City of Gainesville struggles with citizen engagement and transparency during pandemic


The City of Gainesville, like every other governmental body in Florida, set up special rules that allowed them to meet virtually during the pandemic. However, their execution of these rules has limited (and, in some cases, eliminated) citizens’ rights to participate in their public meetings. This week, for example, the City sent out two revisions to their Notice of Meetings. Revision 2 came out yesterday, adding a new topic for Thursday’s Special Meeting of the City Commission (COVID-19) and violating their rule of locking down agendas 5 calendar days before a meeting.

The Notice of Meetings is available here, but most people use the Granicus site to learn about upcoming meetings, and not all of the meetings on the notice above are listed in Granicus.

One example is the Agenda Review meeting at 11:00 a.m. on Thursday. The last Agenda Review meeting was not streamed live, so citizens could not participate, and this week’s meeting is not listed on Granicus, where links to video streams are found. When virtual meetings are not streamed, there is no possibility of citizen participation.

In addition, the agenda for the City Commission Special Meeting (budget) on June 11 does not provide any information on how citizens can participate virtually. The Agenda Statement is the standard one that talks about rules for general public comment (which has been abolished since virtual meetings began) and early public comment (which has also been abolished) and talks about “the meeting room.” No phone number for giving public comment on agenda items is provided on the agenda. The phone number has been placed at the bottom of the video screen during meetings, but uncertainty about how to participate may be driving down public participation. Very few people have called in to the virtual meetings, in contrast to the much larger group that have been “regulars” over the past few years during in-person meetings.

The City has streamed a few meetings on Facebook, which many people find easier to work with than the City’s site, and Facebook has the added benefit of allowing viewers to make comments alongside the video. Although these comments aren’t seen by the commissioners and thus aren’t part of the meeting, citizens have the ability to ask questions of their fellow citizens. However, not only has the City stopped streaming their meetings on Facebook, they temporarily removed a meeting video that had earlier been available on Facebook. When Nathan Skop asked the City why they had taken down the video, along with its comments, which are public records, he received the following response:

In part, the email from Communications Director Shelby Taylor reads, “Facebook, as a credentialed service, is a convenience platform for broadcast not an official channel for meeting access. It has become apparent over the last several weeks that our attempt to provide this service has given rise to hostility and vulgarity. As such, I have recommended to the City Manager that we no longer offer Facebook as a mechanism for meeting broadcasts.”

Alachua County streams all of its meetings on Facebook, and the videos with comments remain on the site. The County has also attracted more public participation in its virtual meetings than it normally gets in in-person meetings, in contrast to the City of Gainesville. Some County agenda items have taken the full 30 minutes of public comment, while City agenda items usually get one or two calls.

  • The only thing transparent are the spaces between the mayor and commissioners’ ears.

  • Since the virtual meetings because of covid, I am one
    of those citizens whose rights to participate has been eliminated.

    The only way that I can participate is IN-PERSON.

    I am not “one of the regulars”, but when I do feel passionate
    about a subject that affects our community, I’d like to

    I see that that the firefighters are having a collective bargaining meeting today at their Union Hall. I’m assuming
    that it’s live and that they will be wearing masks and social
    distancing there? I don’t know….I have a job and have to be
    at work at 10a.m. I also don’t have cable CH12 TV… The
    only way I can participate is after work and in-person.

    If they can have live meetings at firefighters union hall, why can’t
    they have live meetings at city hall where citizens can
    Participate again? I think it’s because they want to limit
    Citizens comments and participation. They do not like
    Anyone voicing a different opinion to their agenda. Hence,
    There is not good discussion and the results are poor one-sided group think decisions. Which means we are NOT getting good government…

    A lot of business have opened up already. City Hall
    Can open up again too and allow citizens to participate
    In-person again…they can have hand sanitizer stations
    Available at the entrance, face masks available, the
    6’ social distancing, 50% occupancy, and can take our
    Temperatures too!

    Shouldn’t they be having a virtual meeting on when
    They will be opening up city hall again? When will
    City hall be opening up so taxpayers can participate in-person again?

  • I just wanted to add: God bless those “regulars” who
    Show up in-person to make sure that we are getting
    Government in the Sunshine…they take the time and
    Provide valuable input and thought to the discussion.
    Those regular citizens who participate are not the do-nothing “stay
    At home couch potatoe heroes” who listen to the “Big Lie” or live in FEAR…
    Those regulars are the real superheroes and are
    Brave. I want to say Thank You to all those people who show up
    In-person to make our city a better place to live, love, &
    Grow. We appreciate you. Thanks for looking out for us
    When everyone else is sleeping. Liberty demands and requires eternal Vigilance.

  • I am so proud to be living in the Future Libertarian Utopia of Springs County, where all meetings will be live, and there will be no wimpy social distancing and masks and such. We Freedom Loving Citizens of Springs County will be proud to meet in person and catch whatever disease wants to go around. Real he men and she women and cowboys ain’t skered of no lil virus. Springs County motto: “Live Free. Get Sick. And Die Free.” The Springs County Dictator will not be a Communist like Hutch.

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