Commissioner Saco takes leave of absence, Ward appointed Mayor Pro Tem

Commissioner Desmon Duncan-Walker makes a motion asking staff to research how other commissions govern themselves


GAINESVILLE, Fla. – At the beginning of today’s Gainesville City Commission Special Meeting, four agenda items that were continued from the November 17 Regular Meeting after Commissioner Reina Saco left the meeting were removed from the agenda and indefinitely postponed. Saco was also absent today, and her nameplate was not on the dais; Mayor Lauren Poe said near the end of the meeting that it appeared she would be taking a leave of absence until January 5.

During the approval of the agenda, Poe said that the applicants for the two land use and zoning items had sent letters to commissioners, asking for more time to work with the next commission and incoming mayor on the timing of placing those items on an agenda. 

The agenda items that were postponed included the Weyerhaeuser property on SR 121 and a proposed 12-story building at the corner of SW 2nd Avenue and SW 10th Street, both controversial. The first reading of the Weyerhaueser ordinance on October 6 passed 4-3, with Saco voting in the majority. The commission will now have six members until at least January 6.

Parking minimums removed, Fair Chance Hiring passed

The commission passed on second reading a Land Development Code Amendment that removes all parking minimums for future development and adds mid-street parking for loading and unloading in urban zoning districts. 

The Fair Chance Hiring ordinance passed unanimously (with Saco absent) on first reading. Mayor Lauren Poe said he was “thrilled” to be voting on the ordinance “before a few of our terms are up.”

Ward appointed as Mayor Pro Tem

During member comment, Mayor Lauren Poe said, “It has, I think, been made clear to us that it is the intention of Commissioner Saco to take a leave for the remainder of the calendar year, until January 5.” Saco is the Mayor Pro Tem and thus she and Poe make up two-thirds of the Audit Committee (the third is Harold Monk, CPA, the External Member); Poe wanted another commissioner to replace Saco at the December 13 Audit Committee meeting, which Poe described as “very important.” 

A Mayor Pro Tem would also perform the duties of the Mayor while he is overseas, so Poe asked the commission to appoint Commissioner and Mayor-Elect Harvey Ward as Mayor Pro Tem until the new commission is sworn in on January 5. Poe said Ward’s previous experience on the Audit Committee would help in stepping in for the December 13 meeting, and “we are assured that Commissioner Ward will be the only person not being nominated for Mayor Pro Tem on the 5th… Technically I am Mayor until the new Mayor raises their hand and takes their oath, but what this would allow is for Mayor-Elect Ward to call that meeting to order and to chair that meeting as Pro Tem, and then when he takes his oath of office, he would just continue as Mayor, and then the commission could appoint a Pro Tem at that time.”

Commissioner David Arreola said it brought him “great joy” to recommend that his “former election adversary be selected as the next Mayor Pro Tem, and I’d like that to be unanimous.” The vote was unanimous, with Saco absent.

Duncan-Walker asks for formal accountability for commissioners

Commissioner Desmon Duncan-Walker said, “Last Thursday was one of the most difficult meetings that I’ve ever sat through, and I think that probably applies to everyone up here.” She said a lot of things had led up to that and that she didn’t know all of the circumstances surrounding Saco’s absence, but “I hope that Commissioner Saco is in good health and that she is well.”

She continued, “I’d like to make a request from you, my colleagues, because I would hope that as we move forward… we can secure a way to hold us accountable for the way that we interact with each other. Right now, things are just implied and silently expected… And so I’d like to put a motion on the floor for staff to bring back something that is being done in governments across this country, which is a way for us to govern ourselves when we find ourselves in emotional positions that take us out of the character that we should exemplify as commissioners. Some places call it censure, some places call it removal for a few days. I’d like staff to look into that because I think it’s important for us to always remain vigilant and keep accountable to the folks who put us here.” Commissioner Cynthia Chestnut seconded the motion.

Poe said the city commission had previously worked on a Code of Ethics, but it “just did not have enough momentum and support to come back to us for consideration or approval… That helps define the expectations and boundaries.” He also encouraged the incoming commission to “reconsider the Ombudsman role” to help resolve conflicts. 

