At the October 19 School Board Meeting, Member Rob Hyatt read a proclamation recognizing October of 2021 as LGBTQ+ History Month. The proclamation, which can be read here, made only one mention of history (“LGBTQ+ Americans have and continue to make great and lasting contributions to our society;”) and mainly addressed harassment and bullying.
Issues with land purchase
During board member announcements, Member Tina Certain said she wanted to revisit something from the October 5 meeting, when Certain made some comments in support of approving the Internal Auditor position. She said that at the time, Member Gunnar Paulson had said some of her statements were not true, so she wanted to give board members documents to support the points she had made. Alachua Chronicle requested copies of those documents that evening, and Certain declined to give them to us; she directed us to the school district’s public records email address. We submitted that request at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, and it still hasn’t been fulfilled.
It was difficult to follow her comments without the documents, but Certain referred to the board’s purchase of property on NW 143rd Street in 2020. “That transaction, like it or not, it went straight up off the rails.”
Certain said that in her comments at the October 5 school board meeting, she said that the “cone of silence” was violated. The first document she referred to was RFQ 1920, which deals with commercial real estate services. The “cone of silence” refers to a period of time after an RFQ or RFP is issued through the date when it is considered by the board, during which employees of the companies submitting bids are not supposed to have contact with board members or employees of the school district.
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Certain said her documents showed “numerous” instances of correspondence during that period between “an entity that submitted a proposal”; she also said that the company that was awarded the contract did not submit a proposal during the period when the RFQ was open. She appears to be referring to Dan Drotos and Mike Ryals, who were with Bosshardt Realty before moving to Colliers International. Certain said, “They were with one company; they left that company and went to another company, and then we had to do a lot of finagling to try to get that in there.”
The school board entered into a 3-year contract with Colliers International, and Certain said her comments on October 5 had referred to a lack of any clause in the contract that gave the school board a way to exit the contract, with or without cause. “I asked our attorney about that, and I was told one thing, but then it comes back that’s not the case.” She said the City of Gainesville’s contract with Colliers International allows the City to exit the contract with or without cause with 30 days’ notice.
Certain said that since Colliers International violated the cone of silence, the school board should never have entered into a contract with the company. Certain also asserted that “representation with this contract is still not solidified.” She said she had asked Paul White at the time “how were [Colliers] representing us,” and at the time, she said she got different answers from the board’s attorney and from then-Superintendent Karen Clarke, but she said her document shows that Colliers was “really working both sides of the fence. They were saying they represented the school district, but they were doing everything in their power to increase the value of the land for the seller… I contended back then that we paid too much for the land; I requested that we have a special meeting so we could share this information with you all, but that was denied” because she couldn’t get 3 votes.
Certain said this sort of thing is why they need an Internal Auditor: “there are supposed to be guardrails… and clearly that didn’t work this time… We have the fiduciary duty to the taxpayers… The tone at the top has to be such that if there’s a policy and our staff members violate that policy, that they’re swiftly dealt with, discipline-wise, and that if there’s a vendor, that we do what we say on this RFQ form right here, that their contract could be voided, and they can’t do business with us under this particular guideline because they violated that policy.”
Certain added that staff members gave the board a ranking of the real estate services companies and told them the companies were interviewed: “They weren’t interviewed. They only interviewed one of them. They didn’t interview Front Street, and then he comes back and they say, ‘Oh, that was a typo in there.’… Those are things that an Internal Auditor would catch.”
Paulson said he disagreed with “throwing our staff under the bus… I’ll defend our employees… You don’t do that.” Certain turned her light on to respond, and Chair Leanetta McNealy called on her, even though Paulson said he wasn’t done. Certain said, “If our staff acts inappropriately, it has to be called out.” She added that the sales people “submitted information that was not public to an appraiser to raise the price of the property. That’s documented. It’s in the appraisal report.”
Superintendent Carlee Simon said, “When we proposed the auditor, we do have some concerns about… in our departments, we have a considerable amount of cleaning up that needs to be done, as far as compliance, making sure that we weren’t having double-dipping in federal funding, and making sure that we are spending money appropriately.”
Redistricting based on the 2020 census
John Gilreath of DRMP presented some options for redistricting, which needs to be done following the 2020 census. The new districts cannot exclude current board members from their districts, and districts must be compact and contiguous. The main guiding criterion is total population. The October 19 meeting is the first reading, with a public hearing planned for November 16 and a final reading on December 7.
The current districts are not balanced, with Districts 2 and 4 having a much lower population than the other three districts.
Option 1 works from the current districts to balance the population in them. The black lines show the current districts, and the biggest change is to District 1, which is cut nearly in half in land area.
Option 2 is similar to the County’s districts, where each district has some urban and some rural areas, with a layout like “spokes on a bicycle.”
Here you can see the two options side by side.
Gilreath said Option 2 has more diverse voting districts (“diversity” here refers to the mix of voters living inside and outside the City of Gainesville) and more ability to accommodate future growth without becoming unbalanced, but it splits municipal boundaries in some areas. Option 2 also has significant shifts from current districts. Although this map is similar to the County’s districts, the school board can’t match the County’s districts because it would exclude some of the board members from their districts. Those boundaries could be adopted in the future, depending on where future board members live.
Gilreath briefly discussed the option of moving to single-voter districts. That would require a referendum on the ballot, so he recommended that the board go ahead and adopt new at-large districts for the 2022 election (redistricting can only occur in odd-numbered years).
During public comment, State Senate candidate Rodney Long said he opposed single-member districts: “In Gainesville, we’ve been very successful in having people of color elected to the Gainesville City Commission, as well as this board. If you were to go to the single-member voter option here, I would be concerned that even though District 4 now has about 40% of the people in that district now, people of color live all across Alachua County, and I’ll be concerned of whether or not you would have a minority access district that would ensure at least one African-American would be elected to this board.” McNealy routinely asks people to put on a mask while speaking, but Long removed his for the whole time he was speaking to the board. McNealy also routinely cuts people off after 2 minutes, but Long had some back-and-forth with the board attorney and the consultant and was at the podium for over 5 minutes. Even after the board attorney told McNealy that Long was over 2 minutes, she allowed him to finish his statement.
Certain made a motion to adopt Option 2, and the motion was seconded by Hyatt. He said the single-member district option shouldn’t be dismissed out of hand but could be looked at in the future, “and I certainly would agree with Commissioner Long that any limitation of minority access, to me, that’s a non-starter. Can’t happen, won’t happen, period… Future boards, during odd-numbered years, can revisit this… If it’s not working, they could do that… If the decision was made to have single-member districts… that would be a reason to do [redraw the districts] prior to the next census.”
Certain said that moving toward a map that looks more like the County’s “would clear up some confusion that arose back in June… I favor at-large districts… I think it increases representation and it increases voter participation… Every citizen in Alachua County gets to vote for all five of us. If we move to a single-member district, you only get to vote for one person, and that’s based on where you live… I do favor Option 2… I like the slices in the sense that it’s familiar to the County, but each member would represent an area of our county that is in the City limits as well as extended out into the rural areas.”
Member Mildred Russell said she liked Option 2 “because it just looks more balanced than the other option, it just seems like it would work better for the county.”
Hyatt said he would be interested in some data and discussion with colleagues and citizens in counties that have adopted single-member districts. “Let’s talk to some folks… that are in that situation and see if we can get a little more information as we go forward.”
The motion to adopt Option 2 passed unanimously.
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