Alachua County Manager Michele Lieberman kicked off a celebration of service for outgoing County commissioners Robert “Hutch” Hutchinson and Mike Byerly on Tuesday by thanking them for their faith in her and support in leading the community and the county through “good times, hard times, interesting times.”
County staff, area elected officials, and past and present department heads followed Lieberman’s congratulations and presentation of framed collages representing moments from the commissioners’ years of service.
County Lawyer Sylvia Torres said it was, “An honor and privilege working with and for,” both of the commissioners and that she is a better lawyer for having done so.
Torres commended them on their dedication to civic duty and public service.
Assistant County Manager Carl Smart thanked them on behalf of the public safety department.
“We have appreciated all that you have done to provide guidance through your policy and ordinances,” he said.
Interim Solid Waste Director Gus Olmos said the board is going to look different and he “Respects the dedication and amount of research done on agenda items, and the commissioners remained consistent in approach, priorities and values.
Commissioner Hutchinson was commended for his dedication to mental health initiatives.
County Poet Laureate Stanley Richardson read a poem that started, “To be or not to be,” and continued with “To Hutch or not to Hutch, To Byerly or not to Byerly, These have been our questions for many many many many.” He ended the poem with “Live long and prosper.”
Alachua County Environmental Protection Director Chris Bird deemed Hutchinson the father of Alachua County Forever, which is an initiative that addresses land conservation and use acquisition, stewardship and funding development practices to preserve the environmental integrity of Alachua County and improve the quality of life for current and future generations.
He named Commissioner Byerly as the program’s favorite uncle and commended both for protecting wetlands and for, “leaving Alachua County a much better place than when you arrived.”
Retired County Commissioner Lee Pinkoson congratulated Hutchinson for his 12 years and Byerly for 20 years of service. “You’ve both done a lot of good,” he said referring to their commitment to mental health, homelessness, and land conservation issues.
“Mike you were a thorn in my side,” Pinkoson said. “I respect you for the fact that I always knew where you were coming from,” he added.
“I hope you have the opportunity to sit back and reflect,” he said. “The people in Alachua County have been served well.”
Commissioner Charles Chestnut said, “It has been a great ride with both of you all. I came to respect your commitment to fight for what you believe in. You really fought for the citizens of Alachua County. Congratulations and God bless you both.”
Commissioner Marihelen Wheeler said Hutchinson and Byerly are both, “Smart, caring men.
“I’ve learned a lot,” she said. “The biggest lesson is to be able to discuss and cuss and have differences, but when you walk through that door, we are all friends.”
Commissioner Ken Cornell, who ran against and lost to Hutchinson in 2012, said, “For the last six years I have never been the smartest one in the room.”
He described how they first met at a Starbucks just as they were both getting ready to file for office. They became friends in 2012 and Hutchinson encouraged Cornell to run again in 2013.
“Dude, we’ve done some stuff,” Cornell said and listed accomplishments such as County wages, wetland protection, Children’s Trust, Poet Laureate, Public safety. “Dude, we’ve done some stuff.”
“Mike, 20 years. What a legacy,” Cornell said. “He hates this kind of stuff, when people stay nice stuff, but it’s all so well deserved.”
Cornell touted Byerly’s ability to follow the process, carry out good government for everyone, and his defending and implementing of the Comprehensive Plan.
He didn’t want to say goodbye to his good friend so Cornell said to Hutchinson, “See you around.”
Then it came to the two outgoing commissioners to make remarks.
Byerly said, “That’s the first time I’ve ever been in a poem.”
“Being a county commissioner is the best job in the world,” Byerly said. “Go any higher and things become an abstraction.”
Byerly said he was grateful for the opportunity and that he had tried to nudge the community in the direction of protecting resources and having more compassion for those having a harder time.
He thanked his friends and family and campaign team and equated serving on the commission to playing dominoes with his 6-year-old son.
“Thoughtful people spend time setting up dominoes,” he said about the staff working on project. “And we have the undeserved privilege to be the ones who touch it off and see it all work.”
He then said that he would find a way to stay involved.
For Hutchinson, it has all been about civic engagement. “Some things needed to get done and some things needed to get stopped,” he said about why he became a commissioner.
He then quoted Grateful Dead Songwriter Jerry Garcia, “Somebody needs to do something and it’s incredibly pathetic that it has to be us.”
“It’s been a long, strange trip,” he said and described himself as a hippy introvert not liking what he saw when he first got elected in 1998.
He was kicked out by voters in 2002 and came back 10 years later, he said.
In his retirement, Hutchinson said he wants to continue working on animal welfare. “But instead of working on policy, now I’m going to spend time with my dogs,” he said.
He worked with getting mental health stuff going, he said. “Now I will work on my own mental health,” he said.
“I was always planning. Now, I will just go out there doing, instead of planning.”
He pledged to read a book straight through and to become a tourist.
“What a remarkable place Alachua County is, has become and continues to be.”