about
a half an hour from now. It is our monthly board meeting, and we will wrestle
with issues of our own organization, about how we are growing and developing
ourselves to be more effective.
The Friends' newspaper is one growth forum. We did not have a newspaper a
month ago, and now we have a newspaper.
H: Is this the first newspaper?
N: First issue, right. There had been about three or four newsletters over the past
few years that were sent to a rather small membership. That is often the trouble
with progressive organizations they tend to sing to themselves. When we
looked at the facts and realized that the cost of printing a newspaper is relatively
small, we thought let's talk to the community. As a result, we do not have
journalists working for us, but we have people who know what they are talking
about write things. Of course, that could be discounted as a biased perspective,
but we believe that what we are saying is truthful and useful, and we are offering
it to the interested public.
We are putting together next month's issue right now. That is an interesting
exercise. I am pleased to note that fortunately there are enough locally owned
small businesses who want to advertise in our paper that it looks like the paper
will pay for itself on the second printing as well as the first. We have had a
balanced budget from the very first issue, which is unusual for a paper. We are
not being subsidized in any way. We are carrying our own load by providing an
economic service to our sponsors, who happen to be small businesses in
H: When do you think that Friends of Alachua County will get an office?
N: That depends. We really thought that membership would grow more quickly
than it has. There are a lot of people interested in what we are doing, and we
had hoped that there would be some interest following the election
disappointment, that is, that many people who were disappointed would
appreciate the fact that I was refocusing myself toward this public interest
We raised quite a bit of money during the campaign, more money than I thought
we ought to, but it turned out to be about one-tenth of the money that was raised
against me. I just got whipped by money. We thought there would be some
transference, that people would refocus their emotions of disappointment to
objectives of success by joining Friends of Alachua County. That has not
happened quite as quickly as we hoped, although we are increasing in
membership every day.
We thought the newspaper would help because we would make ourselves more
visible and our usefulness would be more apparent. Because if we are
communicating useful information, you can say, "Ah-hah! I would like to support
them." Of course, every issue has a membership application blank. I would
think that when we have about one thousand members since our organization
is only run by membership fees the retained earnings of that large a
membership would enable us realistically to obtain an office in the downtown
Office space is somewhat expensive. We hoped that there might be someone
who, for socially beneficial reasons, might wish to share space with us. There is
a lot of vacant space downtown, but many property owners have an inflated idea
of what it is worth, and they would rather have an empty building for five years
than a reduced rent for right now. Maybe we will find a beneficiary or two, so we
are making a public presence. We have not really talked about our office needs
in print, but once we do that, I suspect that of our 8,000 copies in print and I
guess two readers per copy we might be reaching 10,000 to 15,000 people.
Out of those, all we need is one person to say, "Hey, I have got an office for you
that I would like to share." Those are pretty good odds. That is better than the
H: Where are you operating now?
N: We have been switching our board meetings to different locations. We had a
meeting on campus once. We have been meeting a lot of times in people's
homes. Today we are meeting in Mr. Graybill's home. It is appropriate; he is
president, and he has enough room, so we will meet there. If that is
comfortable, we will meet there more often. We had a newsletter meeting in
somebody else's home. It is not that we need a big facade or a large amount of
office space. We do the assembly of the paper at another person's home who
happens to have a word processor. The articles come in, the type is set, and
the galleys are cut and pasted on the dummy. If it all works out, we take it to the
printer and it gets printed. We bring it back in somebody's vehicle and drop off
bundles here and there. It is a very homespun production.
It is reminiscent of the formation of our country, of the early patriots. I do not
want to call them freedom fighters; that sounds too subject to misinformation.
But the early American patriots were often pamphleteers who wrote broadsheets
or newspapers. Posters were put up and speeches were given: public
information was very important. Yet, if you look at the numbers, probably less
than 20 percent of the American public or the colonial population were even
interested at all in independence and this idea of democracy. They did not have
television; they did not have fast cars and fast food and all the other consumer
products. So it is not surprising today with the culture that we are immersed in
that there is a lot of distortion and distraction. To have even 5 percent or 2
percent of the population be interested in democracy or be participating in their
government or in their community or their neighborhood would, I think, be a
remarkable success. We have nearly 200,000 people here, depending on
whether you count the students or guests. So if we had 1 or 2 percent of that
number, that is a large number of people. One percent of 200,000 is 2,000
people. If we had 2,000 people in our organization, that is a realistic objective.
