Speaking with New City Commissioner Don Selvage

selvageThis morning Don Selvage will be sworn-in as the City Commissioner representing Lakeland’s Southwest District. Lakeland Local recently sat down with Selvage to hear his thoughts before taking office…

What do you hope to accomplish? Are you looking ahead to the end of your term?

Job Creation

There is so much I want to know and to accomplish. I think we’ve got to find a way to get people jobs. You wonder what can the city do to help job creation? I’m not sure. Economic development, business friendly policies, but we have to focus on that because we have 12% unemployment. That would be the thing — if some how we could contribute to getting people back to work. Because without that, you’re pretty irrelevant if you can’t give your citizens a decent way to make a living.

Mass Transit

What about the lady who lives in the Northwest and works at Geico? It takes her an hour-and-a-half to get there now by bus. Or the kid who lives up Northeast and goes to Polk State College. I had to take a bus to go to college. Those are issues we need to deal with.

Growth

I’m conflicted by a lot of this and I admit to it. Because I don’t know everything and I haven’t heard the other side. But I believe we can do better than uncontrolled growth.

Recreation

The management of our parks and trails. Supporting the arts and parks. All that’s still a mish-mash in my thinking right now.

Biggest Fear

My biggest fear is after four years they say ‘Selvage was a nice guy, but he didn’t get anything done.’

I guess I’d ask you to give me a couple of months. All I’m saying is I want to make a difference. I’m one out of seven votes. If I can’t grasp the issues, articulate them and convince three other people than I’ll be ineffective. I can’t print money. I can’t give patronage.

What is the old-boy network in Lakeland?

The question we have to ask is ‘Is there a level-playing field?’ I’ve talked to people that I respect from all-ends of the political spectrum who say ‘No, it’s not.’

A passion in my life is fairness and justice. I don’t concede that to the liberals and Democrats. We need to make sure we have a level-playing field as much as we possibly can.

Let’s ask these questions? Diversity on the city staff I’m told is 12%, which is representative of our city population. But let’s look farther. What about management level? What are we doing to make sure we find the best qualified from all walks of life? Is that a level playing field? I’ve heard people say it’s not.

Let’s talk about contracts. Mr. Dorsch said he hired somebody local because they knew the system. I’d like to know. Of the city contracts we let how many went to every contractor? I’ve been told by some minority contractors that’s its not a level playing field. I don’t know if it is or not. I intend to ask those questions. If it’s not, we have to look at that. If anything’s going to piss you off, its that you present an RFP and you get turned down because you’re not part of the system.

I don’t know if its that way or not, but I do know what the audience reaction was at the Coleman Bush building.

Is the electorate cynical? Do they believe that if you’re in politics you’re part of that old-boy network?

If I run for re-election in five years, do I automatically lose 5% of the vote just because I’m an incumbent?

But does the electorate value mavericks?

You can argue that Justin Troller brought that. Justin sees things differently.

I think there’s a danger in what you brought up before. We have now, in this new commission, six-business people and coach Troller. I think we have to remember that. Maybe the six of us will see things the same…and not always the right-way.

So, to answer your question…yes there’s a cynicism and I saw that. I knocked on doors and people said Are you the incumbent?’

I’d say ‘No,’ and they’d say ‘OK, I’ll talk to you.’

How can you make what happens in the commission more transparent?

It’s an over-simplification, but I think commissioners have to do a better job of going on the road. Talk to different groups and go out and explain why we voted this way.

I was surprised how many people don’t take the Ledger any more. So they’re not getting the word from the print media. Youngsters are probably getting as much from blogs as they are the media. So I just think we have to do what I call ‘take the show on the road’ and not be afraid to say this is how we voted, and this why we voted.

Sunshine Laws

The Sunshine Laws. I’m still trying to get my arms around that. How do you get things done when you can’t talk to a colleague if he’s a City Commissioner? The way I get things done in business is to shut the door and say ‘let’s do this…’ You can’t do that now.

In the first month…what do you want to do?

I am interested in come of the city’s employee relations issues. Are we training people in the city to succeed to department head and management level positions? Do we have a succession plan? Most successful companies, their first effort is to promote from within. And I’d like to know if we’re doing that. Do we have superstars down there that we are grooming to take over department heads?

The current strategic plan has something about diversity — ‘We will embrace cultural diversity.’ I want stronger wording — ‘We will seek, mentor, and grow talented people within the City.’ I’m not sure those are the verbs.

When you’re talking about a diverse group…who do you mean?

Females, African-Americans, Asians and Hispanic. I think an organization that is paid for by the taxpayers should be representative of the taxpayers. And that means in leadership positions on down. I think the city is trying. I just want to see if we can do better. It’s not disparaging who is in charge now. I just want to make sure that diversity is on the forefront.

I think being unfair to people because of their sex or race is the worst kind of injustice because you can’t do anything about it. If you’re a victim of that, there’s nothing you can do.

I’m not talking about affirmative action. I personally believe we have the qualified minorities out there to play on a level playing field. If you can find them. You have to look harder.

If we’re looking for a replacement for the police chief, maybe the answer is — ‘OK, you can have five finalists, but like the NFL, one of them must be a female or minority.’ That’s the language I think we have to have if we are serious about diversity.

Talk a little about the process of meeting with staff

We start with the city manager and city attorney who work directly for the commission. Now I’m being set up to talk to department heads. (City Manager) Doug Thomas, during the campaign, prohibited his department heads from talking to candidates. I thought it made sense, but what happens is for nine months I just heard one side. So now I’m taking all that input from people and you go through a series of briefings. I’m hoping through that process I can learn more about city government.

On meeting with residents…

I think there is an obligation to go to these groups and constituents. If you’re not, all you’re getting is the staff’s input or some fat cats who call you and say ‘You need to look at this…’

Update: Sorry for any confusion about the format. The items in bold are my questions and the plain text are Commissioner Selvage’s comments. The text in italics was my effort to make standout the different topics Selvage discussed.