City Commissioner Johnson announces resignation

Commissioner and Mayor Pro-Tem Gail Johnson announced Monday at a special meeting of the Gainesville City Commission that she will resign from her seat effective Sept. 30.

Johnson, who won a second term this spring as one of the commission’s at-large members, said she no longer wanted to be associated with the decisions of the entire commission or those of City Manager Lee Feldman.

“Power has been abused and misused,” Johnson said in her resignation statement, which she also posted to her Facebook page. “We have quickly gone from working in a low-trust environment to a no-trust environment. The cost of this type of dysfunction is just too high.

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“I’m resigning, because people often don’t remember the individual contributions a commissioner makes to the body, they remember the decisions of the entire body,” she said. “I refuse to be complicit in decisions just by my mere presence, even if I dissent.”

The agenda for the meeting, which lasted an hour, simply said the commission would talk about governance, with no other description or back up documentation provided.

In her statement, which opened the meeting, Johnson said her “first and central concern” was the continued retention of Feldman as city manager, but she also expressed concern about “unkept promises” about development in East Gainesville, the priorities of the city’s strategic plan, the upcoming update to the city’s comprehensive plan, and strained relationships with city partners such as the Alachua County government, the University of Florida, and the Alachua County School Board.

City Commissioner Gail Johnson

“Considering recent events, I remain concerned about the commitment to equity and inclusion in the city at the highest levels, including this board and members of our leadership team,” Johnson said. “There is a clear disconnect and misunderstanding about the priorities that will move us toward racial and gender equity.”

Although Feldman was mentioned more than once during her resignation statement, Johnson did not specify publicly or state explicitly the problems she has with his management of the city.

Commissioner Desmon Duncan-Walker, who often has been a dissenting vote along with Johnson in recent weeks, did address Feldman directly during the meeting.

She said that she had received numerous calls from people unhappy with how the discussion of a new grocery store in East Gainesville had happened.

“Agreeance doesn’t have to be what happens, but respect always has to be there,” Duncan-Walker said, turning toward Feldman. “And an ability to do what this commission tells you as well.”

Although Duncan-Walker did not reference other specifics besides the discussion of an eastside grocery store, she did allude to unhappiness among city employees and conflict among the charter officers of the city.

“I don’t have a desire to continue to watch the staff of this city go through what they have said to me is uncomfortable and, frankly, a toxic workplace environment,” Duncan-Walker said. “I want our staff to be happy to work for the city of Gainesville. I want our charters to be able to work together cohesively and to have the divisiveness removed from the way they interact.”

At the end of her statement, Duncan-Walker moved that the commission terminate its contract with Feldman, but her motion failed for lack of a second.

Johnson said she will stay on through the commission’s Sept. 23 meeting, which is when the city is expected to vote on the budget.

The commission will start discussions of a special election to replace Johnson on Thursday at its regularly scheduled General Policy Committee meeting, but is not expected to take action on a special election until its biweekly regular meeting on Sept. 2.

“As I said before, integrity is choosing courage over comfort,” Johnson said. “Integrity is choosing to practice your values rather than simply professing them. I can very confidently say that I have led with integrity, and now I need to resign with integrity.”

Other commissioners at the meeting—Adrian Hayes-Santos, Harvey Ward, and Reina Saco—said they were sorry that Johnson felt she needed to resign, but did not address the concerns Johnson or Duncan-Walker brought up in their statements.

Mayor Lauren Poe was not present at the meeting but posted a statement on his public Facebook page.

“I am saddened to learn of Commissioner Gail Johnson’s resignation,” Poe wrote. “She has served with purpose and compassion. … I respect her decision but will miss her voice on the commission.”

The mayor also didn’t make any public statements about Johnson’s concerns or about Feldman’s performance.

Gainesville resident Nathan Skop, who frequently addresses the city commission and who is often critical of the city and its commissioners, was among those who praised Johnson during the public comment portion of the meeting.

“Despite our political differences, Commissioner Johnson, you have my respect, and the reason why you have my respect is because you constantly advocate for the public good, from your heart, from your perspective, and [you] just try to do the right thing. It’s not about politics with you,” Skop said in a phone call comment. “ … I appreciate all your efforts in terms of your advocacy and what you have tried to do to better our city.”

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