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Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Three Gainesville city board members resign

Shayna Rich, Wendell Porter and Harriet Dennell Davis stepped down from their positions in December

Update: As of Tuesday, Jan. 11, the Utility Advisory Board’s vacancy will be filled by County Commissioner Mary Alford. This article has been updated to reflect new information.

Three Gainesville board members individually sent out their resignation letters in the span of one month. 

Their letters were sent in December. The Gainesville City Commission accepted the resignations of Shayna Rich, Wendell Porter and Harriet Davis during their meeting Thursday, Jan. 6. 

Shayna Rich

Rich joined the State Housing Initiatives Partnership Affordable Housing Advisory Committee in November 2020. The Black Lives Matter movement inspired her to tackle racial housing disparities in Gainesville. 

“I have been able to see firsthand the disparities, especially for people without homes, and I wanted to give back to the community in another way,” she wrote in an email. 

The 43-year-old hospice and palliative care physician entered her term with many ambitious goals, intending to prioritize mixed-use zoning and maximize the legal ability of existing heirs to own their property. 

“I was hoping to ensure that the housing being built in our area would be focused primarily on the areas of the city that need new housing, rather than those that will be most profitable,” she wrote. She believes the Housing Committee is maintaining local racial segregation.

After months of trying to make progress in the community by working with the city and developers, Rich felt unsatisfied with the lack of initiative. She was denied cooperation from developers when advocating for mixed-use zoning and was told the committee did not have time to discuss topics that were not directly promoted by city staff.

“Businesses, groceries, health care and transportation should all be easily accessible and should not need a 30-minute bus trip,” she wrote.

She emailed her resignation letter Dec. 25. Now, Rich hopes to help with the development of a Black-owned bank in Gainesville and work with the local Democratic party to promote voting rights.

“I want to be sure that my time is maximized for making change for the people who need it, not just checking a box,” she wrote.

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Wendell Porter

Four years ago Porter was approached at a public event by the mayor and a city commissioner.

“You are going to apply for this aren't you?,” they asked. The officials wanted the UF Agricultural and Biological Engineering senior lecturer for a position on the Utility Advisory Board. 

After serving the board since 2018, 65-year-old Porter sent in his letter of resignation Dec.14.

Porter brought his 40 years in the energy field and three engineering degrees to fight for sustainable, renewable energy and a better contract for the Gainesville biomass. 

Porter taught, coordinated and advised at UF at the same time. After 17 years at the university, he also retired from his lecturer position in January. The major transition from in-person to online classes during the pandemic left him feeling burnt out and tired. 

“I transitioned my classes in 36 hours and then moved them out to an online format for the rest of the semester and then didn't get any instructions on what we're supposed to do and had to do the same thing in the Fall,” he said. 

With his term ending in March, Porter knew he would be unable to attend the last two meetings due to scheduling conflicts. Budget season was around the corner.

“Getting out a little early gives somebody a little bit of time to come in and get their feet on the ground before they get completely swamped by budget issues,” he said.

As of Tuesday, Jan. 11, the Utility Advisory Board’s vacancy will be filled by County Commissioner Mary Alford.

Porter plans to work with The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People to write grants — hoping to help low-income families with their energy bills as well as their transition to renewable energy.

Harriet Dennell Davis

Two months after graduating from the Airline Academy of Daytona Beach in 2021, 44-year-old Flight Attendant Trainee Davis entered her term on the Gainesville Alachua County Regional Airport Authority.

She served from July to December overseeing budget and policy for airport operations, according to the GACRAA website.

In her Dec. 20 resignation email, Davis notified the board that she would be moving out of Gainesville.

She felt the city position required a full-time commitment she would not be able to provide. 

Her experience in local government gave her valuable insight into the internal operations of airports; however, she plans to follow her dream of becoming an inflight crew member in the future.

“I'm very thankful for the city, and county officials for letting me be part of such an important part of a great organization that gives the residents, and visitors a choice of the way they can travel by air,” she wrote in an email.

Contact Melanie at mpena@alligator.org . Follow her on Twitter @melaniebombino_ .

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