It is just a matter of breaking some of the myths in which people imprison
themselves. A lot of people believe this myth that they are powerless as
individuals, or that there have to be experts to take care of the problems. [They
believe] you cannot do anything about the government, or there are certain
things that are inevitable.
Well, that is really not so. Once you break those myths, it is a very empowering
sort of feeling. Somebody could have told us, "You cannot put a paper together.
Nobody will advertise in it. Nobody will write for it. Nobody will do the work."
Well, we did it. It is really uplifting to realize that, despite the impediments and
difficulties, we have been able to form an organization. It is viable. It is
registered with the state of Florida. We produced a newspaper that paid for
itself in the first issue.
I think this history of successful accomplishments in the public interest is going to
continue to bear fruit. We do not know where exactly. It is like a farmer who
throws out lots of seeds. Some fall on stony ground, and some fall on fertile soil.
Well, we are giving lots of people a chance to get excited and get active in what
we are doing to help enrich and improve the quality of government and the
quality of life in Alachua County. You would be surprised. In fact, that is one
thing that my wife told me when I got elected the first time. She said, "Play close
attention to the people who come to help that you do not know. You will always
be impressed by the surprises." That is exactly true. Most of the people
involved with Friends of Alachua County, with the newspaper, some beautiful big
projects that are happening that I am aware of I did not know four years ago. It
is really a delight to discover through some sort of networking process that a
good idea can become reality if we just apply our human abilities.
The things that distinguish us from the other animals not the lower animals, but
the other animals need to be utilized more enthusiastically. There was a
woman who came to town ten years ago or so who said, "Where is your public
radio station?" And we said, "Huh? What is that?" As a result of her input,
and of course others, we now have a public radio station that is, according to the
Arbitron survey, the most listened to public radio station in America, based upon
all those who could listen that actually do. Our public radio station went from
nothing to number one in ten years. To have been associated with that is a
great honor. I would like to return to the radio station, even if I was just talking
about gardening. But I have more to talk about now. Maybe somebody will
have the courage to invite me back, but that remains to be seen.
H: As far as the seeds that you have thrown out in the community, what kind of
response have you had from students and the University?
N: Actually, pretty good. There is an environmental action group that is not a very
old group. They have been around since the 1970s. They are responsible for
starting recycling on campus. In fact, when they first got active in the recycling
project back in the 1970s, one of the mayors of Gainesville arranged for them to
acquire a surplus truck from Gainesville, and they were able to carry recycled
aluminum, newsprint, glass, and things like that to its actual market destination,
thus making more money.
Students have gone through a lot of changes in terms of what motivates them,
which is a reflection of our general culture and society. Right now the culture in
our society is pretty ruthless. There is not a lot of slack cut for those who are
needy. There are always, I think, in any age young people who are visionaries
or who are interested in the well-being of the species and the well-being of the
planet, or are interested in having some satisfactions that are not simply
purchased. There is an Environmental Law Society. There are college
councils. Many of the academic units have good social service fraternities.
There are institutes of various kinds of culture and special studies. And just
individual students. I encounter a lot of journalism students who are learning to
do their craft, and they call me for this or that. There seems to be always a
spark of enthusiasm and good energy in the students and in the youth.
I think that is one of the reasons I enjoy living in a university community. I would
live on campus if I could. I think it is neat. There is a lot of ambience of
education and knowledge. I guess philosophy means the love of knowledge, so
I could enjoy being a philosopher. I guess I would be a "green" philosopher.
H: What about the response from the administrators of the University? Have you
had much of that?
N: I guess it varies by department. One of the roles of the university president is to
hire certain deans, and make certain that the deans hire certain chairman and
that the chairman hire certain faculty. So the recent president (and I say this
with some emphasis) was sent here perhaps to restore a certain order to an
institution, an economic entity that had expressed a bit of independence. I
suspect that that former president has put some people in place who will have a
profound effect upon academic behavior for a number of years. Certain
behavior has been encouraged. Certain behavior has been discouraged. It is
closely linked to the general economic community and some of the political
But I personally do not have much contact with the administrative group at the
university. Whenever I am invited, I always dress up and behave myself. I am
always glad to answer questions or to help or to be useful, especially as a public
servant. I figure that is my job. Oftentimes I would have to invite myself to
some of these occasions, but it was fun to be there and be ready to help if asked.
