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City commission nearly doubles commissioners’ salaries, passes Fair Chance Hiring ordinance

BY JENNIFER CABRERA

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – At their December 15 meeting, the Gainesville City Commission passed two ordinances on second reading; one nearly doubles the salaries of future commissioners, and the “Fair Chance Hiring” ordinance prohibits private business owners from doing background checks on prospective employees before a conditional job offer is made.

91% salary increase for commissioners, 88% increase for mayor

The initiative, championed by Commissioner Adrian Hayes-Santos, ties future commissioner salaries to a formula in Florida Statutes that uses population to calculate the salaries of county commissioners. City commissioners currently make $37,085.85 and would make $71,015.09 if the change were made in January 2023, based on current estimates. The mayor currently makes $47,199.21 and would go up to $88,768.86 if the change were made in January. However, the commission is projected to get a cost-of-living increase in January under the current ordinance, and the new increase will take effect in January 2024.

Hayes-Santos led off by making a motion to approve the ordinance, and there was no discussion by the commissioners before public comment. 

During public comment, Nathan Skop called the commissioners “tone-deaf” and “petulant little children” who are pushing this through “to the detriment of taxpayers.” He pointed out that City employees did not even get increases to keep up with inflation. Skop said commissioners would be “fired for incompetence” in “the real world.” He predicted accurately that Mayor-Elect Harvey Ward would be “the token no vote” and asked him if he was planning to give back the salary increase. 

Debbie Martinez said “residents are outraged” by the proposal and said commissioners were trying to turn “public service into a career opportunity.” She pointed out that their pay is in line with other city commissioners in the state (Alachua Chronicle looked at salaries around the state in 2019 and found the same thing) and added that commissioners in Charlotte, NC, with six times the population of Gainesville, were getting pushback over a pay increase from about $21k to $32k. 

A police officer approached Martinez when she did not stop at the three-minute mark, but she walked away from the podium.

Brian O’Brien reminded commissioners that Jenn Powell had told them the increase was demoralizing for City employees. “No wonder nobody wants to come work for the City,” he said. “It’s a terrible environment.”

Annette Armstrong said she had never been to a city commission meeting before Thursday, but she was passionate about the salary increase. “We have seen that you have been fiscally irresponsible with GRU and un-knowledgeable about running GPD… We get paid what we’re worth, and you’re not worth doubling your salaries.” She said people are suffering from inflation, and at the same time, GRU is estimating bills, causing people to have abnormally-high electric bills. 

Angela Casteel asked if commissioners “really deserve the raise you’re going to give yourself. You haven’t listened to the community on multiple issues. You can’t even give the workers at GRU a raise like you’re giving yourselves.”

Tyler Foerst from the Alachua County Labor Coalition supported the increase: “Sometimes you work a lot more than 40 [hours].” He pointed out that the ordinance links salaries to the same state formula used to calculate salaries for county commissioners. He added, “You’re probably among some of the lowest-paid City employees… I’m for raises for everybody… By having a low salary, you create an elitist system.”

The vote in favor of the ordinance was 4-2, with Ward and Commissioner Desmon Duncan-Walker in dissent and Commissioner Reina Saco absent, as she has been since her last meeting on November 17. The only commissioner who voted in favor of the increase and will also benefit from it is Commissioner Cynthia Chestnut. The ordinance would have failed if the vote were 3-3.

Fair Chance Hiring

The “Fair Chance Hiring” ordinance prohibits local businesses with 15 or more employees from performing criminal background screenings on job applicants prior to extending a conditional offer of employment. However, the ordinance does not limit an employer’s authority to withdraw a conditional offer of employment for any lawful reason, including the determination that an individual is unsuitable for the job, based on an individualized assessment of the individual’s criminal history. The ordinance does not apply to governmental entities, child care facilities, care facilities as defined by statute, or any other entity excluded by law.

The individualized assessment must take into account the nature and gravity of any offenses in the individual’s criminal history, the age of the individual at the time of the offense, the length of time since the offense, the nature and duties of the job, and information demonstrating the individual’s rehabilitation and good conduct since the offense. 

The ordinance will be enforced by the City’s Office of Equity and Inclusion, with investigations based on complaints to that office. Violations will incur $500 fines, with half of the fine going to the complainant. 

In introducing the agenda item, Mayor Lauren Poe said he was “so thrilled to be at this point” and said the discussion had begun a few years ago around the City’s use of “prison labor,” or jail inmates. The City chose to end that program, “and we saw a massive jump in our City budget in one fiscal year.” The next step was a partnership with Community Spring, then Max Tipping and others from Community Spring proposed the Fair Chance Hiring ordinance. 

