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Monday, April 15, 2024

Alachua County Commission asks community to rewrite ceasefire resolution, discuss Florence landfill next steps

The resolution didn’t pass with Commissioners split 2-2

Despite severe weather warnings across Alachua County, the County Commission met Tuesday to discuss a ceasefire resolution and provide an update on the Florence landfill special use permit.

On the agenda was a resolution urging the Biden administration to support “an immediate, permanent ceasefire,” to the Israel-Hamas war, and an increase of humanitarian aid to both Israel and Gaza. The resolution would be the first of its kind passed by a Floridian city or county. 

County Commission Chair Mary Alford entered the chamber wearing a shirt bearing symbols of peace: a dove holding an olive branch, and “ceasefire” written in bold, white letters. 

However, with the commission split 2-2 in the absence of Commissioner Charles Chestnut IV, the resolution didn’t pass. Instead, a substitution motion was adopted, calling Jewish and Palestinian groups to work together in writing a new resolution. The board said it would reconsider any new resolution at its next meeting, or whenever it is drafted. 

Later in the meeting, after being interrupted by tornado warnings, the board offered an update on the extension of Florence landfill’s special use permit. 

The Ceasefire Debate

Local organization Jewish Voice for Peace drafted the initial resolution, which was edited by county staff. 

JVP Representatives attended and expressed their support for the document and the need for a ceasefire. 

“It is important that we use our voices today to put pressure on our current administration to stop the bombing of civilians in Gaza,” said Aviva Asher, a JVP member. “We must stand together for justice no matter the circumstance. We must do our part, no matter how small.”

However, after a lengthy period of commissioner and public comment, the board remained divided, with Commissioners Alford and Anna Prizzia in favor of adoption, and commissioners Marihelen Wheeler and Ken Cornell in opposition.

The split rested on Cornell and Wheeler’s concern that the resolution would raise divisions within the community. Cornell cited a letter written to him by Rabbi Berl Goldman, who runs the Lubavitch Chabad Jewish Student and Community Center at UF, and conversations with members of the Jewish community as the basis of his position. 

In his letter, Goldman wrote, “The ceasefire resolution does not represent the views of the vast majority of the Jewish community. We cannot support it.”

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“Now, that is a very strong sentence for me,” Cornell said. “Because I would like for the local Jewish community and the local Palestinian community to jointly support something that this board could recommend.”

Cornell then proposed a substitute motion, which would defer a vote to allow Jewish congregations, JVP, the Palestinian community and other concerned parties to rewrite, and find agreeable wording for the resolution.

“I do think that our community is capable of putting words on paper that both sides locally could support,” he said. 

Despite her reservation of having faith-based groups drafting resolutions, Alford voted in favor of the compromise. With Prizzia also in support, the substitute motion passed 4-0.

The responsibility now rests with Rabbi Goldman, JVP and other parties to rework the resolution, Cornell said. No meeting has been scheduled as of Wednesday night to address the rewriting process. 

Florence Landfill

In an update to the commission, Deputy County Manager Carl Smart announced Florence Recycling and Disposal has given notice to the county that it intends to make use of a four-year legislative extension of its special land use permit. 

The extension uses an emergency state statute and grants automatic approval of the permit that allows Florence to operate its landfill in residential southeast Gainesville. 

However, the extension can be revoked if Florence is proven to be in significant violation of the terms of its permit. Alachua County’s Environmental Protection Department, working with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, is gathering samples and testing the area for potential groundwater contamination.

If the findings prove significant, the board would have the authority to reverse the state’s extension, seeing as special use permits in Alachua County are hinged on the condition that “the proposed use shall not adversely affect the health, safety, and welfare of the public,” according to the county’s growth management website.

The board is waiting until the release of EPD data to hold a quasi-judicial public hearing so it can rule on the landfill. 

The EPD data is expected to be available by the first week of February, and no hearings were scheduled as of Wednesday evening. The board will reconvene Jan. 22 with a joint, special meeting with the Gainesville City Commission, and a regular meeting Jan. 23. 

Contact Henry DeAngelis at Follow him on X @hadeangelis.  

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Henry DeAngelis

Henry DeAngelis is a third-year journalism major and the City and County Commission reporter for the Alligator. In his free time, you can find him on the basketball court or deep in a good book.

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