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Meet the City Commission candidates: Part 2

Left to right: Reina Saco, Harvey Ward, David Walle

BY JENNIFER CABRERA

Part 2 of a 3-part series covering the candidate forum. Part 1 can be found here. Part 3 is here. The election is March 17.

The Greater Gainesville Chamber of Commerce, the Gainesville Alachua County Association of Realtors, and the Builders’ Association of North Central Florida hosted a Gainesville City Commission Candidate Forum on February 13 at Scorpio Construction. 

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All of the candidates for District 2, District 3, and At Large Seat 2 were at the forum, and it was hosted by Gia Arvin. 

Question 3: You talk about working together, and working together is important. Working together between the City and County is also super important to be successful. So what is your take on the current relationship between the City and County government?

At Large Seat 2

Gabe Kaimowitz said he was hired to be an investigator for the Equal Opportunity Office in Alachua County in 1999. In 2001, he and his supervisor were suspended because they had blown the whistle on corruption in the County Equal Opportunity Office. He and his supervisor were eventually fired, then the County settled with them (money in Kaimowitz’s case; his supervisor was restored to her job). But he said it turned out there was corruption at both the County and the City Equal Opportunity offices. “Both offices are useless… They play a game. Everybody is a member of the Democratic Executive Committee (DEC), on the County and on the City. We’ve got a one-party system. Everybody you’re looking at except me, and I’m not sure who else, but I guarantee you the incumbents are both with the DEC. And what’s important about that is the fact is, you’ve got to deal with the reality. The reality is the County wants to pass the buck. Best example is Plum Creek. The black community begged for the Plum Creek project, 3-2, the County managed one vote, it was gone.”

Scherwin Henry said the County has been “somewhat of a bully” to the City in some areas. “And flipping that, there are areas where I think the City of Gainesville has been too passive in their dealings with the County…  Either way, it’s not a good look to the citizens, because the citizens expect more from our governmental bodies. They don’t expect the back-and-forth, they don’t expect the schism that is happening at this moment.” He hopes to bring civility to the situation. He said that when he was on the City Commission, they had committees of both City and County Commissioners to solve problems. “It’s not a foregone conclusion that nothing can happen, but the citizens do expect more than what they’re getting.”

Paul Rhodenizer said he’s lived in both the city and the county. “I don’t remember all the problems in the county that we have with the City. If we can work a little bit more closely together and not have this divided government that we seem to have, it’s gonna serve the community well.”

Reina Saco said, “I work in a pretty adversarial field, and so I’m used to people screaming most of the time, and everybody thinks that their argument is the best argument, and that is the only way to go. What that taught me is how to mediate very efficiently. But one of the things that the last 3 years has taught me is how to work with the City Commission that we have now, and that we will still hopefully have after March 17, and how to work with the County Commission that we have now. I’ve brought issues before both of them; I like to think that I have a very good working relationship where there’s mutual respect and trust that when I bring something forward, it is understood and respected that I have researched it, that it is not a left-field idea or an unbiased complaint, and I think that foundation really lends itself to a good working relationship. If you trust that what’s being brought forward is a real issue and that you are willing to sit down and have a conversation about it, that’s half the battle.”

She said there are areas in which the City and County have to work together because they jointly fund those things. Sometimes that is successful, like when City firefighters serve parts of the county, but sometimes it doesn’t work because the two bodies don’t agree on methods, “and I think my skills with mediation, my partnership and good friendships with both commissions at the moment will help me be a good and efficient mediator between the parties because I’ve already been doing that with other projects.”

District 2

Harvey Ward said, “As is often the case in political circumstances, sometimes I find myself scratching my head a little bit at the difference between the headline and the reality.” He said you get headlines when there’s friction, but you don’t hear about it when things work well. “[We’re] one of, I think, the top 4 cities to live without a car, if you’re looking to live without a car, nationally ranked by CityLab because of RTS.” [Editor’s note: You can find the rankings here. Gainesville is 3rd for “small metros” but 19th overall.]