Ward said, “Coincidentally, I’ve been talking with the [Interim City] Manager and with the City Clerk about working on putting a memo together to the new commission, specifically about how we talk to each other and about how we work with each other, and I’m hopeful that we can use an unfortunate series of events, culminating two Thursdays ago, into a better place and a better opportunity to work with each other for our neighbors. So be on the lookout for a memo in the next couple of weeks.”

Chestnut said she likes to use the word “decorum,” and “I would like for the attorney to address very clearly the role of staff and charter officers. It seems that the newspaper reported the other day that the only role we have with staff is to give them direction. Well, I’m concerned about people meeting with staff without going through the appropriate charter, and I think that needs to be clarified.” She said that when city commissioners meet with staff, they might “insinuate” direction even if they don’t give direction, and that bypasses and disrespects the charter officer who manages the staff member. “Is the staff supposed to come to all commissioners with their concern? One commissioner? Bypass their manager? Let’s get that clear and in writing.”

Arreola said he wanted to remind the public that under state law, commissioners are governed by the Board of Ethics.

During public comment on Duncan-Walker’s motion, Jo Beaty said discussions between commissioners and charter officers should be in public, including orientation of new city commissioners, which is currently being done in one-on-one meetings. She said that interviews with search firms and candidates for the five vacant charter officer positions should also be public. 

Armando Grundy-Gomez said that “anti-blackness” and anti-semitism are common on the dais. He said that Saco had allegedly shoved another commissioner on November 17 and that Saco had previously used “pejoratives and slurs” against former Commissioner Gail Johnson, but Poe had said he didn’t hear them. “Well, you heard it two Thursdays ago. We all heard it.” He said that he had been told that Saco’s behavior was due to pregnancy, “that’s her alleged behavior for the last 22 months, of why she acts that way? Get out of here… You all went back there [pointing behind the dais] to coddle one person, and not to do the people’s business. You stopped the people’s business when she clearly disrespected your Manager… I was hoping Commissioner Duncan-Walker and Commissioner Chestnut would have been even more candid and forthright. This is not okay. This anti-blackness is not okay. And you all don’t see it that way. We do. We watch while you coddle–she’s a 30-year-old-plus woman, doesn’t need to be coddled, in the fetal position, crying. Get out of here! She’s been disrespectful to this community for 22 months, and I don’t feel sorry for her. She needs to go.”

Chestnut said she would also like each charter officer “to take it upon themselves, I want their staffs trained in cultural sensitivity in terms of, what do black commissioners do? What do Hispanic commissioners do? Hispanic commissioners have whole meetings in Spanish. This black commissioner sent a video to a church… You need to learn the culture and understand the culture… I was floored by that last week, and it’s been simmering for months.”

Desmon-Walker’s motion passed unanimously, with Saco absent.

  • Harvey, I hope you see this. I’m your cousin Jerry. We have moved forward to make life better for all. Your Mother and Father were a very important part of my life before you were born.

    We have all come to realize what we need to do to help others live in an improved world over the 1940’s. Unfortunately, we have created a financial supply chain to offer equity that will only facilitate more lack of output.

    Yes, we need to help as volunteers, but changing the home owner zoning must be subjected to a normal process rather than a vote overall.

    • Actually, that radical change to single family neighborhoods needs to be voted on by the citizens, not seven politicians voting the way they personally want. The politicians are supposed to represent the people, not dictate to them.

  • Poe probably regrets not being nicer to Gail Johnson. Saco should take off her mask if she is pregnant – seriously, unless she wants a baby with a brain like some of her peers. Have a nice vacation, Saco. Let the peasants work.

  • I’ve read far too many times about commissioners being absent while attempting to conduct the role of a paid commissioner.
    And now you all want a pay raise?

    How about paying back the taxpayers when you take a leave of absence?

    Get a REAL job and see how far your omniscient actions go.

    You’d be fired within months!

