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Saturday, September 25, 2021

New equal opportunity director elected

Welcome aboard. Gainesville has a new equal opportunity

director.

Cecil E. Howard, 50, was unanimously voted for at a city commission meeting Tuesday. Howard was one of six candidates the city commission invited for an on-site interview, which lasted two days.

A national search was conducted to find the new director.

Howard said he felt enthused when the motion passed, a proposal formally initiated by Commissioner Scherwin Henry that would unanimously declare Howard as the new director.

"I felt relieved," Howard said. "I had never gone through a grueling two-day interview." "The process, however, was very thorough."

The Equal Opportunity Committee ensures equal access to employment, housing and credit in Gainesville.

Mayor Pegeen Hanrahan, the commissioners and charter officers interviewed the applicants.

"I was thoroughly impressed by all six candidates," Hanrahan said. "They have all been stellar."

At 4:40 p.m., the first round of voting began. The commission was presented a ballot with the slate of candidates to select from. However, three candidates remained: Howard, with seven votes; Cheryl Sealz-Gonzalez, with six votes; and Yara Cull, with five votes.

The commission, five minutes later, entered another round of voting. Howard remained on top with six votes. The other candidates each had four votes.

City Commissioner Henry, at about 4:48 p.m., proposed his motion.

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Henry said that each of the candidates were excellent, adding that he didn't receive any arrogant answers throughout the interviews.

City Commissioner Jack Donovan was also enthused about the interview process.

"A very impressive group of candidates," he said. "It's been a pleasure to interview each candidate."

Eventually, after three rounds of voting, Yara Cull was indicated as an alternative candidate for the position.

Hanrahan said an alternative candidate was needed just in case the commission decided to reevaluate its selection.

"A consensus candidate is most important," Hanrahan said.

However, one Gainesville resident disagreed with the commission's choice.

Walter Willard, 51, said he would rather see a woman get the position.

"I was certain it would have been a female candidate," he said.

Willard said he found it suspicious how Howard was the only candidate at the meeting, adding he might have already known he was going to win.

Willard said he didn't get a chance to meet each candidate, because the city did a horrible job publicizing the process.

The interview process took place on Monday and Tuesday.

Howard, of Tallahassee, says he plans to move to Gainesville soon, where he plans on analyzing the failures and successes of the previous director.

As a Seminole, Howard joked about being a Gators fan."Once a Seminole, always a Seminole," he said.

Howard graduated from Florida State University in 1981 with a bachelor's degree in political science and received his law degree from Texas Southern University in 1984. Howard is also married to Priscilla Howard and has four kids.

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