I enjoyed the Campus Community Council breakfast, which is held on a
Wednesday every month at the [J. Wayne] Reitz Union. They bring in a public
speaker, usually from the campus, to talk about some issue. It was good just to
listen, because you learn more by listening than by talking.
I do not have much contact with the administration. I probably have a lot more
contact with the faculty. A lot of our members of Friends of Alachua County on
the are faculty. People who write for our paper our faculty persons, so we are
much more closely involved with faculty. Those a little lower on the chain of
command are sometimes a little more interested in community activities. They
are marching to their own tune more so than others higher in the chain, who are
marching to somebody else's tune.
H: Other than Grant Thrall and Dwight Adams, who on the faculty is involved?
N: I do not have a [list] off hand. I am trying to think of departments that we are
very strong in. The natural sciences are probably where we are strongest. We
have a lot of support and a lot of interested members in the museum and the
natural sciences. Agricultural sciences, biology, botany, architecture and
planning there is interest there. There is quite a bit of interest in physics and
in some of the space sciences. We have active members in all of the
This network is in a little shoe box of three-by-five cards. People call me and
say they have a problem, and I file through my index cards of people and say,
"Here is somebody" either in a department, a citizen, or an organization "who
can help you." That is one of the objectives of Friends is to maintain an active
network so that when somebody in the neighborhood says, "I am getting sprayed
by Malathion, and I do not think its good for me. I have a rash. What can I do
about it?" Well, we can put somebody on that right away from several different
directions. We have made some good presentations to the city of Gainesville,
and they should have been convinced, although they are apparently dragging
their feet a little bit, about the reality of switching to a non-toxic, effective,
substitute for Malathion. It has been interesting.
There are all kinds of circumstances where people want to know [something].
For example, how to get their neighborhood incorporated. I give them three or
four names of people who are from a neighborhood that has recently become
incorporated. They had to do so to provide some organizational structure when
they wanted to resist an unscrupulous developer or a less-than-supporting
government. Sometimes the citizens have to become involved to save
themselves, to save their interests.
The basic economy of any community, the principal investment that anyone
makes, is in their home. We worked with the Idylwild-Seranola project with the
Hunt Club [development]. The people in that neighborhood several hundred
families have homes worth $28 million. For some guy to come here from Palm
Beach or wherever and say he has a $.5 million piece of property that he
deserves to do anything with he wants to for his gain is meaningless when you
compare it against $28 million worth of homeowner's investment, particularly
when there is a principle from the county's comprehensive plan that says, "The
vested interests of existing neighborhoods are a collective vested interest of the
entire community." That is to say the neighborhoods and the citizen
homeowners are superior to the individuals who own unimproved property that
they want to develop for profit.
Since this is one of the legal principles of the county's comprehensive plan,
Friends of Alachua County has adopted those principles. In fact, our application
form includes those principles. These are the five basic principles of the
county's comprehensive plan: growth must pay its way, neighborhoods are
important, protect the environment, protect natural resources, and people should
participate in the process to see if they are going to get the benefits. Well, those
are American principles. You get what you pay for; you pay for what you get.
We hope that we are not being radical, except that the word 'radical" means to
get back to the root of things.
This is the root of our county government, these five basic principles or pillars of
wisdom. From those, then, grow various policies, development codes,
ordinances, and specific regulations. It gets down to the specific, particular
details. But somewhere back at the headwaters are these basic principles, and
those basic principles of Alachua County government are exactly the same
principles of the Friends of Alachua County. Alachua County needs friends, and
who would not want to be a Friend of Alachua County?
H: Right. What do you think of the county commission as it stands now?
