OK, I admit it.
I attend a lot of meetings in City Hall and it provides me an opportunity to see our city officials up close and personal.
Many times, an issue they are tasked to resolve seems rather simple. But it is amazing to me how often common sense is bypassed and a simple solution becomes lost in procrastination, or bureaucratic ineptitude, or turf protection.
It can be bewildering.
Criticizing government, and those who work for it, seems to have become an American pastime.
People who work for government are probably more maligned than anyone else.
But, this column is not to bash bureaucrats.
Instead, I witnessed something recently during a pair of City Hall meetings that helped remind me that our city officials can be nimble in getting out of the way of others, very knowledgeable about their subject matter and have the ability to work together to make the pieces of a solution fit.
The real truth is they aren’t nearly as bad as we think, and bureaucrats and the bureaucracies they work for provide valuable services every day.
It’s stuff we don’t think about.
Like red lights working so we don’t kill each other, solid police protection, outstanding fire and rescue services, clean water to drink and roads being built.
In addition, our trash is picked up, the buses run on schedule and our public hospital is an important and valuable piece of Jacksonville’s outstanding medical services.
Think about JEA, our publicly owned utility, which has provided decades of good service and competitive rates, all while returning millions of dollars each year to the city treasury.
If you think a private electric company could do it better, just take a look around the rest of our state at rates.
But now, back to the meetings that got me thinking about all of this.
Unfortunately, these two meetings were scheduled at the same time, so I found myself going back and forth between them. I saw and heard plenty coming from department heads and other city officials that impressed me.
One meeting was chaired by City Council member Jim Love to look for ways to make it easier for vessels like the Foxy Lady to dock along the Downtown riverfront while being able to charge passengers for service.
These passengers need to feel safe going Downtown, park and board for a cruise on our beautiful river and return to their car.
Plenty of people want to utilize a service like the Foxy Lady, but current rules and regulations make it almost impossible to use the Northbank Riverwalk to take 30 minutes to greet and load passengers for a fee.
What was apparent at the meeting was everyone wanted the same thing. The people in the room had the answers and the will to cooperate. Although they have a responsibility to protect the taxpayers, they worked together to make it work.
The second meeting was about the current confusion surrounding the growing trend of attracting food trucks to Downtown and other places where there is heavy pedestrian traffic.
It was chaired by council member Reggie Brown.
As I sat there, I thought about the citizens who often show up at similar meetings in City Hall and have probably come to expect that confusion and lack of action or results is common.
But in this case, there were representatives from several city departments — including code enforcement, zoning and the general counsel’s office — who shared the challenges and offered solutions.
It was not only informative, it was encouraging to see solutions being offered and discussed, then a resolution offered to move forward.
So, what is the moral of this story?
I think there are several.
We mostly have competent and caring individuals running the departments of city government. For the most part, they know their jobs and want to do the right thing.
Given the opportunity, they are willing to make changes when needed, but more often than not are held back by a culture within government offices.
We need to develop a culture where everyone working in city government — not just a few — understands who their customers are — taxpayers, builders, developers, entrepreneurs and residents — and believes their mission is to make this a more pleasant and more workable community.
Anticipation for One Spark is well deserved
This week begins with an air of excitement about the launch of the second version of One Spark, which runs Wednesday-Sunday.
Probably nothing has been more anticipated — especially in Downtown — since the beginning of NFL and the Jaguars.
No doubt this out-of-the-box festival met expectations in its first year, and now people are waiting to see how much bigger and better it is going to be.
Last year’s crowdfunding festival was large, some saying it brought more than 100,000 people into Downtown. This year crowd projections are 150,000 or more over the course of the five-day festival.
More than 600 individuals will showcase their creative talents with projects in art, innovation, music, science and technology, all for a chance to win part of $310,000 in crowd funds, and at least $3.25 million in capital investments and direct contributions.
Three friends — Elton Rivas, Dennis Eusebio and Varick Rosete — are credited with creating One Spark. It’s one thing to have a good idea, but it’s totally another to bring that idea, especially a big one, to life.
Even before the first participant has set up shop, One Spark can begin bragging that it is making a difference, not just with a five-day annual festival, but in becoming integral in the long-term rebirth of Downtown.
Rivas just announced that he will become part of the renovation of the historic Barnett Bank Building by moving three of his businesses there — One Spark, CoWork Jax and KYN. All three enterprises, like the festival, are designed to help new businesses get started and become independent.
It’s a partnership with plenty of potential for success as developer Steve Atkins gets closer to his vision of remaking the heart of Downtown by restoring some of its most historic structures.
Atkins, who arm wrestled with the city over incentives, now says he has his financing to begin construction once One Spark ends.
That’s great news.
Other partners in the Barnett project include the University of North Florida, which expects to train people there in the College of Computing, Engineering and Construction, in addition to having a presence from the Division of Continuing Education and a Small Business Development Center.
Eighty apartments will be on six floors of the building to house college students, one more reason we need to move as quickly as possible to make Downtown self-sustaining for residents.