Gainesville City Commission hears GFR update, questions janitorial services contract, passes single-room occupancy ordinance changes on second reading

Mayor Pro Tem Cynthia Chestnut questioned the length of a janitorial services contract because the length could disadvantage minority and women contractors


GAINESVILLE, Fla. – At their June 20 meeting, the Gainesville City Commission heard an update from Gainesville Fire Rescue that showed increasing travel time to calls, questioned the length of a janitorial services contract because it could disadvantage minority and women contractors, awarded funding to an affordable housing project, and passed an ordinance that amended requirements for single-room occupancy residences.

GFR update

During a quarterly update from Gainesville Fire Rescue (GFR), Chief Joe Dixon listed some of the new challenges facing the department. He said that lithium battery fires are becoming “more prominent” and said travel time to respond to calls has gotten higher than the national standard for “multiple reasons… whether it’s the density… [or] because of arterial access, some of the cascading effects come potentially [from] Vision Zero and how we’re able to get there.” He said the lunchtime hour is a busy hour, with more people on the street. 

Chief Dixon said that travel time in the past quarter exceeded the national standard
Chief Dixon showed this list of arteries that most affect travel times

Commissioner Bryan Eastman said a lot of the arterial roads had not been modified to align with Vision Zero standards, adding, “I guess University Avenue is the one that I can think of.”

Dixon replied that University Avenue “is one of our main arteries.”

Commissioner Reina Saco said, “It’s not so much the roads have changed or anything. It’s – we have more people, period.” She acknowledged that speed tables can delay emergency response and said, “I’m glad you’re being involved in the conversation” about redesigning roads.

Dixon said attrition of department personnel has been “relentless” and that the “department is getting younger because we’re losing a lot of seniority,” but a grant has allowed the department to target “underrepresented [local neighbors]” to replace personnel.

Contract for janitorial services

The Commission also took up an item that had been pulled from the consent agenda at Mayor Pro Tem Cynthia Chestnut’s request; Chestnut was chairing the meeting in Mayor Harvey Ward’s absence. 

The item was a request for approval of a ranking of firms that responded to a Request for Proposal to award a five-year contract for RTS janitorial services for $822,156.96; the top-ranked firm was American Janitorial Inc.

Chestnut said she asked to pull the item for discussion because “last year I asked, and so did Commissioner Duncan-Walker… for information on minority and women contractors – and a janitorial contract is an area where people can enter pretty readily. But the concern was with the number of years that we are awarding contracts; if you give someone a contract for five years, it really is a deterrent, in my opinion… to other businesses within the community.” She asked Director of Equity and Inclusion Zeriah Folston whether his department was following these contracts carefully.

Folston responded, “Yes, ma’am, and I would recommend that we do pull it and discuss lowering the number from five to some appropriate number to allow others ample opportunities to compete in the future and in this opportunity.”

Saco pointed out that the last contract for RTS janitorial services was also five years, so “that’s the norm.”

City Manager Cynthia Curry said that the Federal Transit Agency allows contracts to be as long as five years, but it doesn’t need to be that long. She said, however, that the current contract expires in September, and if they changed the contract to a different term, they would have to start over with the procurement process. Saco said she worried “about the logistics of it” if they decided to start over with so little time before the current contract expires. She continued, “I think the time for that question was like six months ago.”

Curry said she had spoken to Folston about requiring “more oversight on the checklist – and what’s on the checklist and how it translates into more opportunities for small businesses, and so we’re going to be more in concert to follow these contracts from the Equity and Inclusion Office’s vantage point.”

Chestnut said, “Two years ago, I asked, Commissioner Duncan-Walker asked, that we look at not awarding five-year contracts because no one would ever be able to get in the process to bid. So it’s not like it’s new information to staff. That was our direction.”

Eastman pointed out that the top-ranked company had a “significant margin” of points above the second firm, and no local firms applied. He asked whether they could legally extend the current contract for a year, given the five-year maximum. Chestnut added, “And then I’d like to hear from staff why we awarded it for five years. Whose area is this?”

Curry said her office works “in conjunction with the Office of Equity and Inclusion on small business matters.” She said she had proposed the checklist, and the City Commission had endorsed adding the checklist to the procurement process. The checklist is managed by the Office of Equity and Inclusion. She said she had not micromanaged the process but “should have taken a closer look at this contract” because the Commission had previously expressed a desire to have shorter contracts. 

