City to weigh making interim positions permanent

The Gainesville City Commission will discuss a proposal at its June 2 meeting to offer its four interim charter officers their positions permanently.

During Thursday’s general policy committee meeting, Commissioner Cynthia Chestnut made a motion “in the spirit of stability” to negotiate permanent contracts with the four interim officers. 

The city currently has an interim city manager, city attorney, director of equity and inclusion, and Gainesville Regional Utilities general manager.

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Commissioner Harvey Ward seconded the motion, saying he was pleased with the work of the interim charter officers.

“I like an idea of some certainty for our 2,300 plus workers,” Ward said. “I think we place them all at a disadvantage by waiting… I think it would be useful for all six charter officers to operate with the understanding that they are the charter officer.”

Zeriah Folston, whose contract as the equity and inclusion director was approved in September 2021, has been an interim the longest. Commissioners approved the contracts for Daniel Nee, the interim city attorney, and Cynthia Curry, the interim city manager, in late October 2021.

Tony Cunningham was tapped as the interim GRU general manager at the same January meeting where his predecessor Ed Bielarski was fired. His contract was approved a week later.

However, the three other commissioners present expressed concerns about making the decision during the General Policy Committee (GPC) without the input of the mayor and Commissioner Desmon Duncan-Walker. Duncan-Walker was absent from the GPC meeting, and Mayor Lauren Poe had left on family business before the discussion of the interim positions.

“This is a big decision and I also believe that we should have all seven commissioners here if we’re going to make a decision about our charter officers,” Commissioner Adrian Hayes-Santos said. “We have to give everyone that courtesy. It’s too important a decision.”

An item to discuss the four’s performance was on the agenda earlier in the week along with reports from the interims on their work since taking over their positions, but it had been dropped during agenda review. Chestnut got her fellow commissioners to restore the item to the GPC’s list at the start of the meeting.

Commissioner Reina Saco said she was expecting to review the performance of the four interim charter officers at Thursday’s meeting, but was one of the commissioners who said they were surprised by Chestnut’s motion to convert the positions to permanent ones.

“I wish I had known that was what we were going to talk about at this update because I would like the mayor to be handling that one,” said Saco, who as mayor pro tem had taken over chairing the meeting. “He’s going to have to be in negotiations so I think he needs to be part of this conversation overall.”

Given other commissioners’ reluctance to vote on the motion Thursday, Chestnut initially withdrew her motion and said she would make it again in January 2023 after a new mayor and three new commissioners were sworn in.

However, the commissioners instead agreed to postpone the discussion at the regular meeting on June 2. 

“The six of us are still drawing paychecks to do the job, not to put the job off until later,” Ward said.

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