He continued, “RTS is funded between the City and the County, partially with gas tax dollars, that we argued over quite a bit, because when it’s a lot of money, you should have some friction, you should make sure you’ve worked all the issues out before you come to a conclusion… Fire services. In the metropolitan Gainesville area, we have seamless fire services because we came to agreements consistently. Property insurance… in Gainesville proper, is less than it could be because we have such tremendous fire service, and that’s because we worked together on that…

“The CRA is another great example. It took a year to get the new CRA worked out, I was chair when we worked it out, because we needed to get it right, and we did get it right. You’re gonna read about the difficult circumstances, but if you watch the meetings where we work together—for instance, I chaired the Joint Water Policy Committee between the City and the County—we don’t raise voices in there, we get a lot done… It’s a pretty darn good relationship right now; there will be friction because we do different things, so there should be some friction.”

David Walle said “The City should be looking out for the best interests of its citizens, as should the County…  The City Commission is effectively a one-dimensional City Commission, and the breadth of my work experience… in business across the state of Florida and even in other states and across the world brings to the City Commission the opportunity for more breadth… in the way we’re thinking through policy… When the City Commission is meeting with the County Commission, I will have some perspectives that simply are not there currently.

“One of the biggest tragedies in the city of Gainesville is that we don’t have a great deal of  consistency when it comes to dealing with business, business development, affordable housing… Here’s an example. Just a few years back, one of our local developers wanted to add more housing, more new esthetically-pleasing housing on University Avenue. Everybody was all for it except they didn’t quite like where the trees were, they… had to make modifications to the parking lot. The developer spent in excess of a million dollars to appease the City, brought the plan back to the City, and [they] shot it down… What the City Commission doesn’t seem to understand is that that sort of behavior hurts our reputation for those employers who would like to come to the city of Gainesville.”

District 3

David Arreola said, “If you ever want to bust the myth that any elected official that is a member of the same political party as the other elected officials are going to agree on the same thing, just watch a County/City joint meeting—and that’s a good thing.” He listed things that the City and County have partnered on: the census, the Climate Resiliency Task Force, the First Mile Last Mile shuttle program (funded in part by City and County gas tax funds), and the Metropolitan Transportation Planning Organization. “We are in agreement on moving the safety of 441 and University Avenue as the top project for this area, in terms of bicycle and pedestrian safety.”

He continued, “I’ve definitely been a commissioner that is a little hard on the County Commission, and that’s because I just have one basic tenet, and that is that we deal in mutual respect and that you do what you say you’re going to do. And there have been issues… the mutual aid agreement for fire, there was no need for that to have been ended. The GRACE Marketplace funding issue that came up last year, there was no reason for us to have been fighting at the last minute about funding that we had already thought had been agreed upon.”

Jennifer Reid said, “I’m going to agree with Mr. Ward on the statement that the media tends to only show the negativity; that’s typically what we react on… and we tend to see this tug of war… and there are lots of great times that they do get together and they make great decisions. I believe that it does take a village… it’s going to take those… partnerships with the County, with the City, with all local companies, local small businesses, the School Board, everything, for us to be a thriving community… I’m not a trained mediator, as is Ms. Saco, but I am a mom to 2 boys and the significant other of a police officer, so I think that makes me highly trained as a mediator.”

Left to right: David Walle, David Arreola, Jennifer Reid

Question 4: What 3 words would describe your definition of a perfect future Gainesville? Please only share 3 words, we don’t want to know the reasoning behind the 3 words; we just want to hear 3 words that you feel describes your perfect Gainesville. 

District 3

Jennifer Reid: United, transparent, safe.

David Arreola:  Integrity, competent, humble.

District 2

David Walle: Quality of life

Harvey Ward:  Equitable, innovative, affordable

At Large Seat 2

Reina Saco: Equitable, efficient, accessible

Paul Rhodenizer: Quality of life

Scherwin Henry: Family, prosperity, opportunity

Gabe Kaimowitz:  Liberty, equality, fraternity (“obviously including women”)