The Gainesville City Commission is moving forward with hiring a permanent equity and inclusion director to start a process to fill all six charter officer positions with permanent hires.
Currently, only two charter officers hold permanent positions—City Clerk Omichele Gainey and City Auditor Virginia “Ginger” Bigbie. The remaining four positions are filled with interim officers, including the city manager, the city attorney, the Gainesville Regional Utilities general manager, and the director of equity and inclusion.
At a General Policy Committee meeting last week, Commissioner Cynthia Chestnut had proposed hiring the existing interim officers on a permanent basis. Instead the commission voted to postpone the discussion to Thursday’s regular meeting.
Chestnut, who in February was sworn in after a special election, had proposed at one of her first meetings that the commission wait on hiring the permanent charter officer positions until after the August election to allow newly elected commissioners to have input into the process.
“Then I became so impressed with the job that all of [the interim officers] were doing that I changed my thinking,” Chestnut said Thursday. “However, I think I would go back to what I originally proposed and that is to wait. Bring the newly elected people to the table, and let’s decide together. I was looking for some stability. But I think it’s OK to wait.”
The commission won’t wait for long. It voted unanimously to ask the human resources department to bring a job description and a search firm recommendation for the equity and inclusion position to the July meeting.
The equity and inclusion office has been without a permanent leader since Teneeshia Marshall resigned in May 2021. Zeriah Folston has served as the interim equity and inclusion director since the beginning of September 2021.
“We’ve been without a permanent equity director for a year already,” Commissioner Harvey Ward said. “We say at every meeting how important equity is to us as a commission, but we have not filled that position in a full year… What we’re saying doesn’t seem to match what we’re doing.”
Part of the impetus for starting the search for at least one position in July was to keep the next commission from having to hire all four positions at once.
Commissioner Reina Saco, who is one of the three members who will remain on the commission after January, said she doesn’t want to search for four positions at one time.
“I would rather get that [equity search] out as soon as possible and have some stability so we’re not moving four pieces at once, we’re only moving one piece at a time,” Saco said.
Commissioner David Arreola, who is term-limited but is running for mayor, said starting the hiring process is something the current commission could do to help out the next commission by giving them “as much stability and experience in the organization as possible.”
“We would be doing that commission a disservice if we were to delay any longer,” he said. “I think it’s time to begin, and I think we can leave a good legacy.”
The commission also agreed to have an open, competitive search for each of the four positions.
“These are incredibly important, powerful and impactful positions, and it improves the process and improves accountability for both the commission and the charter officers to have a competitive process,” Mayor Lauren Poe said.