Editor’s note: Updated to include additional candidate answers.
Early voting in Gainesville’s special election for its open at-large City Commission seat begins Friday morning, and Mainstreet Daily News requested responses from candidates on three key questions facing the city.
Early voting is from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Friday, Saturday and Sunday. The two early voting locations are the Alachua County Supervisor of Elections Office, 515 N. Main St., Suite 100, and the Millhopper Branch Library, 3145 NW 43rd St.
For voters who requested to vote by mail, the two early voting locations also will have drop boxes for mail-in ballots available while the polls are open.
Election Day is Tuesday from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Three voting precinct locations have changed and five more precincts will share voting locations with other precincts.
Candidates to fill the seat vacated by Gail Johnson include: Cynthia Moore Chestnut, Scherwin L. Henry, Matt Howland, Patrick O. Ingle and Gabe H. Kaimowitz.
Mainstreet Daily News reached out to all five candidates to ask the same three questions about current issues with the city. Chestnut, Henry and Ingle responded with answers. Howland and Kaimowitz did not.
Candidates’ answers have not been changed except to correct grammatical or stylistic errors.
Question: The city has experienced some well-documented turmoil lately including the departure of two charter officers, the near-resignation of a third charter officer and the near firing of a fourth charter officer. You are running for a seat that Gail Johnson vacated several months after she was re-elected. If you are the successful candidate, what do you see as your role in bringing more stability to the city administration and, perhaps, unity to the commission?
Cynthia Moore Chestnut: First, a respect for and adherence to the city charter, that clearly delineates the role of the Mayor and City Commissioners, as well as the charter officers. More and more we are seeing a fudging of the lines that separates duties. I had the pleasure of serving on the City’s Charter Review Committee, where this was a consistent standard for all members serving.
Revisit the commission meetings and structure, in order not to end up with a 54-page agenda, as was the case at a recent commission meeting.
Designate more time for setting a work plan with ample time for discussion and exchange of ideas. I think a planning retreat(s) is in order.
Work for mutual respect for commissioners and citizens.
Scherwin Henry: My role in bringing more stability to the city administration would be to bring a level of maturity to the dais, and govern in a thoughtful, steady, and common sense manner. I would promote collegiality, mutual respect, a sense of duty, and emphasize that we were sworn to govern on behalf of the citizens.
Patrick O. Ingle: First order of business is to bring order to chaos and get the commission back to productive governance.
Question: Budgets reflect the priorities of elected officials. First, what would be two places in the city budget where you would increase funding? Second, what would be one place in the city budget where you would decrease funding?
Chestnut: First, I would like a thorough review of the current budgeted items, accountability of effectiveness, unmet targets and determine if there is a duplication of services. Secondly, several new departments have been created over the last several years, review those areas for alignment with the city’s goals and objectives.
Henry: Two places in the city budget where you would increase funding would in the area of economic development, such as affordable housing and infill development to our downtown and the east Gainesville community and after school recreational programming.
Ingle: I would prefer to perform a complete audit before increasing or decreasing funding.
Question: As part of dealing with COVID, the commission has passed then reconsidered a vaccine mandate for employees. It is now working with its union to hammer out a new policy. What is your position on vaccination and/or testing requirements for city employees?
Chestnut: The City Commission is now taking the approach I would have started with and that is involving the employees in the decision-making process for a policy that will directly impact their work condition. Using a carrot versus stick approach by offering a financial incentive to encourage compliance. For employees who do not want to be vaccinated, require weekly testing.
Henry: I’ll start with testing. Because our employees work in close proximity with each other, I believe testing is the most prudent act we can do to decrease the transmission of the virus.
Ingle: Existing employees need to be encouraged, especially if they are in contact with the public. New hires should be a condition of employment.