Gainesville finalizes 3 of 4 charter officers

Commissioner Desmon Duncan-Walker
Commissioner Desmon Duncan-Walker speaks at Thursday's commission meeting as Commissioner Cynthia Chestnut looks on. (Photo by Seth Johnson)
Photo by Seth Johnson

The Gainesville City Commission finalized the permanent hiring of three charter officers at the start of Thursday’s regular meeting but returned to negotiations for one position.  

The commission voted on Jan. 5 to run a search process for four interim charter officers, but on Jan. 19, the commissioners changed course, voting 6-1 to hire the officers permanently instead.  

Mayor Harvey Ward negotiated contracts with the four officers and brought the contracts back on Thursday.  

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Commissioner Cynthia Chestnut said she agreed with the raises for City Manager Cynthia Curry, General Manager Tony Cunningham and City Attorney Daniel Nee.  

The negotiated contracts kept Cunningham at the same salary, $308,935, while giving Curry a $37,215 raise to $299,000 a year and Nee a $20,540 raise to $228,000. But Chestnut questioned the 40% raise proposed for Director of Equity and Inclusion Zeriah Folston, from 151,246 to $218,000.  

She made a motion to accept the first three contracts and direct the Ward to renegotiate Folston’s salary, asking the mayor to look at comparable positions in the state and nationwide.  

Duncan-Walker supported the motion and said she would like a study on charter officer salaries so everyone could feel comfortable about where the contracts land.  

“I feel like bringing the charters on without a competitive process was generous,” Duncan-Walker said. “I am not questioning anyone’s worth because the work you do is tremendous.”

Commissioner Reina Saco said the jump is significant, but the Office of Equity and Inclusion has had additional duties piled on through the years.  

She also noted that the past permanent director of equity and inclusion made $173,100 in 2021 and said the city speaks constantly about equity and now has the opportunity to show how important it is.  

Commissioner Ed Book said the commissioners will need to adjust the fiscal budget to account for the salary increases. He said the promotion itself from interim to permanent is a reward, showing the commission’s faith in the employee.  

Commissioner Casey Willits said the difficulties in coming up with raises highlights the benefit of a competitive search process.  

Candidates would come in with salary expectations, and the city would be looking across the nation at similar positions. He said new candidates would also give fresh perspectives on the city’s services and what could change.  

The commission sided with Chestnut’s motion to finalize three charter officers but renegotiate with Folston.  

Both Book and Saco voted against the permanent contracts for Cunningham, Curry and Nee. Saco, Willits and Ward voted against the second part of the motion to renegotiate with Folston and examine similar positions across the state and county.  

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“He” (Willits) “said new candidates would also give fresh perspectives on the city’s services and what could change.”

I’m reminded of so many occasions where newcomers can effect drastic changes to towns and cities that current citizens never imagined. And so many where the citizens never wanted them, and the changes completely altered the makeup of those towns and cities. Alterations that destroyed the involvement of the citizens in their community. The citizens become strangers in their own towns.

Usually, it’s better to let the citizens come up with their own perspectives on a city’s services and what THEY would like to have change.

The influence of new citizens on a town is much more likely to provide a gradual change and acceptance, whereas the influence of new administrators and officers will often ignore the perspectives and desires of the citizens while implementing changes.

Change for the sake of change can often go wrong, while change for the sake of improvements at the wishes of newcomers or strangers is likely to go very worng.

Dennis Blay

Why is it proposed that the Director of Equity and Inclusion make more than a U.S. SENATOR?
That seems outrageous. Why do we need this position since the City Manager is a black woman? What is that person actually going to do?

Jeff Gehmann

Right! And almost the same as city attorney with 40 years of law experience! Ridiculous!!&

Jeff Gehmann

Gainesville charter officer salaries are outrageous! Similar officers in much larger cities, that require more degrees and qualifications, don’t make as much as these. Can’t go by what the last one made in the past few years, that was after they jacked them way up spending like mad. The highly qualified EO officer from 2016 only made $110k how is it now $218k? A 100% increase! Just when they are trying to make cuts…Almost the same as the city attorney! Outrageous!!&