Last updateTue, 24 Nov 2015 12am



Davis holds key to changing direction

Editorial2012 In a city where so much is at stake, never before have so many matters been so bungled, mismanaged and misguided.  This, unfortunately, is the image of High Springs that many people are coming to recognize.

By now, it’s no secret that a rift has developed between Vice Mayor Bob Barnas and City Manager Jeri Langman.  With Langman’s call on June 8 for Barnas to step down from his role as a commissioner amid numerous allegations of charter violations, it is clear that the two are not seeing eye-to-eye.  Her assertion that he is a “rogue commissioner” only serves to fortify similar claims others have made for several months.

Her allegations are serious and should not be brushed aside without first being given due consideration and review.  In a June 7 memo to Mayor Dean Davis, Langman details numerous specific instances in which Barnas has purportedly violated the City Charter.

Alarming to everyone should be her claim that, “Mr. Barnas has demanded that I informed [sic] him of everything that goes on at City Hall and to give him any all records that I find that may incriminate employees or prior commissioners.”  Or the numerous occasions on which Langman says he, as one commissioner, directed her on how to handle day-to-day administrative tasks, including her dealings with employees and contractors.

Barnas is perhaps the worst kind of elected official – one unrestrained and quick in misusing the power of government as a tool for intimidating anyone with whom he disagrees.  One need only remember a Feb. 16 commission meeting when Mr. Barnas vented his displeasure with this very newspaper, threatening to try to put Alachua County Today out of business.

It has even come to light that, unbeknownst to other commissioners, and certainly without their approval, Barnas has communicated on behalf of the City without the authority to do so.  In one such incident, he sent a scathing letter to U.S. Senator Bill Nelson and U.S. Congressman Cliff Stearns claiming that a particular federal agency acted improperly in its dealings with the City of High Springs.  Mr. Barnas’ own actions are inflicting untold damage on the city’s reputation and its future working relationships.

And though he repeatedly maligns prior commissions for the way they handled City matters, Barnas has a laissez-faire attitude about his own questionable actions as he goes about his day-to-day activities that are serving to effectively derail an entire city.  But for the perceived control granted to him by several fellow commissioners, Barnas is but one-fifth of the council.  Still, this has not stopped Barnas from seeking complete control over High Springs City Hall, a place where, today, a complete lack of leadership presides, conspiracies lurk behind every corner and employees watch their backs, never knowing when the axe will fall on them.

In the last seven months, this commission has managed to destroy much of the valuable corporate knowledge that existed in the human capital in City Hall.  Although some commissioners, like Linda Gestrin, wear this as a badge of honor, we find it not only distasteful, but concerning.  That Ms. Gestrin would refer to a city employee as the “tail of the snake,” or what should be a family of employees as a “regime,” speaks volumes about her inability to accept that her role as a commissioner begins and stops at setting policy.  And although Gestrin has openly stated her desire to have more “control” over employees, residents in High Springs should be thanking their lucky stars that she does not.  Gestrin, too, has apparently overstepped the bounds of a commissioner and like Barnas, her judgment seems seriously lacking.

The extreme dysfunction and power plays exhibited by Barnas and Gestrin provide evidence enough to support limits to the commission’s role in day-to-day operations of the City.  Like many other cities, under High Springs’ charter, the commission sets the policies and it is the duty of the city manager to carry out those policies.

The City Charter strictly forbids commission interference with city employees and administrative tasks, and for good reason.  This form of government is intended to keep politics out of City Hall, to allow employees to do their jobs unimpeded and without fear of reprisal from commissioners and to ensure every resident is treated with the an equal level of respect and consideration, no matter who they are, who they know, or where they stand on a particular issue.

But make no mistake, the strength of the City Charter and the safeguards it affords are vulnerable, because if Gestrin has her way, the charter will be amended to extend exactly such control and authority to the commission.  And the first step could be taken as soon as the June 14 commission meeting, as Charter amendments to be placed on the November ballot are being considered.  And as history shows, voters are quick to approve these types of amendments, either without an understanding of their full consequences or because of creative and enticing ballot language.  But voter beware, all change is not good change.

In the short term, given the current commission membership, there remains only one glimmer of hope to break the ever increasing stranglehold Barnas and Gestrin are attempting to perpetrate.  Mayor Dean Davis has a tremendous opportunity to affect a positive direction for the City of High Springs.  We implore Davis to act with great caution on all matters and listen to the voices of reason that exist in commissioners Sue Weller and Scott Jamison.

Though Davis does not necessarily agree with Weller and Jamison, he need not agree with Barnas and Gestrin either.  It would be a wise move to distance one’s self from this runaway duo of inept and destructive commissioners.  No matter the political alliances of yesterday, this is Mayor Davis’ time to stand up as a leader, stand aside from this mayhem and stand with the people of High Springs.