Gainesville’s commissioners, charter officers and top staff met at Hogtown Creek Headwaters Nature Park on Friday for a retreat ahead of what will likely be a busy year. The agenda included running through the commission rules, agenda process, strategic plan and policy process with the goal of acclimating and refreshing the commissioners on their role—several for the first time.
The retreat came the week after Gainesville swore in three new commissioners and a new mayor, ushering in a new era in local politics.
To kick off the meeting Friday, David Lawrence Jr. reflected on his time as a journalist and advocate for children’s services, spearheading Florida’s 2002 effort to offer pre-K for all. He encouraged the city leaders to build trust, collaborate, remain optimistic and read a lot but selectively.
Each commissioner also received a copy of his 2018 biography “A Dedicated Life: Journalism, Justice and a Chance for Every Child.”
Next, different employees presented to the group. Interim City Attorney Daniel Nee ran through the commission’s rules, explaining the current iteration on public comment and fleshing out ex parte communication.
Tony Cunningham, general manager of GRU, and Zeriah Folston, interim director of equity and inclusion, ran through the city’s five goals—equitable community, more sustainable community, great place to live and experience, resilient local economy, and best in class neighbor services.
Cunningham noted four critical needs that have been impacting the goal of neighbor services: general government financial services, technology upgrades, employee vacancies and organizational culture.
For the entire city, the current vacancy rate stands at 16.74%, and Cunningham noted that a lot of institutional knowledge leaves with high turnover.
Staff also presented on behind-the-scenes functions of the agenda creating process, how to navigate city documents and walked through the policy research team.
Commissioners listed top items they’re focusing on, from broad categories like affordable housing and public safety to specifics like the proposed 8th Avenue/ Waldo Road Sports Complex or attracting a financial institution east of Waldo Road.
Ward handed out his set of 15 priorities that he spoke about on the campaign trail and during his inauguration speech.
Interim City Manager Cynthia Curry also announced progress on the city’s goal of hiring a climate change officer. She said she has resumes and will move next to interviews, noting the position could be filled this month.
The new commission has already hit the ground tackling big issues like single-family zoning and its charter officers. The next commission meeting will happen Thursday.