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Tuesday, July 05, 2022

Gainesville city commissioners voted 6-0 with one absent at Thursday’s meeting to remove the criminal conviction history checkbox from city employment applications.

The proposal follows the Ban the Box movement calling for employers to consider the hiring of candidates based on job skills and qualifications instead of past convictions.

"This is a great step forward," Mayor Ed Braddy said. "We’ve been discussing this for a long time, and it’s about time we act on it."

Gainesville will continue conducting background checks on candidates before offering employment.

If human resources obtains negative information during its hiring decision process, it will make individual assessments, considering the age of the offense and its relevance to the job, according to a background screening process sheet by the City of Gainesville’s Human Resources.

"We’ve been discussing it for a while and thought it was the right thing to do," Human Resources Department Head Cheryl McBride said after the decision, adding the change should take effect in the applications by the end of the week.

"Let’s encourage people to seek job opportunities," Braddy said. "Let’s encourage people that no matter their background, no matter their experience, we want them to look at Gainesville as a city of opportunity where … they can find employment."

Here’s what else happened at Thursday’s meeting:

Medical Marijuana Dispensaries

Toward the end of Thursday’s meeting, the City Commission approved an ordinance amending the Land Development Code to allow medical marijuana dispensaries in certain city zoning districts.

The ordinance comes after the Compassionate Medical Cannabis Act of 2014 that Florida Gov. Rick Scott signed into law, which allows certain physicians to order cannabis with low-THC, the active ingredient of cannabis, for patients with cancer symptoms or physical medical conditions characterized by symptoms of seizures or severe and persistent muscle spasms.

Mayoral hopeful Donald Shepherd Sr. said at the Nov. 5 commission meeting that he opposes the ordinance. He said it would allow more marijuana into the state.

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Utility Advisory Board

The City Commission approved the creation of a Gainesville Regional Utilities advisory board.

The board will consist of seven members with certain qualifications appointed by the city commission to advise the commission on its governance of the city utilities.

The members will meet requirements the commission deems relevant.

Commissioner Helen Warren raised concern with the ordinance’s wording, as it says the board "shall be" members who meet the requirements.

She suggested changing the wording to "membership may include" in the event someone cannot be found to meet one of the requirements.

Shepherd supported Warren’s recommendations, but Gainesville resident Jim Konish mocked the notion, questioning why "any commissioner would not embrace the idea of expertise."

Commissioner Harvey Budd said the ordinance can be amended later if needed.

At the last commission meeting, GRU General Manager Ed Bielarski Jr. said the board would be beneficial to GRU.

Utility Governance Alternatives

A frustrated and passionate commission continued its discussion on possibly creating a separate board with authority over GRU.

In past weeks, commissioners have discussed the potential creation of a board to take control of GRU from the commission.

On Thursday, commissioners decided to work more on a potential charter amendment to organize such a board during a workshop on Nov. 30.

Warren raised issue with a drafted bill by state Rep. Keith Perry, who proposed the creation of a similar board.

Warren said the decision to make this board should be up to the city commission.

Commissioner Charles Goston said it’s important to inform voters that the creation of such a board, both the one suggested by the city and the one in Perry’s bill, would not lower utility bills.

Contact Hunter Williamson at hwilliamson@alligator.org and follow him on Twitter @hunterewilliam

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