  • If you are immune compromised, I’ll give you a pass…why are the people in photo with this article wearing masks? Also, when they come up with their “code of ethics”, they should abstain from being racist and being divisive…”anti blackness” and “anti whiteness” is not ok. Talk like that and you should be fined $1000 each
    Time you are insensitive to any race including Hispanics. I’m disgusted how all these city commissioners are
    Behaving. I think the mask is the flag of wokeness. There is no Covid emergency…that was all crap anyway.
    Stop the divisiveness and get rid of the vagrants here.

    • What about a $1000 fine for telling a citizen they should be dead already? Isn’t that some type of ethics violation? I’m guessing Saco probably went into hiding after making that remark, probably hoping that the public has a very short- term memory.

      • Saco should be forced to resign after that. An ethics complaint should be filed and Desantis should step in an just replace her..the wokeness has caused her mental illness…she’s not fit for duty. What a horrible thing to say and she’s acting bazaar.

  • Sounds like they all have a chip on their shoulder when it comes to race… what’s with the face masks?

  • So the true colors of Wacko Saco now become apparent to other commissioners?

    One could conclude the commission is only woke to their own ideologies and are very adept at ignoring what many in the community have known for a long time. Saco is a “holier than thou” bigot. Now she’s taken a leave of absence in the hopes it will dampen the shame and embarrassment she carries.

    I do not share the same sentiment as Duncan-Walker in hoping Saco is well. I lean more with Grundy-Gomez in saying Saco needs to go. Far, far away would be best. Maybe one of the other commissioners and Saco have something going on. Maybe that’s why she gets coddled. Most of us have known she’s a spoiled little batch for a long time, a piss poor excuse for an elected commissioner. Maybe she’ll take a hint from the black members of the commission and get the hell out of town.

    Be mindful, there are others on the commission who hide their feelings as well.

    These are your elected commissioners? What a joke.

  • So the Mayor and 2 commissioners last act in office is to treat themselves to a trip to Israel at taxpayers expense and another commissioner decides she needs 6 weeks of leave over the Holidays, I assume at full pay, and will see everyone next year rested and ready to go while the rest of us are hard at it trying to make enough money to among other things pay our taxes. Public servants? I don’t think so.

    • More like public disgraces. Every time I read anything about the city commission it makes me so happy and grateful I don’t live in the city.

      • I just hope the Mossad will be keeping a watchful eye on them. When those 3 get together there’s no telling the terror than can create.

        • At least they are leaving the documented PLO supporter at home. Maybe she’s not allowed into Israel because she’s on some list.

      • They are local city officials and their jurisdiction is within the GNV urban city boundary line. They should not be able to spend our taxpayers’ money on a vacation junket to Israel… It’s a foreign country outside the US. Are they working on bringing climate change refugees from Israel and provide them affordable housing here? I wonder what Governor Desantis has to say about their vacation on their way out of office. This may be illegal and I want my taxpayer dollars spent here in GNV, not in Israel. I feel this is a theft of our tax money like how that lady stole money for a Brazilian Butt lift…I don’t think this deal is kosher.

  • Is the vacationing Poe Poe setting up Fat Harvey to “own” the 2 year late finanicials and Gallop off into the Sunset like Craig Lowe, Bob Hunsinger, Jennifer Hunt and Hanrahann did on the Biomess? Remember it Gainesville where the winners alway lose taxpayers money. Asking for a friend.

  • I’d bet anything when Saco was a bratty little girl, who constantly argued with her elders and everybody else, they told her, “you should go to law skool, hon! Let’s get student loans so you’ll be a star and send money back home …”
    Sad, very sad.

  • In the wisdom of Poe and Gainsville leaders lets more than double every city employees salarys. On second thought just the losers running Gainesville get that raise, the Gainesville voters that put these pigs at the trough in charge, they deserve the demise of Gville. How obscene.

  • Don’t you enjoy when the left eat their own! They preach about racism, call all of us on the Right racist, yet because of their belief in Identity Politics, they have divided themselves into skin color groups and attack one another.

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