On the Nov. 3 ballot, Gainesville voters will see four proposed amendments to the charter of the city of Gainesville. This is the result of the work of the volunteers appointed by the City Commission to the city Charter Review Commission (CRC).
To give you time to fully consider these amendments and make an informed vote, here is a brief explanation of each:
“Shall the city charter be amended to change the name of the charter officer ‘Clerk of the Commission’ to ‘City Clerk’?”
This change is to make the clerk’s title consistent with how other city clerks in municipalities throughout Florida are titled. It does not change the clerk’s duties or responsibilities nor how that office interacts with the commission or the public.
“Shall the city charter be amended in order to provide equitable access for the construction of trails or transportation corridors on city-owned land designated conservation and located within the Hogtown Creek watershed?”
The current city charter prohibits any funds to be used for construction of paved surfaces along the Hogtown Creek watershed. This amendment will allow public funds to improve existing trailways in accordance with Americans with Disabilities Act regulations.
It also will satisfy some of the goals of the 2012 Recreation Master Plan that seek to provide better connectivity, safe trailways and to serve a diverse population, including better wheelchair access throughout the city’s greenways. Any maintenance and improvements to the city’s parks and recreation offerings is already part of the city budget, which is supplemented by the Wild Spaces and Public Places half-cent sales tax.
“Shall the city charter be amended to limit the authority of the City Commission to dispose of the city’s natural gas, wastewater or telecommunications utility, in a manner that materially reduces the capacity of that system to produce, distribute or treat, without prior approval of a majority of the qualified electors of the city?”
The phrase “dispose of” refers to the selling of Gainesville Regional Utilities assets. The proposed amendment adds in those services now offered by GRU that did not exist when the charter was first written.
Over the decades it had been an oversight to not add in natural gas, wastewater or telecommunications services. This amendment protects those services just as it does GRU’s electric services from sale without a majority vote of the citizens of Gainesville.
“Shall the city charter be amended to insert a preamble statement that affirms the charter and expresses the values of the people?”
Preambles are found in most other cities’ charters and are recommended by the National Civic League’s Model City Charter.
The proposed preamble to the City Charter reads:
“We, the people of the City of Gainesville, under the constitution and laws of the State of Florida, value the benefits of local self-government and an honest and accountable commission-management government, and hereby affirm this charter. By this action, we increase citizen participation and promote equal opportunity of broad cultural diversity of the city and inclusiveness that focuses on justice and equality. Further, we affirm the values of representative democracy, professional management, and environmental stewardship.”
Our final meeting, via Zoom, was this past April where the CRC decided unanimously on these four amendments. In May they were reviewed by the full City Commission, who then voted unanimously to put them on your November ballot. Passage of any of these will not impact your taxes or the city’s budget.
On behalf of the Charter Review Commission, it has been an honor to serve our community in this important capacity. Each member took this year-long assignment seriously and gave each recommendation careful consideration.
We thank all who presented to the CRC to provide us the critical background information needed to formulate these recommendations. Voters, it is now up to you to make the final decision.
Mary Lou Hildreth was chairwoman of the city CRC, which also included Walter Barry, Richard “Kali” Blount, Susan Bottcher, Jorge Campos, Cynthia Chestnut, Robert Cohen, Crystal Goodison (vice chair), Scherwin Henry and Jeremiah Tattersall.