The Gainesville City Commission decided Thursday to move forward with a proposed charter amendment that would extend the timeline to host a special election after a seat becomes vacant
The proposed charter amendment would give the city 60 days to call a special election instead of the current requirement that a special election be held within 60 days. The city attorney’s office will draft the amendment and ballot language to return to the commission for a final vote.
A charter amendment requires six of the seven commissioners to approve, and the commission reached that threshold with only Commissioner Reina Saco in dissent. If the commission gives final approval, the proposed amendment would go before voters as a ballot initiative.
Commissioner David Arreola said the city needs to make a change because of the difficulties with the last special election that placed Commissioner Cynthia Chestnut in office.
“I would like to see more latitude be given to the special election process,” Arreola said. “It is currently too strict. The election almost didn’t happen.”
Commissioner Cynthia Chestnut expressed concern that Supervisor of Elections Kim Barton would not have enough room on the coming November ballot to add another item.
City Attorney Daniel Nee said he had heard space might be an issue on the ballot and that his first call would be to the elections office. According to Nee, the office has struggled to find ballot paper amid a nationwide shortage but was able to get a supply.
The City of Gainesville and the Supervisor of Elections Office struggled to meet the deadline for a special election last year and then plan a runoff over the Christmas and New Year holidays.
The attorney’s office brought the issue forward in February with a proposed amendment to eliminate special elections altogether, allowing the remaining commission to elect a replacement until the next regular election.
However, opposition from Commissioners Desmon Duncan-Walker and then Commissioner-elect Cynthia Chestnut capped the conversation.
On Thursday, Chestnut reiterated comments from February, saying special elections are worth the price.
“I would just say that sometimes there’s a price for democracy,” Chestnut said.
Saco said she would only vote to move forward with an amendment that would eliminate the need for special elections. She explained that the cost to only elect a commissioner for a year or so seemed irresponsible.
“Losing $500K that could help a great program so that less than 20% of the electorate picks someone who will sit in a chair for a year—that to me does not make sense and that to me is dereliction of duty,” Saco said.
Gainesville’s special election and runoff between Chestnut and opponent Matt Howland cost the city $400,000 split between the two.