N: There are two new commissioners, and I do not spend a lot of time watching
them. I do not have television or cable TV. Mr. Graybill is doing the monitoring
of the group. There are opportunities now that they did not have when I was on
the commission. There is a requirement that if a certain number of homeowners
object to a particular development proposal, four of the five commissioners are
required to vote for its approval. Well, now there is more chance of having a
super majority for a pro-development proposal because of the preponderance of
development interests on the commission. That has been demonstrated in
some of their votes.
It would be a difficult time to be a commissioner right now because the majority of
the commissioners have failed to limit this physical growth problem, and they
have failed to require growth to pay its own way, even though in that referendum
last November 55,000 people voted yes, that growth should pay its own way,
whereas 9,000 said no. Those are the 9,000 who want their wagons greased by
the taxpayers. If the commissioners were really representing the majority of the
citizens, which is what they should be doing, they would then impose the
requirement that growth pay its own way.
Every new single-family home requires about $25,000 in physical infrastructure.
Schools are the most expensive; about $12,000 to $14,000 per home is required
to build the school buildings to educate the children in a typical home. That
money is not being collected. Nobody is paying a dime of impact fees for
schools. So that is why we have incredibly crowded schools. As soon as
schools open, they are crowded. They immediately bring in temporary
classrooms. There are huge numbers of students in the classroom. Teachers
are getting poor pay. There is only a half an hour of physical education a week
for kids in schools now. There are no nurses in any of the schools. [The list
goes] on and on and on.
There was an article recently that claimed that we need $100 million for new
school buildings in Alachua County. Only a couple weeks before, the school
board and the home builders were saying we do not need impact fees for schools
because there is no need for it no demand, no new students. There is this
actual misinformation and misrepresentation of the facts being promoted by
people in the school system, in the home building organization, and in the major
daily paper all hand in hand singing the song about the king's new clothes, and
the king is stark naked. There is a tremendous need that must be addressed;
even though it is not pretty, we need to talk about it.
So the commissioners have these opportunities. They have opportunities
always to be diplomatic and considerate of other municipalities. But there seem
to be turf wars with regard to the eight small cities, [which is] a very parochial
attitude. They look down on the little cities.
Recently there was a proposal at the county commission to have a charter review
commission formed. Well, the president of the League of Cities, Bill Copeland,
who is a city commissioner in Archer, said, "We would like to have some
opportunity for our rural cities to be represented on this charter review
commission." The attitude that was expressed by many of the commissioners
was so embarrassing: they did not to deserve to be on there, and they were lucky
to be where they are. It was just embarrassing.
But the opportunities exist. Every day somebody can change their behavior,
change their attitude, change their outlook. I do not have much expectation for
that to take place. They are talking about a bunch of new taxes. The county
manager would like to build a larger organization. A $30 million jail is not a
solution to the problems of crime, but it sure is great for the prison industry, and it
is great for management because then you need to have more employees.
They get more money for managing more employees. There are fifteen new
taxes: utility taxes, sales taxes, gas taxes, this and the other kind of thing. How
is that going to affect the poor people? Taxes tend to be regressive.
If we have such a high proportion of our population that is below the poverty line,
[we have a problem]. There are 25,000 people in Alachua County who have no
medical insurance of any kind. There are 1,500 homes in Alachua County that
do not have a flush toilet and do not have running water in the kitchens. They
gave a prize to the two guys from Vista who discovered it, but they do not give
anybody a bathroom. If you built a new bathroom a day, it would take four years
to beat that problem. That is a big problem. There are a lot of indigent mothers
who cannot afford a $35 prenatal visit, so they deliver an infant that has a low
birth weight, congenital problems, and the like, all because somebody was too
tight to deal with them in a preventative way.
My favorite word is it is a travesty. The Alligator likes that; "that is another
travesty." There is a collection of travesties committed, unfortunately, by our
very own government. But when people rise up to express their concerns or
want to voice some counterproposals, they are told to be quiet, that they are
disrupting the meeting.
H: Where are the solutions?
N: Education, participation, advocacy, facts, truth, bravery--things like that would be
very helpful. It is not that any information is hidden or unknowable or mysterious
or unduly complicated. The recipe for making bread is complicated. You can
pour all the ingredients in the bowl and throw it in the oven, and nothing will
happen that you want. But if you do the right steps and follow the recipe, [it will
work]. The recipe for democracy is supposed to be taught everywhere, but who
practices it? We graduate from high school, but we do not know much about our
bodies, economics, local government, health care, or things like that. There are
some missing links in what might be constituting a basic education. There is not
a lot of knowledge of practical things, like how to put a handle on a shovel if the
But those things can change. I have a good friend who is an anthropologist.
