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.
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