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Monday, February 06, 2023

Gainesville City Commission grants interim charter officers permanent roles, fails to repeal commissioner salary increases

Vote surprised both commissioners, charter officers

Surprising several commissioners, the Gainesville City Commission voted Thursday to start negotiations to make three temporary charter officers permanent after over a year of restructuring.  

The officers — city manager Cynthia Curry, city attorney Daniel Nee and Gainesville Regional Utilities general manager Tony Cunningham — served in interim positions prior to Thursday night’s vote. They were hired in 2021 after a series of resignations from several city employees following allegations of gender discrimination against the past city manager Lee Feldman. 

Commissioner Desmon Duncan-Walker originally raised the motion to hire Curry despite it not being on the agenda for the afternoon. Commissioner Reina Saco then asked Duncan-Walker to include Nee and Cunningham as well, and Duncan-Walker agreed. 

“We had a ship that really was almost sinking,” Duncan-Walker said. “All of them have contributed to helping that ship not sink.” 

In a separate motion that failed, the commission also discussed repealing 91% commissioner salary increases from last December, an item recently elected Book brought up. The commissioners currently make about $37,000, with their new salaries of $71,000 set to go into effect in October.

The choice to bring the charter officer vote to the table came from unrest within city staff, Duncan-Walker said. She was worried about morale, she said, especially when the commission voted two weeks ago to look into a $250,000 search process for the positions this year. 

A job search for three roles already filled by successful interim officers for over a year didn’t make sense to her, and it didn’t make sense to city staffers, Duncan-Walker said. 

The three charter officers were in attendance Thursday. Curry didn’t expect her job to come into the discussion that afternoon, she said. But the choice came as a relief. 

“This gives me a chance to exhale,” Curry said. 

The majority of Duncan-Walker’s fellow commissioners agreed with her in a 6-1 vote, with Commissioner Casey Willits in dissent. Mayor Harvey Ward will start to negotiate a permanent salary with the three city officers.

Willits argued he and the other new commissioners, Ed Book and Bryan Eastman, hadn’t been given a chance to solicit feedback from staffers and the public. He felt blindsided because he was under the impression the commission was going to use the search firm based on the vote two weeks ago, Willits said. 

“I was instructed by this commission that the way this is going to work, I am going to have, hopefully, a stack of applications,” he said. 

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Two Gainesville residents agreed with Willits during public comment and said the vote shouldn’t have been brought up so suddenly without the chance for the public to weigh in. Another said he had confidence in the commissioners’ decision. 

The vote to repeal salary increases failed 2-4, with Book and Duncan-Walker the only commissioners voting to repeal. The others brought up several concerns voiced in previous meetings last year, namely the concept of the commission being a full-time job. 

Commissioner Reina Saco also discussed making the commission a more viable job for less privileged members of the community. Single parents and disadvantaged people of color should be able to represent their communities without worrying about their financial stability, she said.

Ward, who initially voted against the salary increase last winter, said the other commissioners convinced him to change his opinion. He had the future of the commission to consider, he said. 

“I have had dozens of conversations with folks who would have been great commissioners,” he said. “Faced with what they know about this job and faced with that low salary, they say ‘I can’t make that happen.’” 

The vote marks the second time the current commission has attempted to repeal an ordinance made by last year’s slate of commissioners.

Contact Siena at sduncan@alligator.org. Follow Siena on Twitter @SienaDuncan.

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Siena Duncan

Siena Duncan is a sophomore journalism major and the graduate school beat reporter for the Alligator. When she's not out reporting, she's typically bothering her friends about podcasts or listening to Metric on repeat. 


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