Folston wasn’t sure whether the Commission could change the length of the contract, given that the RFP had been for a five-year contract, but “I think the general theme is… that you guys are going to give us direction to do that for all future opportunities.”

Chestnut: “You want us to give you direction again? We gave those directions two years ago.”

Chestnut responded, “You want us to give you direction again? We gave those directions two years ago.” Folston said he didn’t recall that, but City staff would go back and look at it.

Chestnut asked whether local preference points could be awarded for federal contracts, and the answer was that they could not.

Curry pointed out that longer contracts generally have better pricing and that her goal is to bring the best recommendation to the Commission. She suggested having a policy discussion about the issue at a General Policy Committee (GPC) meeting and said, “I’d like to really put some more thought in because we’re kind of spitballing right now.”

Chestnut said, “I think you see the concern. The concern is, we want to help our community and as many people in the community as possible to have access.” Eastman agreed that the City has a responsibility to support local small businesses, but they also have a responsibility to the taxpayer to get “the best deal that we possibly can with their tax money… And everything in policy is about balance, right?”


Commissioner Ed Book made a motion to approve the contract as presented “so we can do what it sounds like we need to do.” Eastman seconded the motion, and there was no public comment. The motion passed 6-0, with Ward absent.

Commissioner Desmon Duncan-Walker made a motion to “prepare this conversation for a future GPC that allows the City Manager and the Office of Equity and Inclusion and any other appropriate offices to come forward with recommendations on this issue.” That motion also passed 6-0.

Loan to affordable housing project

During the afternoon session, the Commission approved an 18-year loan with ConnectFree funds to the Hope @ Debra Heights affordable rental housing project for $460,000 with a 1% annual interest rate, 30-year amortization period, and balloon payment at loan termination. The project was chosen over three other applicants. 

Saco made a motion to fund the project, and two Commissioners seconded the motion. The motion passed 6-0, with Ward absent.

Single-room occupancy

The Commission also passed an ordinance on second reading that amended requirements for single-room occupancy residences. The details of that ordinance can be found in our article about its first reading. The ordinance passed 6-0, with Ward absent. 

  • I thought the City didn’t have any money?

    “During the afternoon session, the Commission approved an 18-year loan with ConnectFree funds to the Hope @ Debra Heights affordable rental housing project for $460,000 with a 1% annual interest rate, 30-year amortization period, and balloon payment at loan termination.”

    • The City always seems to have hidden buckets of money. The ConnectFree bucket has thankfully been ended by the new GRUA board. These are funds surcharged to county residents on new construction GRU connections and then reserved for City projects. What do you think will happen if the City gets control of GRU again and buries it under the City Manager, who has no utility experience. They want to hide the GRU budget, in my opinion.

  • Seems to me their concerted efforts of not bringing race into the hiring equation is like everything this commission does – a failure of the “nth” degree.

    Not the most qualified, not the best equipped, not whether you’re capable – whether you’re of a minority race is what matters. It’s getting easier to see their priorities; just depends whether one is colorblind or not.

    Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. would be so proud.

    • The Contract was approved 6-0.

      MLK was in favor of affirmative action and his organization worked in favor of those programs while he was alive.

      “Whenever the issue of compensatory treatment for the Negro is raised, some of our friends recoil in horror. The Negro should be granted equality, they agree; but he should ask nothing more. On the surface, this appears reasonable, but it is not realistic.”

      “A society that has done something special against the Negro for hundreds of years must now do something special for the Negro.”

      “Within common law we have ample precedents for special compensatory programs … And you will remember that America adopted a policy of special treatment for her millions of veterans after the war.”

      • Dr. King supported policies that were class-based, not race-based. He wanted to help all who were in need of help regardless of race. Based on the populations in need, however, such programs would substantially benefit black people.

        • Guest:

          “Whenever the issue of compensatory treatment for the Negro is raised, some of our friends recoil in horror. The Negro should be granted equality, they agree; but he should ask nothing more. On the surface, this appears reasonable, but it is not realistic.”