He is constantly reminding me that people's ideas are oftentimes, if not always,
influenced by the physical nature of the culture and society which surrounds
them. Too often, though, what is believed is that the ideas are more important,
and that promotes metaphysics, mysticism, and blind faith, and allows
propaganda, advertising, newspeak, and double talk to dominate. But [we
should look at things like] what the energy base is, what the food chain is, what
the ecology is, who the representatives are, who my precinct representative is.
There are forty-six precincts in Alachua County. I bet you there are not five
hundred people in the county who know who their precinct representative is.
Wow! What are precincts? Precincts are just a subdivision between counties
and neighborhoods. A precinct may have several neighborhoods in it.
Neighborhoods have lots; lots have houses; houses have people. They are just
different orders of magnitude. That seems complicated to go down from the
galaxy down to a mosquito biting you on the arm. Forty Steps is an interesting
comic book. But you can look in each one of those windows, and the order of
magnitude changes from the mosquito to the galaxy it makes sense. We are
able as human beings to keep a lot of complexity in our lives. What we have to
believe is that there is a meaningfulness to this complexity, and we can impose
order if order does not exist. But I think there is a lot of natural order or natural
It is like the ying-yang. The forces of darkness are always chasing or being
chased by the forces of light. There is nothing ever really concluded, because
the tendency for people to exercise self-interest always needs to be balanced by
the restraint of social order that is looking to the collective good. That is why in
a pack a wolves they are not out procreating and carrying on at their own
individual pace. The plan is the wolf [pack] has one breeding pair. When the
group goes off to hunt, there are certain ones that are left behind to take care of
the young. There is a collective cohesion. If a wolf starts acting a little weird
and does not want to go along with the rules, that wolf is driven away. The
wolves are a good model for how our culture could be in terms of cooperative
independence and self-expression.
But it is not working like that. In fact, [because of a lack of social order,] some of
the aberrant individuals develop a lot of personal feedback which is very
supportive. We are allegedly letting schools do things for us that families used
to do, or we are not able to do things as a family because families are by and
large nonexistent now, either for economic or social reasons. Relationships are
seen as a no-deposit container. If it is empty or it is tiring, you get a new one.
Oftentimes an individual family cannot exist economically unless both adults are
working, and sometimes even if the children are working, too. That is a harsh
reality. Why is that? Well, it is not because of a failure of ideas. It is because
we are wasting our natural resources and energy resources on consumer goods
and non-productive items, and these mergers, takeovers, leveraged buy-outs,
and junk bonds are eating up the capital resources of our nation, if not the world,
for no benefit of any kind [to society as a whole, but only to a few individuals].
Yet that is being allowed by the federal or state governments, which has, again,
been vested in by those people who are enjoying the benefits. Will Rogers is
right at many different levels.
That is why I like being at the commission level, because we have a government
where three people could agree about something that is good for the community
and move to get it accomplished. The state level and federal levels are like flies
in a bottle. It is hard to get coalitions going. About the only thing they agree on
is to increase their salaries.
H: Are you finished with the county commission?
N: For my district, District One, the cycle does not become available until 1992.
Even though I have been encouraged to do so, I am not going to go around
chasing districts. I could go live in somebody else's district and run in 1990, but
that does not seem exactly the way the process is supposed to work. It would
be like me moving to Maine so I could run for the governorship of Maine. What
do I have to do with Maine? If I really wanted to live there and decided I knew
enough about the area to justify getting active, [it would be different].
