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County commission selects artist for West Lawn, asks Supervisor of Elections to add early voting on the Sunday immediately before the primary and general elections

Commissioner Anna Prizzia discusses the finalists for the West Lawn sculpture

BY JENNIFER CABRERA

Bottom line: At the Alachua County Commission’s May 24 meeting, Commissioner Anna Prizzia was elected Vice Chair; phone-in public comments were delayed to a future meeting; Dan Whitcraft was confirmed as the County’s Facilities Management Director; the board selected an artist for a sculpture to honor Dr. Patricia Hilliard-Nunn; and they voted to send a Chair letter to the Supervisor of Elections, asking her to add the Sunday before the primary and general elections as an early voting day.


At the beginning of the May 24 Alachua County Commission meeting, Commissioner Anna Prizzia was elected as Vice Chair of the board, to replace former Commissioner Mary Alford, who resigned on May 16. Commissioner Ken Cornell made the motion, saying, “We normally take turns… And Chuck [Chestnut], you’re next.”

Phone-in public comment

County Communications Director Mark Sexton told the commission that he had planned to debut the new phone-in public comment system, but “We did a realtime test today, and frankly it blew up in every way it could possibly blow up.” He said the Zoom system they’ve selected requires preregistration to be able to upgrade from an attendee in Backstage to a panelist, and they will need to develop some procedures around that before going live with the system. “We understand how important this is to you, and we pledge to you that we’re going to figure this out one way or another and sooner rather than later, so we apologize for that.”

Dan Whitcraft confirmed as Facilities Management Director

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County Manager Michele Lieberman announced that Dan Whitcraft has been hired and confirmed as the County’s new Facilities Management Director.

West Lawn sculpture

The commission considered submissions for a sculpture to be placed on the West Lawn to honor Dr. Patricia Hilliard-Nunn; they had previously indicated that they wanted the sculpture to represent the Sankofa, which Assistant County Manager Gina Peebles explained “symbolizes the reflection on the past to build on a successful future, and the egg represents the gems of knowledge of the past upon which wisdom is based.”

Fifteen artists submitted applications, and the Arts Council culled those down to four. The fourth- and fifth-place submissions were tied, so five sketches were submitted to Hilliard-Nunn’s family, who preferred the following two:

Commissioner Anna Prizzia said, “We had no black artists. Not one black artist. This is an African symbol of, like, looking to the past for the future. It’s honoring one of our most amazing black women who worked on civil rights issues, and the whole point was to sort of think about civil rights. And we don’t have a single black artist to even consider in this situation. That, to me, is a problem… Chuck, I’d be really interested to hear your thoughts.”

Commissioner Chuck Chestnut said he was “kind of disappointed with the Sankofa bird, really. They okay, but, I mean, professionally?… It didn’t come across to me that it was professional work, and the symbol of the Sankofa is so important that you want to make sure that it is rendered closely to the bird, and I just didn’t see it…”

Both Chestnut and Chair Marihelen Wheeler disliked the “tailpipes” on the second finalist.

Prizzia continued to insist that it was “so weird” that none of the artists are African-American, but Wheeler said art is “universal.” Chestnut said he was hoping for a more realistic sculpture, like the bronze sculptures shown in a Google search for “Sankofa.” He didn’t like the curled-up tail on the first finalist above.

Kenneth Nunn told the commission that while the background of the artist is important, the most important thing is that it “stands for what you all want it to stand for, and I agree with Commissioner Chestnut that it’s not clear that this is a Sankofa bird; there’s a lot of artistic license.” Nunn also said he believed that Gadsdon is African American.

Commissioner Ken Cornell made a motion to ask George Gadsdon to bring back other alternatives for the board to consider and work with Dr. Hilliard-Nunn’s family. The motion passed 4-0.

Staffing changes

County Manager Lieberman announced that Missy Daniels will be assuming the role of Acting Assistant County Manager with oversight over Growth Management, Public Works, and Solid Waste & Resource Recovery, following an extended vacancy in that position. Lieberman said that the County has been unable to fill the role despite two separate postings of the position. She said that while Daniels is acting as Assistant County Manager, Jeff Hayes will be assuming the role of Acting Growth Management Director. The Assistant Manager position will be re-posted at the beginning of the new fiscal year.

Chair letter on Sunday voting

During commission comment, Cornell said that “a number of community members, including the NAACP, the League of Women Voters… have discussed with me about asking the Supervisor of Elections to extend early voting to include the Sunday prior to the primary and the general election.” He said he’d had initial conversations with Supervisor Kim Barton and that she didn’t want to do that, but he said he’s asked her to at least talk to her staff about it. “It would involve additional costs, it would involve additional staffing, but I would like a Chair letter… requesting that she look into that and let us know if that’s a possibility, and if so, what additional costs would be required.”

Chestnut said, “And that was Souls to the Polls, right?”

Cornell said, “Well, Souls to the Polls is a separate thing that organizations do, but early voting would be on both of those Sundays, the Sunday prior to the election and then the week before… Typically they end early voting here—not in other counties; in other counties, where they have more resources, they end early voting on the Sunday prior to the Tuesday. Here they end it on Saturday so that she can get everything ready for the Tuesday… It would require hiring temporary workers, a lot of them. There are seven early voting sites.”

Wheeler said she also attended the meeting where this was suggested: “It was suggested to us by a speaker they brought in from the University who really pushed hard to get this done.”

Cornell asked Wheeler if she agreed with it, and she said, “As long as it doesn’t give Kim additional heartburn… She’s taken it on the chin since 2020.”

Cornell said, “Yeah, and I think that if she doesn’t do it, she’s gonna really take it on the chin.” Wheeler agreed, “Well, that’s probably true, too. That’s unfortunate because it means we’re not taking care of her.”

Cornell said, “I think if the board sends a Chair letter to her, then we’re requesting it instead of her either doing it or not doing it.”

County Manager Lieberman said they could write a letter and put it on a future consent agenda, but Cornell said it needed to be done immediately because “she’s got to tell the Secretary of State when the early voting days are… by June 1st.”

Cornell moved that they send a Chair letter, requesting that the Supervisor extend early voting to the Sunday both before the primary and the general election. The motion passed unanimously. 

The Supervisor of Elections is out of the office and unable to respond to our question about her decision before publication.

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