          • Continuing his quote from what you wrote:

            “For it is obvious that if a man is entered at the starting line in a race three hundred years after another man, the first would have to perform some impossible feat in order to catch up with his fellow runner.” (Why We Can’t Wait, pgs. 158-159)

            But, then, four pages later:

            “I am proposing, therefore, that, just as we granted a GI Bill of Rights to war veterans, America launch a broad-based and gigantic Bill of Rights for the Disadvantaged, our veterans of the long siege of denial…While Negroes form the vast majority of America’s disadvantaged, there are millions of white poor who would also benefit from such a bill. The moral justification for special measures for Negroes is rooted in the robberies inherent in the institution of slavery. Many poor whites, however, were the derivative victims of slavery…It is a simple matter of justice that America, in dealing creatively with the task of raising the Negro from backwardness, should also be rescuing a large stratum of the forgotten white poor. A Bill of Rights for the Disadvantaged could mark the rise of a new era, in which the full resources of the society would be used to attack the tenacious poverty which so paradoxically exists in the midst of plenty.” (Why We Can’t Wait, pgs. 163-165)

            Class vs. race. I agree. We need to be together, not separated by identity.

      • Of course it was approved 6 – 0. Wouldn’t expect any less from this group. MLK also dreamed of a day his children wouldn’t be judged by the color of their skin but by their character. In some communities those dreams have been put to rest; unfortunately both ways.

        “Whenever the issue of compensatory treatment for the Negro is raised, some of our friends recoil in horror. The Negro should be granted equality, they agree; but he should ask nothing more. On the surface, this appears reasonable, but it is not realistic.” Yet many not only ask for more, they demand it.

        I believe in equality, and I believe I treat everyone equally. I guess it all depends on one’s perception. Just because a person is a minority shouldn’t give them special rights and privileges over others. For this progressive group to rule out specific businesses who exceed the qualifications of other businesses just because they’re owned by a heterosexual, white male goes against the very thing they claim to stand for – equality.

        I don’t seem to recall this group increasing the wages of low wage earners to at least half of what they make for doing half the work. That equity only goes as far as their hypocrisy.

        • The 6-0 vote was to approve the contract they had previously been questioning, so y’all should be celebrating.

          As to MLK, in fact he favored the programs y’all claim he wouldn’t and worked to implement some. Whether you agree or not is not the issue.

  • I want to know who’s checking the checklist of the checklist checkers? Do we have an office of checking checklists checkers and if not we may need a checklist czar. Somebody hand me the cookie jar please. What? Wards got it? Ok.

  • 1)) Do I detect frustration with Curry on the part of Chestnut the Redhead?

    2)) I smell a fire fee increase coming.

    3)) Service contracts should only be awarded on best price that gets the job done.

  • A great demonstration of the incompetence, lack of accountability, and just general malice of our local city government.

    The Gainesville City Commission’s brain-dead “Vision Zero” plan (more accurately described as “Zero Vision”) is the local implementation of the “15-minute city” concept that globalists love so much.

    Citizens are pressured financially (driving taxes, fines), legally (restrictions on which days you can drive), and even physically (via intentionally impassable road infrastructure) to stay in their little geographic areas where they can be taxed and controlled. North Korea similarly restricts movement within the country; the only thing missing are the ration tokens.

    Anyone who lives in Gainesville knows what a cluster University Ave has been for years now due to an endless series of construction projects, speed bumps (ha!), lane closures, etc. orchestrated by the city commission. It’s the govt equivalent of paying to dig a hole and then paying to fill it back up, over and over, just to restrict movement and degrade our quality of life.

    Now the fire department can’t respond to calls on time, and all that weasel Commissioner Bryan Eastman can say is “[duhhh] I guess University Avenue [one of Gainesville’s largest east-west arterial roads] is the one that I can think of”. Great job, Bryan. You really strained those brain cells there.

    Commissioner Saco predictably attempts to deflect any responsibility for the mess she and her fellow imbeciles created. Oh, we had a sudden surge in population eh, Saco? The multi-year construction/destruction/re-struction and 2-3 lane closures in a 3 mile strip had nothing to do with it?

    These people literally hate the citizens of Gainesville. Homes and lives are being lost due to their reckless incompetency and disregard for human life. I remember Bryan and Nina Eastman begging people to wear masks during Covid to “protect their family”, but they obviously don’t give a sh*t about yours. As far as they are concerned, our homes and families can burn to the ground just so Bryan can get his fruity little “15 Minute City” globalist merit badge.

    • Who are the “globalists” and what does that mean? I am in favor of recognizing that we live in a smaller world which we can’t hide from – I think we learned that lesson in WWII, didn’t we? – but I’ve never heard of the “15 minute city”, been to N Korea, or favor Trump who had a “date” with it’s leader.

      The City Commission – or County or any elected leaders – did not increase the population renting the high rises on Univ Ave, UF did. This was after declaring a ceiling on enrollments a decade ago which they quickly ignored while also making not provisions for new dorms and tearing down Corry Village.

