On April 20, 1992, Gow Fields took his seat as the appointed Lakeland city commissioner representing the Northwest District. Recommended for the position by the departing commissioner, Fields appointment was challenged by a group of area ministers and citizens. The group wanted a Democrat in the Northwest seat.
The city commissioners stood firm with their appointment. City Commissioner Tom Shaw stated, “Gow Fields is the right man at the right place and the right time.” Many spoke to Field’s ability to work within the system. Fields agreed, “That’s what brings about change. If you don’t work with the system then you will be left on the outside.” The sentiment would be a cornerstone of his career to date.
Former Mayor Buddy Fletcher passes the gavel to Mayor Gow Fields as City Commissioner Howard Wiggs looks on.
With his recent election as Mayor, Lakeland Local recently spoke to Fields to hear what he looks to accomplish in his new position.
Fields expressed his first step was to contact the Lakeland Economic Development Council and the Chamber of Commerce to find out what the city could do differently in the area of industry recruitment.
The LEDC helped arrange a meeting with John Krug, the consultant who helped bring Welldyne to Lakeland. Fields wanted to pick the consultant’s brain on what companies like Welldyne looked for when considering relocation. “He gave us some perspectives and the chance to take some notes. One of the things that was highlighted I remember was the acronym CBS: certainty, brevity and simplicity.”
Fields explained that the city must contact the professionals whose specialize in relocation consulting, “We need to make sure that we are getting the word to those professionals that help them that we’re open for business, that we’re happy to provide that certainty, that brevity and that simplicity on getting them operational so they can do what they do best and that’s run their business, employ people, be profitable, and contribute to the community.”
Field’s next step was to consult with Dr. Henry Fishkind, an economist based in Orlando. “In his view, Florida, and central Florida in particular have become uncompetitive in the economic development and industry recruitment area.” Fields said Fishkind saw Lakeland as being in the top third of Florida communities due to our willingness to try new methods.
“Certainly there are some things we do have within our control that we can take a look at that can help us differentiate ourselves, have a stronger and faster comback than those communities not willing to take a look at what their doing,” Fields said.
Fields said his next step is to take the information from those consultants, “let it germinate” and meet with city leaders to discuss improving economic development.
Fields said he spoke on the campaign trail about how the city communicates with its citizens. With that in mind, he sat down with City manager Doug Thomas to look at improvements. “The way I posed the question to Doug is, if it was your responsibility to communicate directly with 250 000 people, which include our citizens and our customers, using all current and future technologies, how would you do it?”
Fields is concerned with the changes in the media landscape, “The business has changed. New media is new to us. Twitter is new to us. Facebook is new to us. And we are not using any of those tools. Nor are we saying to the public, ‘How do you want to receive your information?’”
Fields continued, “That communication piece will really be for both the employees and the public. Which will help us on a number of fronts. People want to know what their government is doing. They want to a chance to be engaged in that process. They have a higher level of expectation of how to be communicated with that we’ve ever had in the past, both employees and citizens. And we’re going to have to rise to the challenge and meet those expectations and hopefully, we can begin to exceed them.”
Fields explained that he’s looking for a cultural change. He expects the city to speak more directly to citizens rather than depend on the media alone to deliver city information.
Fields added a new website and other tools are under development to address some of his communication concerns.
Fields made regional cooperation a recurring theme of his campaign and feels it paid off, “On the economic development front, we don’t have the barriers that we had in the past. We worked hard at minimizing those. But on the political front, that’s where we got the obstacles. I believe is the mayor of Lakeland’s responsibility to take the lead and help to reach out and breach that gap and remove that divide. And then making sure that we’re working with the other major cities along the I-4 corridor because our geography is not changing, we’re not going to change our neighbors.”
Fields explained the process he used to assign commissioners to various city committees. The traditional method is to send a note to each of the commissioners to ask for their top three committee choices. Fields wanted to meet with each commissioner to find out not only which committee each favored, but why. On a recommendation from assistant to the City Attorney, Fields made the meetings public.
Fields has also required city commissioners to report committee progress at each bi-weekly City Commission Agenda Study.
Fields said he plans to take a more active role in communicating with city employees, “I will start with the employee groups that have union representation, police, fire and electric. I would do that in concert with the city manager and department heads. I’m not going to go around them. I’ll work my way through the other departments, but I will start with those three.”
Fields expressed an interest in helping neighborhood associations receive training, “We’ve haven’t done that in awhile and there is clearly an appetite for a better understanding of what resources the city have available to them.”
Fields plans to bring back a city committee that hasn’t met in over three years. The Community Development Committee will be tasked to work with the Neighborhood Association Council to address issues coming directly from the public at the neighborhood associations.
Fields emphasized that the next census will push Polk County over the limits for federal mass transit assistance and change must come. In November, Polk County voters will vote on a measure to replace the current half-mil property tax for mass transit with a half-cent sales tax. Fields says he supports the plan, “For them, it will be trading in what many believe to be an onerous form of taxation and replace it with one that will be more equitably distributed, including allowing visitors that will be using the bus system to contribute to paying for it.”
Fields added that managing the current county system is not cost-efficient, “Right now we have three systems and we’ve two administrative bodies administering those three systems. We can save money by having one administrative body administrating one system. If we would just replace what we’ve been doing alone with only one administrating body and one system, we’d save taxpayers money,” Fields said.
On Calls to Sell Lakeland Electric
Fields acknowledged many Lakeland-area residents often ask why the city doesn’t sell Lakeland Electric to private interests. He said the reasons are political and economic. “If we determined that it was in our best interest to sell Lakeland Electric, we would have to conduct a special election to ask the voters if they want to sell the system. And by two thirds of the majority, they would have to vote to approve that sale. And to get two thirds of the voters, that would be considered a landslide.”
Fields finds the economic reason as strong, “No one is going to buy our system from us in its entirety. What has value in the marketplace are your generation assets. There is no company that wants to buy our distribution system, the lines on the pole that connects to the homes. What has value in the marketplace are your generation assets and your approved sites that have gone through all the environmental approvals to be a site to generate electricity. In today’s market you couldn’t sell an used generation asset for what it’s worth in your books or what’s it’s worth to you economically.”