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Tuesday, June 25, 2024

Gainesville Commissioner Jeanna Mastrodicasa said she got involved in city politics to help better the relationship between Gainesville and UF.

"I think there are a lot of issues in Gainesville that arise because the university is here," said Mastrodicasa, who is also UF's assistant vice president for student affairs.

Her ties to UF aren't unusual for the city. Four of the seven city commissioners have worked for UF, and university students sit on city boards as adjuncts and members.

The commissioners employed by the university are Mastrodicasa, Scherwin Henry, Rick Bryant and, formerly, Craig Lowe.

Former Student Senate President Robert Agrusa plans to run for the at-large District 2 commission seat in January.

Candidate Thomas Hawkins Jr. also has a degree from UF, his Web site said. Another candidate for the seat, Armando R. Grundy, said he is an SFCC student looking to attend UF in the spring or summer.

Mastrodicasa said she thinks it makes sense to see so many university employees involved in politics.

"The University of Florida is the largest employer in Alachua County and Gainesville," she said. "So if you take a large enough slice of people, you're probably going to find a UF employee at some level."

Last July, a board started meeting that might make students more involved, too.

UF senior Alan Rezaei is chairman of the Student Community Relations Advisory Board, the only board in Gainesville that is chaired by a student and reserves voting positions for students.

"Right now we're a brand new advisory," he said. "We're trying to put all the issues and ideas we can think of into one big pile."

Mastrodicasa said she has already brought issues before the board involving sustainability and over-occupancy in single-family homes.

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Large groups of unrelated tenants sometimes live in single-family Gainesville neighborhoods.

"By serving on this board I'm hoping they'll represent whoever their constituency is, go back, get some suggestions and maybe think of something we've never thought of before," she said.

Student involvement in city government is nothing new, she said, but it sometimes depends on what current issues are.

UF's Student Government assigns people to work with the city, she said, and their involvement depends on the administration.

Henry said that issues such as parking, noise violations, landlord-tenant issues, underage drinking and roam towing have been attracting student interest lately.

"I think there have been a number of issues the City Commission has dealt and is dealing with that affect the students, and I think you are now getting a number of students to realize that they need to have a voice in actions that affect them," he said.

He said he also credits the university administration with being more involved in the city than previous ones.

"I feel the city has always wanted the university as an ally," he said, "but different administrations have had different ideas, different wants."

As one of the largest employers in the city or county, Henry said he feels that UF should have a partnership role in city government.

Lately the university has taken on that role in agreeing to create an eastside campus near Waldo Road and helping with city government to bring in more jobs with biotech firms, he said.

Henry, who graduated UF in 1983, now works as a scientist in its biotechnology lab. He said his own ties to the university don't influence his politics.

"When you become a city commissioner, you can't be totally biased toward the University of Florida," he said.

A Gainesville native, Henry said he ran for the commission to give back to the city he grew up in.

"I will say that my superiors here at the university were very encouraging and accommodating in allowing me to run for city commission," he said.

Bryant, another commissioner and assistant director of admissions at UF, said his job at the university didn't have as much effect on his decision to run for office as his feelings on employment and youth programs.

Still, he said, he is pleased with the university's role and thinks students should become more involved in the city.

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