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City commission hires Daniel Nee as Interim City Attorney

BY JENNIFER CABRERA

At a Special Meeting on Monday, September 27, the Gainesville City Commission considered three candidates for the Interim City Attorney position. After Mayor Lauren Poe thanked the other commissioners for giving him a few days to interview the applicants, Commissioner David Arreola suggested that the commissioners vote via paper ballots. Commissioner Adrian Hayes-Santos said he still hadn’t made up his mind and wanted to hear from the other commissioners before voting. Speaking about the two internal candidates, Daniel Nee and Sean McDermott, Commissioner Harvey Ward said he preferred using a paper ballot instead of a voice vote “so no one feels bad. One of them isn’t going to win. I want that person to feel good about working with the City of Gainesville.”

Poe said his preference was “razor thin; it’s someone I think is just better positioned to take over the job at this point.” He called a recess to let the Clerk print out paper ballots. The commissioners filled out the ballots and returned them to the Clerk. She reviewed them and said that Nee got four votes and McDermott got two votes (Commissioner Gail Johnson was absent). Ward made a motion to authorize the mayor to negotiate with Nee for a contract for Interim City Attorney, and Poe thanked “all three candidates for putting their names forward,” although the name of the external candidate was never mentioned in the meeting, and no resumes were in the agenda backup. 

Via public records request, we learned that the external applicant was Andrew Mai, an attorney with Persson, Cohen and Mooney, P.A. in Lakewood Ranch, FL, who has served as the County Attorney for Osceola County and the City Attorney for Sioux City, Iowa. Mai was fired by Osceola County on February 1, 2021. He was hired by Osceola County in 2011. 

Votes:

  • Desmon Duncan-Walker: 1st choice – Nee, 2nd choice – McDermott, 3rd choice – Mai
  • Harvey Ward: Nee
  • Adrian Hayes-Santos: Nee
  • David Arreola: McDermott
  • Lauren Poe: Nee
  • Reina Saco: McDermott

The vote on the motion to negotiate with Nee passed 5-1, with Commissioner Reina Saco in dissent and Johnson absent.

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The final agenda item was a resolution instructing the mayor to issue a proclamation calling for a special election to replace Johnson, who resigned on August 23. Qualifying for the election was held last week, and the election will be held November 16, with early voting November 12-14.

Hayes-Santos made a motion to approve the resolution, and the motion was seconded by Ward. Saco asked whether the drop boxes could be open during evening hours. 

During public comment on the motion, Nathan Skop asked for an opinion from the City Attorney about whether the resolution was legal, given that qualifying was completed before the commission considered the resolution. “You’re trying to slide something through here… critical dates have already passed. Maybe you should extend the qualifying dates.” Skop also pointed out that the polls are open 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. during early voting: “That’s adequate time for people to vote.” Other citizens also pointed out that the resolution was being voted on after qualifying was complete.

City Attorney Nicolle Shalley said that the commission is “operating under very short deadlines imposed by the City Charter to hold a special election to fill the vacancy created by Commissioner Johnson,” but the timelines were actually determined by the date of the election, which could have been as late as November 30, but the commission decided to set it in mid-November to avoid conflicts with holidays. Shalley said that the election dates and qualifying dates were approved at their September 2 meeting, and at that meeting, they authorized the Clerk, with the Supervisor of Elections, to move forward with those things and the associated publicity and notices. She said the purpose of the resolution “is to direct the mayor to issue a resolution calling the special election 30 days prior to the special election. That’s really the sole purpose of this resolution.” 

The motion passed unanimously, with Johnson absent.

During general public comment, Skop said he had seen Johnson outside, where Cynthia Chestnut was announcing her candidacy for Johnson’s seat. “You stated Commissioner Johnson was absent. I saw her outside. I’m not sure—is she supposed to be here or not supposed to be here?”

Poe answered, “Absent means you’re not at the dais at the time of the vote.”

Jo Beaty asked Hayes-Santos and Arreola “to please tell everybody what they were talking about. I understand the Sunshine rules that everything that happens at these meetings is supposed to be audible. You’re not supposed to be talking to each other. Would they kindly inform us as to their conversation?”

Poe responded, “Sunshine Law only applies if it has to do with City business.”

Beaty asked, “How is one to know whether it has to do with City business if we don’t hear it?… They shouldn’t be leaning over, talking to each other. You do it sometimes, and Mr. Ward does it sometimes. You know, this is not good form… I think everything that goes on in the meeting should be audible to us.”

Poe started to adjourn the meeting, but Arreola had a comment: “I wanted to ask our City Clerk if we could get a memo sort of opining on the ability of this commission to schedule a special session of the Charter Review Commission… I just want to put that out there for everybody.” Arreola also said he had spoken to the CEO of North Florida Regional Hospital, and they’re not interested in putting forward a proposal for the east side clinic that is being discussed. But Arreola said they might be interested in running a clinic at the proposed grocery store on the east side. 

Poe then adjourned the meeting.

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