Poe added, “I’m so excited that on my very last meeting as mayor, we get to vote on the second reading of this ordinance. This will have a tremendous impact on our community, certainly from the side of folks who are just trying to get a job, just trying to get a fair interview and a fair shake, but it’s also going to be excellent for our businesses, who will get a much-needed expansion of the labor pool and get significantly more highly-qualified, talented people from which to fill out the ranks of their job openings. This is one of those win-win-win situations for our community.”

Commissioner David Arreola made a motion to approve the ordinance, with a second from Hayes-Santos. 

Ward said he had talked to business owners, and “people have reservations, but generally it’s just been very well received.”

During public comment, Max Tipping thanked the mayor and commissioners for their “willingness to try to find meaningful solutions to structural problems that exist in the community.”

Tequila McKnight, a Community Spring Fellow, thanked the commission for making Gainesville the first city in the state to “make this initiative for a better community.” She said she was “hopeful that this will be a start for everyone getting a chance at a sustainable income and opportunities for employers, as well as employees.”

Following public comment, Poe said, “There will be a before and after, and this will be the point; it will be an absolutely different environment, different community, with a whole different set of hopes after we pass this.”

The ordinance passed unanimously (with Saco absent) and will take effect immediately.

  • The soul of Gainesville can begin to heal now that Poe the North Dakota hoser has finished his term. That’s one for the history books – and the psychiatry books. If he has a criminal record in the next year or two, at least he will still be able to get a job. Farewell, Professor.

    • Self acclaimed “Professor” PO boy claimed/lied about being an economics college professor when in reality he has only a history degree and taught high-schoolers only who were in dual-enrollment before wimping out on any work (don’t know for a fact he wasn’t fired). While Lying Hyphen-Hayes claims minority status as a Canadian White Boy who hyphenated his Step-dad’s last name so he could play the minority card. He has NEVER had a successful job at anything! There is no longer a successful person up there. Long gone are successes Budd, Carter, Braddy, Chase, etc.

  • These arseholes don’t listen to the people that pay their salaries at all. Why do demonrats keep voting them back in again and again. I voted against every one of them.

    • Because they are as stupid as the ones in office
      The city of Gainesville and Alaucha County belongs in California they would fit right in
      With the rates of GRU they should be a shame of themselves hell with the way they screwed up the bio plant they should not even get a pay check until all that money is paid off

  • Saco should be fired along with all past salary returned to the city.
    In 35 years of living here this has to be the worst city mayor and commissioners I’ve ever experienced.

  • The 2 newly elected commissioners should make reversing the salary increases priority #1.

    2 + 2 = 4 = reversal

  • Just remember, most of Gainesville voted for them so most of Gainesville voted for the pay raise… the rising GRU rates, rising property taxes, rising sales taxes, rising roads in disrepair, and crime, don’t forget about the crime.

    If you voted for them, stop your whiny arsed cryin’!

    • Are city residents really this insane or do the Democrats keep stealing the elections? I’m not sure. This is a university town, but how stupid-insane do people have to be to keep voting for these evil people?

  • “Fair Chance” hiring will further attract miscreants to Wokeville in order to create fake demands for more lawyers and judges, more victims and NGO misbehavior counselors who are biggest Dem campaign donors. Church of Satan worshippers in sheeps clothing will expose the City to huge liability lawsuits instead, when victims and their survivors find out.

    • Businesses may choose to move just beyond city limits after this ridiculous hiring requirement. So they get all the way to the offer (usually taking weeks, occasionally months) before they can even check to find out they are a 3-time felon/loser or sex offender. Will be tons of these nuts applying for multiple jobs all over town in hopes of checking on every one and collecting the $500 each time. What a help this is for business in greater Gangsville, where crime, taxes, elected official’s salaries, racial division (east vs west) and the number of criminals continually rise and are virtually recession proof; all while the standard of living for 90% of residents declines.

  • Just wait until a convicted sex offender applies to keep house or babysit Poe’s 2 daughters. Think he’d give him a chance? LoL!!! No way. These self-anointed hypocrites do as they please and are likely the ONLY ones in the entire US to have the gall to double their own salaries in this overspent democratic caused recession!

  • As seen from Washington on down, politicians vote to give themselves LARGE pay increases when others receive none. Their pay doubles as the aver worker gets told “we can’t afford it.” Remember Marie Antoinette”. “If they have no bread, let them eat cake.”

  • Yet another example of how regressive government works. More money to the “leaders” at the expense of the taxpayers. And we all know money is power. Every time these people spend more of other people’s money, they transfer more power to themselves and make those people just a little more beholden to the government. Eventually, that government has all the power and the people are subjugated. Or they revolt.

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