It really is not quite proper, I do not think, for an individual to just simply step out
of the woodwork and say, "Because I can put together a team of people with
enough money, we will have a candidate and a platform, and we will run for
office." It does not take advantage of the political process that I think our
forebearers really had in mind. It would seem the opportunities to gain
leadership experiences occur, when you are young or any time early in your life,
by working with an advisory board, neighborhood group, homeowners
association, being a precinct representative, or something like that. In other
words, demonstrate some usefulness so that we would not have somebody who
comes out of left field no one has never heard of before. Just because they can
marshal a $200,000 war chest, suddenly that has legitimized them to represent a
political party, to let them run under that flag and pretend to be a representative
of the people. There is something appropriate about the citizen statesman
statespersonn) who can rise from the ranks of citizenship and step into the state
house to serve some useful function, and then return to the citizen role. That is
a somewhat simplistic view of how leadership should function.
The complexity of it, I think, demands more of a training process. It would be
interesting to have a test for elected officials. Before you could run for office you
would have to take a test where you would have to draw a map of the county,
name the cities, talk about its history, and things like that. It would not be
something that would be difficult to pass, I am sure, but it would demonstrate
[some basic knowledge of the subject]. We require a basic test for teachers.
We require a test for policemen and train drivers. Well, is leading our
government any more important or less important?
That belies, then, a fact that I think reveals something: there are no competency
requirements for elected leaders. It indicates that they are not really, or
supposed to be, a part of the meaningful control system. What really is
controlling, apparently, are the economic interests. The other is more of a
political figure that is symbolic. Even though they are supposed to be voting on
issues and making big decisions, if you really are inside the system, all they are
doing is parroting the recommendations of the staff.
At the county commission, every issue that is voted on has a recommendation by
the manager and his employees. The words of the recommendation are all
written down. All the commissioner has to say is "I move the recommendation."
Someone can second that, and they do not have to discuss it. It can be voted
on, and they can get their check and go home. They get paid over $30,000 a
year to do that. They do not have to do any original thinking. If any problem
comes up, they ask what the manager recommends. The manager makes a
recommendation. They pay him $90,000. They keep him happy, he keeps
them happy. It is a nice system absolutely meaningless. It is a charade.
The real economics of the county commission are the contracts where county
services go: who is getting permission to run businesses, who is getting
permission to change land uses, who is getting the benefits of all these
tax-supported infrastructure developments the roads, the parks, the sewers -
who is getting the benefit? If you really look at how this economic system is
being driven, elected officials are just tokens. So when I tried to play a
meaningful role and get involved and ask hard questions and threaten the role of
the manager by asking about the quality of his recommendations, I became a
threat to the system.
H: Is that also why Mr. Graybill is a threat?
N: Exactly. That is also why special rules for citizens are being introduced by Kate
Barnes and some of the other commissioners to limit the speaking in public at the
commission meetings to a certain time and a certain place, because it is
disruptive to their plan to have people ask these hard questions, like cost
effectiveness. We may be spending money legally, but are we getting the most
for our money? I kept asking how much we spend to mow the road shoulders.
We have 800 miles of county roads with a shoulder on each sides. We have to
mow it several times a month in the growing season. I keep asking how much
does it cost, but they did not want to tell me. That is just one thing I wanted to
H: They did not want to tell you, even though you were a commissioner?
N: They would not answer; they refused to answer the question. How about the
cost of the vehicles, the time, and all the other stuff they do? County
government is a $100-million enterprise. The school board spends $150 million.
The city of Gainesville spends $200 million. There is a bunch of money being
spent every day, and nobody knows if we are getting our money's worth.
H: What are the proposed limits for people's asking questions?
N: Penny [Wheat] was circulating a copy of the draft version recently. I think the
people like Vincent Mallet, Leo Cannon, Harold Graybill, and others have
demanded, as they can, their right to speak before their government and
introduce information into the public record during the time designated for them
to speak, [or to speak] in relation to an item that is before the commission for
discussion. But that was not good, so in 1987 the manager invited Dr.
"Feelgood," Dr. Gross, to come down and psychoanalyze the commissioners and
spend time with each of us. When he wanted to spend time with me, I invited a
bunch of other people to be in the office with me. We talked to him to find out
where he was coming from. Penny [Wheat] had a whole committee room full of
folks in her meeting. It was an attempt to intimidate, with a psychologist, the
behavior and objectives of an elected official and this was done by the
H: That was my next question.
N: It was an effort to intimidate an elected official who is demanding facts, who is
questioning authority, who is representing the public interest vigorously.
H: Is this the city manager?
