Gainesville officially switched over to its new commission on Thursday morning with a swearing-in ceremony at the Historic Thomas Center.
Mayor Harvey Ward and commissioners Ed Book, Bryan Eastman and Casey Willits will sit behind the dais later today. A loaded agenda will greet the new commissioners starting out, with items on local zoning and charter officer positions. Alachua County also set a Feb. 14 timeline for the city to either sell or keep its trunked radio system.
The new commission also had one agenda item to handle at the Thomas Center, electing a new mayor pro tem. The commission selected and confirmed Commissioner Desmon Duncan-Walker to the role, with Commissioner Reina Saco absent from the vote.
Ward now starts his third term on the city commission, ending his time as a commissioner with a successful mayoral run against Ed Bielarski in November.
Ward said the city still had many hard issues to tackle. He highlighted homelessness, pedestrian deaths and gun violence as at the top. He noted that the city can’t become indifferent to these issues.
“They’re horrific issues if we think on them for too long,” Ward said. “So many of us, quite understandably, don’t.”
The commission that just dispersed, Ward said, was probably the most experienced that Gainesville has had, with four term-limited seats. In contrast, he noted that the incoming commission is probably the least experienced when looking at time served in elected office.
However, Ward said he was confident of the work the group could accomplish.
“But this commission is among the most talent rich and diverse political bodies you will encounter,” Ward said. “Our strength lies in the diversity of our personal stories, of our backgrounds and upbringings, of our various paths to the dais and the constituencies we represent.”
Judge Denise R. Ferrero administered Ward’s oath of office.
Book takes over for Ward as the District 2 commissioner, representing northwest Gainesville. He ran a close campaign against James Ingle to secure the seat in November.
He said setting the example with civility and aligning the city’s financials topped his goals. Book also said that his district only contains a quarter of the Gainesville’s population, but he would work to alleviate problems wherever they might rise.
“Some of our greatest needs and challenges are not in District 2,” Book said. “I’ll have a keen focus on issues for District 2, but I will be responsive and representative to every member of our community regardless of geographic boundaries.”
Judge Walter M. Green administered Book’s oath of office.
Eastman replaces Adrian Hayes-Santos on the dais after reaching his term limit. He ran against only one other candidate, Christian Newman, in the elections and won in the August primaries.
Heading into his term, Eastman said the commission needed to lead on housing and issues the state has failed to address, like global warming and water depletion.
“They know, living in the state of Florida, that the state government ain’t looking out for them,” Eastman said. “And they want to see their local government address these issues—to know that someone, anyone, is looking out for their kids.”
Judge Craig C. DeThomasis administered Eastman’s oath of office.
Willits won the District 3 seat, previously held by the term-limited Arreola. After missing a win by less than 20 votes in August, Willits earned his spot in November against Dejeon Cain.
Willits said the commission must stand up for people in Gainesville who are made so small as to be insignificant by the majority. He included pedestrians and LGBTQ people as examples and recalled his advocacy start in high school.
“Here in Gainesville, in this city, too often some of us are encouraged to shrink ourselves down until we can be ignored or can easily be forced to disappear,” Willits said.
He listed the names of several pedestrians who had died in Gainesville over the past several years and said the city needed to address its road problem.
Judge Craig C. DeThomasis administered Willits’ oath of office.
Poe, Arreola and Hayes-Santos held their last meeting on Dec. 16, giving a farewell to the city as officials. Read how they reflected on their time at City Hall.