      University Ave is a state road, major EW connector, but also the EW main street of Gainesville. Historically and due to these different functions its been mostly an eye sore of less than showcase businesses and a bad walk from the University to Downtown – which used to be where JC Penney’s, Larry’s Steakhouse, Baird Hardware, and other major businesses were based, before the shopping strip on North Main, then the mall on 13th, and then Oaks Mall and Butler Plaza. Those who think about these things have been trying to improve on the latter function for Univ Ave, which compared to other universally praised college towns like Athens, Georgia, is a failure. That’s not the fault of any current commissioners, since an improvement on that atmosphere would include slower traffic, probably single lane, with diagonal parking spaces. Such designs have been drawn up and not implemented because of the reality of it’s 1st 2 functions. SW 2nd Ave may be that pleasant walkable connector as planning and cooperation with UF have made it both active, safe, and enjoyable.

      • The lengthened time to respond for GFR is due to the incompetence of the globalist, far left politicians, as so proven by the mush flowing from Eastman’s mouth. These idiots bend over, screwing as much of the traffic flow as possible, to protect stupid pedestrians and bikers who have no care for their own safety. How many traffic tickets (with real fines) have been written against the pedestrians and bikers, who are at fault 9 times out of 10 according to GPD?

  • The city has screwed up traffic light coordination on purpose for several years. You can’t drive more a few blocks without hitting a red light. We have increased traffic congestion due to this and our illustrious “leaders” don’t understand the impact on GFR, much less any other city services. This start/stop “traffic calming” wastes taxpayers money through increased gas usage of city vehicles at the same time. Zero vision is indeed the cerebral motto of the commission.

    • The city has a state of the art computerized system of traffic light coordination run in real time at the city site on NW 39th Ave. I’ve been there and you can probably tour it if you’d like. Whatever frustration you – and we – experience is due to user error or more likely, growing traffic.

      • It does not matter if they call it state of the art and nobody cares how nice their operations center is…it’s a complete failure in real life. We live in reality and the city is completely to blame.

        • Agreed. Having called the Traffic Control Department numerous times and having them tell me a “sensor” is broken and needs replacing as an excuse is insulting. According to them, it’s on order and has been for months.
          The problem is there’s an abnormal amount of Gainesville drivers who aren’t capable of making a left turn while traffic from the oncoming lane is also making a left turn.
          See NW 34th St & NW 53rd Ave, NW 43rd St & NW 39 Ave, and SW 34th St & Archer Rd., not to mention the countless traffic signals on Newberry Rd.

          Highly educated? Questionable.
          Idiot drivers?
          Beyond a doubt.

          • My pet peeve for local drivers – though they probably abound elsewhere – are those who wait at lights a full car length or greater behind those in front of them, thus keeping those behind them from entering turn lanes or causing them to miss short green lights. Traffic engineers do their best with available right of way to design with proper “storage lanes”, meaning for a certain number of cars to be parked in the lane while waiting for green. This behavior, besides for the problem it creates I noted above, screws up the design of intersections to meet traffic demands.

          • PS Something out of town friends comment on that we should be happy about is the left turn arrow going yellow. This is not prevalent elsewhere in the state and is a very good idea.

          • And too many locals refuse to turn on the flashing arrow. I live in the rural county and more half the drivers refuse to pass a slow driver, if an oncoming vehicle can be seen 1/2 mile away.

          • I don’t think I have ever waited behind someone who refused to turn left to a flashing yellow arrow if there was no traffic uncoming.

          • Those people, “a full car length behind,” are more often than not texting. I’ve mentioned it before in hopes that some LEOs would take more notice, apparently they haven’t or they’re afraid of enforcing current traffic laws.
            As others have mentioned, traffic signals are not in synch, unless their synchronization is meant to turn out of a green light directly into a red one…see numerous lights along Main & University, and no, there is no waiting traffic.

          • In Gainesville and most of Alachua County traffic lights are in reasonable sync. It’s a fact.

          • First they’re in synch, now in reasonable synch?
            Make up your mind.

          • Jazzman- their traffic management is not working well at all…It’s obvious to everyone. Blame drivers all you want but the piss poor planning is obviously the genesis. The city wants more density and less lanes…what’s wrong with you? How can you not see this? They continue to build build build without the proper infrastructure to support the growth.

      • JD, it wasn’t 20 years ago, I’d guess a dozen or so. And do you think you could get a better deal on it? It was done in coordination and with the involvement of the FDOT.

