New Gainesville City Commissioner Craig Carter has vowed to leverage his experience as a small businessman to strengthen the city’s economy.
Carter, who took office May 22, is focused on improving the climate for building and remodeling while also increasing public involvement in decisions that affect business.
Until recently, Carter owned a golf cart sales and service company. He sold the business and now runs a firm installing equipment that enables people with disabilities to function in their homes.
His frustration when permitting projects and obtaining inspections was a major reason he ran for office.
“Business owners are ultrasensitive because of difficulties they’ve had with staff in the past,” he said.
But, Carter is impressed with the changes that have taken place in the past year in planning and permitting, including changes at the top.
City Manager Russ Blackburn hired John Freeland, who had high marks from the building community while working for Alachua County, as the chief building official.
Blackburn also brought in Steve Dush, who gained experience creating innovative approaches while working in Georgia, Colorado and Nevada, as the planning and development services director.
At first, Carter wasn’t sure about the impact of the new hires, but now, he says he is pleased with the direction Freeland and Dush are taking.
“Through two days of commissioner orientation and other meetings, I gained an understanding of the new direction, but the average citizen isn’t aware of the changes that are taking place,” Carter said.
For Carter, one sign that the city is improving customer service is that it plans to issue building permits online for small projects such as installing air conditioning units or windows. Officials expect the change to go into operation in late summer or early fall.
“Online permitting will not just help the business community. It also will mean that employees are less bogged down, and they will have more time to help customers,” he said.
The move toward online permitting is one of many changes that have occurred in the past year as Mayor Ed Braddy and city commissioners have worked with city staff, the Gainesville Area Chamber of Commerce and the public to improve the environment for small business.
Carter wants to help the public learn about the new direction, particularly by holding regular informational workshops in his district.
“I want to build bridges among people from all groups within the community,” Carter said. “People are tired of a ‘them and us’ attitude.”
Despite the improvements, more needs to be done to creating a welcoming attitude in permitting and planning, Carter said.
“Recruiting companies is like dating,” he said. “We have to ask, ‘Do we look attractive?’”
One major decision that affects businesses and needs to be clarified is future water use.
GRU has requested renewal of its water use permit for 20 years at the present 30 million gallons a day, without seeking additional capacity. This concerns Carter because the population in the GRU service area is projected to grow by 43,000 over the next two decades.
“The water-use permit could have a major impact on the ability of business to grow, but there has been little public discussion on the topic,” Carter said.
“Let’s have a process of helping people understand the implications of locking in 30 million gallons,” he said. “I don’t want us to all of a sudden be in an emergency mode.”
Carter is humble about his new role, recognizing that he’s involved in a “team sport.”
“I respect all of the commissioners, and I look forward to seeing a balanced commission,” Carter said. “We all should be careful to not be so full of ourselves that we don’t listen to other people.”