N: County manager.
H: Is that an elected official?
H: How does that official get hired?
N: The manager is hired by the elected county commissioner. Instead of using our
own personnel department, which was my preference, since we have a very
expensive personnel department that hires all the other employees, we hired a
special head-hunting consulting firm out of Atlanta. They brought from their
stable of candidates these people whom they had polished just so. But there is
a lot of information about some of these candidates that did not come to light until
too late, until after they had been hired.
Of course, their behavior illustrated their suspicious background, [such as] the
fact that when they were managers of another county they hired such-and-such
engineering firm to do a solid waste management plan. Then they become the
manager of this county, and they hire the same firm to do another management
plan for solid waste, with all the errors $300,000 in that study. And they bring
with them their stable of brain trusts to make sure that the economic objective or
growth and physical increase in size was carried out proposals to tear down the
county administration building and build a whole new Taj Mahal, and tear down
the whole courthouse and build a whole new building.
A lot of buildings get torn down unnecessarily. Buchholz High School used to be
on University Avenue on about the 800 block, right where Alachua General
hospital is. Now there is a parking lot. Somebody needs a parking lot--tear
down the school. It was a beautiful building. The original courthouse preceded
the administration building, and it was a beautiful building. But [it was torn down
because] it makes business for the contractors and their buddies who are in
office--the courthouse gang.
H: As we come to a close, what is your vision of Alachua County?
N: Oh, Alachua County is Florida's first county. When counties were created in
1894 or something like that, there were nine counties in Florida, and we were
one of the first. [Ed.: Florida's first two counties, Escambia and St. Johns, were
established in 1821. Jackson, Duval, Gadsden, and Monroe counties were
subsequently added. Alachua County, along with Leon, Walton, Nassau, and
Orange counties, was established 1824.] It stretched from the Georgia border to
Charlotte Harbor. The last county created, Gilchrist, was cut away from Alachua
County [in 1925]. The judge decided that it was too far for a person to ride on
horseback to record their deed. They would have to spend the night in the
woods, so the last county was created from this county.
We are first alphabetically. I think we are first for more than alphabetical
reasons. We have some of the best weather in the country. We grow more
crops in a greater period of time than any other county in America. We have
one of the top-flight universities, I think, in terms of potential, in the nation. That
really represents more economic relationships with responsible research, but still
there is a lot of potential there. There are a couple million books in the library of
the university. We have some beautiful people here. We have good energy
resources and a beautiful history that is not well known.
I think the native American history of this place has been deliberately
down-played. The Alachua was a nation of Indians. Why does nobody talk
about that? Where did they live? They lived everywhere over this county. If it
were known more clearly where they lived, that land would be more valuable as
an archaeological resource. Then maybe we would have more of these sites
instead of more [hotels like] Howard Johnsons.
I think the opportunity for citizen involvement in government and economics is
going to get better. It is like that ying-yang, again. There is always a tendency
toward fascism. Alexis de Tocqueville wrote a book called Democracy in
America 150 years ago. He foretold that America would become an economic
fascist estate, where business ran the government. A pretty good foreteller!
But at the same time there seems to be a growth of this concept called "green"
politics. Protecting the environment, bioregionalism, activism, intelligence, spirit,
sentiment, human values--these things are not on the wane, due largely to citizen
involvement. I think that through communication and through the human talent
we have thinking, planning, dreaming, celebrating, remembering, being
visionary the option is to practice our humanness in this county. [We may be]
a small network, but, with access through the tools of technology, [we can reach]
the minds and hearts of the citizens.
It is going to be powerful. We are interacting with people all across the country.
One of the founders of Friends of Alachua County is now in New Jersey. She
really did some good things up there. We are inspired by stories from
elsewhere. The human condition is not isolated unless it wishes to be. We are
all a part of something larger. The idea that the Earth is alive and we are part of
it is kind of an interesting concept. We as human beings are like the cells of our
body; we are necessary but not essential. The body can get along without us as
individuals. The Earth can get along without us as individuals. But it is nice to
know what you are part of it, and it is nice to be a part of this county.
H: I appreciate your spending time and sharing your insight.
N: I hope it comes to some usefulness.
H: So do I. Thank you.