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Thursday, February 29, 2024

Gainesville’s ‘lame-duck’ period, and how it affects officials until January

Commissioners prioritize what they can

With general elections rapidly approaching Nov. 8, Gainesville’s political scene will welcome new faces as a majority of the Gainesville City Commission may be replaced come January. 

Most of the seven commissioners will reach the end of their term limits in January. Term-limited officials include commissioners David Arreola, Adrian Hayes-Santos, Harvey Ward and Mayor Lauren Poe. 

Ward is a frontrunner to replace Poe in the November mayoral runoff, taking 27.94% of the vote in the primary. He’s facing off against former Gainesville Regional Utilities manager Ed Bielarski.

While ending terms is a regular part of any political cycle, a potential majority vote of commissioners terming out hasn’t occurred in decades. 

This “lame-duck” period — when elected officials are still active but won’t be re-elected — forces commissioners to prioritize final pieces of legislation to cement their legacy.

Danielle Stoughton, a 21-year-old political science senior, said terming out allows officials to target political actions that would otherwise jeopardize their elections.

“You don’t have to worry about the reelection,” Stoughton said. “You can push for policies you think are really important.”

In the past months, many lame-duck officials prioritized affordable housing legislation. Most recently, the city passed the elimination of exclusionary zoning Oct. 17, making it the first Florida city to do so.

The ordinance, which passed 4-3, would allow multi-family complexes to be built in areas that were zoned for single-family homes  prior. Ward was the only commissioner out of the four termed-out officials who voted against the policy. 

The ordinance received large criticism from city residents, the Alachua County Commission and the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity before its approval.

While passed by the city, the ordinance can still be legally challenged by state bodies or residents before it's approved.

Adrian Hayes-Santos, District 4 city commissioner, said sweeping policies like single-family zoning elimination create a better long-term future for the city.

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“This commission is focused on passing progressive policy that will make our city a better place,” Hayes-Santos said. “Not just focusing on what will happen in the next year or two.”

Following the vote, terming-out commissioners’ priorities vary widely. For some, there are still new policies that need drafting, especially in regard to affordable housing.

David Arreola, District 3 city commissioner, said inclusionary zoning — which would require 10% of all new housing developments to require affordable units — was his focus in office.

Without an aggressive passage of the policy, Arreola said a new commission would be reluctant to vote on inclusionary zoning given public dissent against previous housing plans.

“The next commission is going to sit on it,” Arreola said. “They’re going to talk it to death.” 

Others look to revise existing projects across the city.

Harvey Ward, District 2 city commissioner and mayoral candidate, said he hoped to advance projects looking to replace energy inefficient residential air conditioners and other appliances for homeowners.

The funding for replacements already exists, Ward said, but the actual programs need streamlining.

“We’re in a position where we can help people lower their utility bills by helping them get more energy-efficient appliances,” Ward said.

The position of mayor, as well as commissioner seats for Districts 2, 3 and 4, will have run-off elections. Only the District 4 seat currently has a clear victor: Bryan Eastman, a National Democratic Training Committee trainer.

The District 2 candidates are → Santa Fe College Police Chief Ed Book and electrician James Ingle. The District 3 candidates are former Alachua County Affordable Housing Committee Chair Dejeon Cain and UF College of Medicine residency program coordinator Casey Willits, and the mayoral race is between Ward and Bielarski.

After the elections Nov. 8, newly elected commissioners will begin transitioning into their new roles.

City staff will provide new officials with information and resources in regard to their office, current city issues and previous decisions the commission made.

Mayor Lauren Poe said acclimating oncoming commissioners to their new positions is a large priority for city staff.

“We’ll be working to make sure that the next commission is set up and ready to take over on their first day,” Poe said.

Contact Aidan at Follow him on Twitter @aidandisto.

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Aidan Bush

Aidan Bush is a third-year journalism major and the Spring 2024 Engagement Managing Editor of The Alligator. In his free time, he likes to listen to music and go kayaking.

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