        • Jazz- So are you saying that they are relying on approximately 12-15ish year old software and hardware but yet it is state of the art? Which is it?…a decade and a half old or state of the art?

          Do you have any idea how much Gainesville has been developed over the past 10-15 years? What makes you think something from 2010ish would even halfway work in our current environment? You and your cronies overdeveloped for selfish and political reasons and now we all have to reap the consequences of yalls inept, radical, and corrupt governance

          • Slice, the software is only part of the system and like all software, one assumes relatively easy to update, though what improvements in software would improve in syncing traffic lights is also hard to imagine.

            This argument in this thread began with the claim that the city did not have their traffic lights in sync. That is obviously – and now proven – incorrect. Since everyone here is married to the idea that Gainesville is the worst city in the world, you can’t drop your sour and subjective view of traffic, among any other complaints.

            Read my lips: UF is driving the population increase within the city. Marion County and Ocala have much higher growth rates than Alachua County and Gainesville, as do much of Florida cities. We rank 41 among Florida counties for our growth rate. If you don’t want traffic move to Wyoming.


  • What has the Office of Equity and Inclusion actually accomplished? The amount of Mr. Folston’s salary is very high… $160,000 something. And he has done NOTHING. and does NOTHING. He is only there because he knows where the Mayor’s skeletons are buried.

  • Why don’t they start enforcing red lights and give out tickets. I know the expensive cameras are in place. Ask Green Cove Springs how much goes into the city coffers for just one red light. Gainesville could gain much needed revenue and not from the backs of taxpayers.

    • Yeah, and everybody here would love that! The love and praise for the City would just overflow.

  • “[GFR] said that lithium battery fires are becoming ‘more prominent'”

    Yet another progressive failure. Force the public to use and buy EVs without vetting battery quality. Ignore the damage done, blame the “complainers”.

    • Yeah, because a very high number of EVs catch fire.

      No, they don’t, especially compared to gas vehicles. Yes, they are hotter and therefore more dangerous and are mostly caused by accidents.

      “The MSB’s 2023 report found that electric car fires, out of about 611,000 electric vehicles, have averaged about 20 per year in the last three years. On the other hand, cars powered by fuel — totaling about 4.4 million — had about 3,400 fires during that same time. The agency concedes that some of the fires in internal combustion engine vehicles were due to arson, but the figures still come out in favor of EVs.”

  • “travel time to respond to calls has gotten higher than the national standard for “multiple reasons… whether it’s the density… [or] because of arterial access”…

    Gee, the problem we’ve been forecasting for two decades?

    I get that some you have to wait at some intersections, with no traffic moving in ANY direction, because it takes congestion from more critical intersections upstream. You know, like when you go to the doctor with a clogged heart artery, and instead of clearing it they install a bunch more clogs all around your body.

  • Regarding GFR response times. This is in the city transportation element of the Comp Plan. . . they city SHALL NOT respond to congestion by ENHANCING CAPACITY in order to ‘encourage’ other modes of transportation. You can expect longer response time.

    • JD, the question is what is most important – and possible and affordable – to residents. We, like many older towns, do not have adequate cross town corridors for modern traffic to flow like it maybe used to. It is not only expensive to build new roads or expand existing ones – right of way can be especially expensive – but the people living or doing business in these areas may not want 6 lanes plowed through their neighborhood. So, is response time for fire trucks the most important of all civic functions for which we will pay whatever it takes, or must it be balanced with other demands including how much everyone wants to pay. More stations may be a much cheaper option.

      The density levels necessary to make public transportation work well do not exist here, and accept for UF, will be a long time coming, if ever. Those pushing that idea are dreaming, but so are those who think we can build our way out of this or otherwise achieve the traffic flows we enjoyed here in the 1970s.

  • A standard run of the mill janitorial RFP having to get run through an inclusion and equity office to meet ideology goals is, um, ok then, nothing to see here…

    • Yes, equity is when u hire a trainee from a six week flight program over an experienced Air Force pilot

  • How fitting, The Historically Fired GCC which fails at everything except raising taxes , crime ,and misery indexes wants to make sure they award contracts to vendors based on nothing than race?

  • Sounds like the simplest of problems for our neighbors and surrounding communities that have been solved , are a massive unsolvable problem for the Gainesville leaders . No wonder the State had to fire them for destroying GRU. If the Gainesville voters can’t fire them maybe they need more oversight to try to salvage what is left of Wokesville.

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