Gainesville City Commissioner David Arreola said he was shoved and threatened by fellow mayoral candidate Donald E. Shepherd while trying to talk to the recently fired head of Gainesville Regional Utilities (GRU).
In a statement read at the end of Thursday’s General Policy Committee meeting, Arreola said he went outside during the meeting to shake hands with Ed Bielarski, who the commission fired at the beginning of the meeting.
Arreola was one of two commissioners to vote against the motion to fire GRU’s general manager and said he wanted to thank Bielarski for his service.
“Mr. Donald Shepherd was speaking to Mr. Bielarski and began shouting at me,” Arreola said. “I did not respond when he shoved me. He then threatened me by saying: ‘I am a dangerous man.’”
Arreola said he wouldn’t be pressing charges against Shepherd, who is a frequent speaker at commission meetings and who, like Arreola, has filed to run for mayor in August.
“I do believe in forgiveness,” Arreola said. “However, this is not the first time a citizen has attempted to physically intimidate me.”
“Any violence is unacceptable,” the commissioner continued. “Mr. Shepherd’s actions were physically and verbally violent. It is also disturbing to see the continued normalcy of violent actions and words against elected officials in this country. No matter how you feel about someone, physical and verbal violence is never appropriate.”
Arreola also thanked Bielarski as the “only bystander that attempted to intervene at the time” before he adjourned the meeting.
The confrontation with Shepherd wasn’t the only fraught exchange during the meeting.
Nathan Skop, a former Florida public service commissioner and frequent critic of the commission, spoke against Bielarski’s ouster twice during the meeting: during the initial discussion about firing the general manager, and again during the public comment period at the end of the meeting.
Skop argued that credit rating agencies would look unfavorably on Bielarski’s firing. If GRU’s credit rating is lowered, it would make borrowing money more expensive for the utility.
“You took what was about the only piece of stability in a utility under siege and crippled by debt and because of your own egos, got rid of a competent general manager,” Skop told the commissioners still remaining at the dais.
During Skop’s second set of comments (near the 4:08 mark in the meeting), he, Arreola and Commissioner Harvey Ward had the following interchange. As mayor pro-tem, Arreola had been chairing the end of the committee meeting after Mayor Lauren Poe left.
Skop: “You guys need to accept responsibility for that because I am coming for you.”
[inaudible comment from the dais off mic and off camera. Skop said later Ward threw up both of his hands.]
Skop, speaking to Commissioner Harvey Ward: “Bring it? Oh yeah, I am going to bring it. I am going to light you up so bad when you run for mayor…”
Arreola: “Please stop, just stop.”
Skop: “…you arrogant, smug little miscreant.”
Arreola: “Take a seat…. We’re going to have order in this chamber.”
Skop refused to sit, threatening to get an injunction to allow him to speak, and was able to finish his comments without any more verbal scuffling.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to provide additional context for Nathan Skop’s comments and clarify that he was addressing Commissioner Harvey Ward.