School rezoning, GRU issues crop up at League of Women Voters candidate forum 

(From left) Gainesville City Commission candidates Michael Perkins, Desmon Duncan-Walker, James Ingle and Reed Johnson at Sunday's 2024 Primary Election Candidate Forum.
(From left) Gainesville City Commission candidates Michael Perkins, Desmon Duncan-Walker, James Ingle and Fareed Johnson at Sunday's 2024 Primary Election Candidate Forum.
Courtesy of UF

The League of Women Voters of Alachua County and UF Bob Graham Center for Public Service hosted local and state candidates on Sunday for its annual forum.  

The Gainesville City Commission, Alachua County Board of County Commissioners and School Board of Alachua County seats will be determined on August 20. You can watch the full forum on YouTube.  

School Board 

Become A Member

Mainstreet does not have a paywall, but pavement-pounding journalism is not free. Join your neighbors who make this vital work possible.

School board candidates discussed literacy levels, rezoning, behavior issues and more in the 90 seconds each was given to answer three questions.  

Candidate Thomas  Vu mentioned supporting staff, increasing literacy rates and listening to the community as top issues.  

“I’m also committed to creating systems that ensure our students can read proficiently, because the data is real and the data shows that if you can’t read by the end of fifth grade your educational prospects drastically dim,” Vu said. 

He said systems must be put in place to stop what he called a “teacher exodus” from the Alachua County district.  

Other candidates also touched on literacy after a forum question asked what can be done to boost failing scores.  

Incumbent Diyonne McGraw pointed to a new county-wide literacy assessment that the school district and Alachua County have started. She said that assessment will show where to increase efforts, including in adults.  

She mentioned keeping programs like reading with family nights. She said the reading issues have been in the school system for years but are starting to close along with the achievement gap because of the work being done.  

McGraw highlighted student behavior as another top issue. She said if student behavioral issues aren’t addressed then it will impact the achievement gap. She said the district also needs stability with leadership.  

Incumbent Leanetta McNealy touched on compensating all staff, not just teachers, at the correct level and working to retain employees. She said the district must also solve its rezoning issue, with some schools with too many students and others with plenty of room.  

She pointed to the district’s plan to reopen Duval Elementary as an opportunity to get three and four-year-olds ahead on the reading curve.  

Candidate Lew Welge said he wanted to focus on counseling staff and using the benefits to help students and teachers. He added that the district needs to incentivize students to get to reading levels and make the learning process enjoyable. 

Gainesville City Commission 

Candidates emphasized housing, reaching into the community and the issues surrounding Gainesville Regional Utilities (GRU).  

Commissioner Desmon Duncan-Walker called the GRU Authority and topics spiraling from the utility one of the most serious challenges the city has faced for years. She said the conversations must start with diplomacy, and she said the city has taken the right step to let voters decide in November.  

Candidate Michael ‘Perk’ Perkins, running against Duncan-Walker, said he supported many of the city’s efforts and noted that this is an opportunity to learn from past mistakes managing the utility. He supported the 10-year debt reduction plan that the city initiated and lowering the money transfer during that time.  

Fareed Johnson said the city can work with the board, and the issue doesn’t need to be divisive. He said the GRU Authority and City Commission can work together.  

“If this Authority board is going to address the debt and economic issues  

surrounding GRU and remove that burden off the backs of the citizens of Gainesville and Alachua County, they have my support,” Johnson said.  

He said the city can address its budget revenues in other areas, like getting more property on the tax rolls.  

Candidate James Ingle, running against Johnson for the at-large seat, said the two differed on GRU. Ingle said the board has been a disaster and called the recent appointment of Ed Bielarski to the board and then general manager position as “blatantly corrupt.” 

He said the situation is a clown show that would be funny if not for the damage being done.  

Candidates also mentioned housing as a top issue. Duncan-Walker said she wanted to get more landlords to accept Section 8 vouchers.  

County Commission 

Questions included steps to mitigate climate change, balancing tradition with progress and communicating with the community.  

Incumbent Mary Alford said the county has a study underway for climate vulnerability. She said the commissioners will need to be ready to make hard decisions when the study returns.  

She added that the county is lowering its carbon footprint with each project and choice it makes.  

Cain said the county needs to speak with citizens and let them know that the impacts are real. He said everyone needs to work as a team to address the issue. 

Cain also the county is making progress across issues but not fast enough. He said the county has too many troubles that have been left unchecked for too long, like water issues in small towns like Archer and Micanopy.  

He said the county needs to work with municipalities on the issues.  

Alford pointed to the county’s removal of the “Old Joe” statue from the administration building and recent unveiling of the Sankofa statue. She said seeing that progress was valuable to her.  

“I think there is a role for tradition,” Alford said. “I think that we have to carefully evaluate the traditions that we have in our community and see where they fit our needs today, see if they are honoring our values and our commitments today.” 

Notify of
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

Mary Alfred: You cannot change the past. Find another place to put your new values and commitments.


A very sad state of affairs if this is the best of the best available. The conundrum continues.