In the first of eight public forums before the March 20 election, City Commission candidates, except for District 1 incumbent Charles Goston, said they felt the commission should maintain control of Gainesville Regional Utilities.

This is one of many issues four out of the five candidates running for City Commission addressed in the forum hosted Monday night at the Gainesville-Alachua County Association of Realtors Conference Center. Both candidates running for At-Large Seat 1, Gail Johnson and incumbent Harvey Budd, were present as well as District 1 candidates Gigi Simmons and Goston. Tyra (Ty Loudd) Edwards was not in attendance.

The candidates shared their thoughts with about 30 residents in attendance on affordable housing, economic development, Gainesville Regional Utilities governance, the zero-waste mission and primary issues they would tackle if elected.

Johnson said her three priorities in office would be building affordable housing, connecting communities and supporting local businesses. The At-Large 1 candidate would also like to invite new people to participate in local politics, she said.

“I bring a really unique perspective with also being able to communicate with people and bring different people to the table,” she said.

Johnson’s opponent, Budd, said that poverty is the root of many of the problems that plague Gainesville. To combat this, Budd hopes to create more after-school programs for children and apprenticeship programs for adults interested in learning trade skills. He also said that he has a plan to build affordable housing and finance it without making it a burden on local taxpayers.

“My design for affordable housing and the financing of affordable housing will be one of the crowning achievements I hope to achieve on this commission,” he said.

For District 1, Simmons said she would also address the lack of affordable housing and jobs in the area that pay a good wage.

“We need to have wages that people in this city can have a sustainable life,” she said.

If re-elected, Goston said he will continue to focus on attracting businesses to East Gainesville. He currently has plans to bring a Golden Corral buffet restaurant and 24/7 health center to District 1, he said.

Candidates also talked about their stance on the GRU governance bill that will appear on the ballot in November. HB 759 will let voters decide if the City Commission will remain in control of GRU or if a newly formed independent board will take over.

All of the present candidates were opposed to the bill except Goston, who believes the decision should be left to the voters.

“This was a citizens-led initiative, and I support voters right to decide,” he said. “Municipal utilities of our size and complexity that have affordable electricity costs have separate governing boards.”

Pat Bartlett, president of the Gainesville Kiwanis Club, said each candidate brought unique and applicable experience. She liked how Johnson emphasized the importance of including everyone’s voices when it comes time to make decisions.

“It’s so obvious that all of us must come to the table and talk about what’s important to us and come up with an agreement for all of us,” she said.

Next candidate forums:

2:30 p.m. Sunday

  • Hosted By: The Alachua County Democratic Black Caucus
  • Location: Downtown Gainesville Headquarters Library, 401 E. University Ave.

6 p.m. Monday.

  • Hosted By: African American Accountability Alliance Political Committee
  • Location: Alachua County Health Department, Thomas Coward Auditorium, 224 SE 24th St.

2 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 20

  • Hosted By: The Community Coalition for Older Adults
  • Location: Senior Recreation Center, 5701 NW 34th Blvd.

Contact Jessica Giles at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter at @jessica_giles_

Jessica Giles is a junior journalism major and Commission Reporter for The Alligator. Starting as a copyeditor in the Spring 2017, she now covers all city and county affairs. She'll never turn down a cup of coffee or the opportunity to pet a beagle.