New officials prep for term

Many city rules to be learned

Published: Thursday, May 1, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, April 30, 2003 at 11:16 p.m.
Surrounded by supporters, television cameras and photographers, Gainesville City Commissioner Warren Nielsen pumped the hand of newly elected Commissioner Rick Bryant as vote counts flashed on a wall inside the Alachua County Supervisor of Elections office Tuesday night.
"This is one of the last times we can chat," Nielsen, who won his second term on Tuesday, jokingly told Bryant.
For Nielsen and Chuck Chestnut, who were both re-elected to their commission seats this spring, things like following "sunshine" laws, which restrict when government officials can speak in private, are old habit.
But for Bryant, who won in his runoff with Rob Brinkman on Tuesday, and Craig Lowe, who won the District 4 seat on April 8, it's one of the skills they'll have to learn before they're sworn in on May 22 to join the new seven-member commission.
In Tuesday's runoff city election, Nielsen won over Betsy Whitaker 57 to 43 percent, and Bryant beat out Brinkman 58 to 42 percent.
During the next three weeks, Bryant and Lowe will undergo an intensive introduction to their new jobs, learning everything from how to write an ordinance to getting tours of city offices.
Nielsen said the influx of information can be overwhelming, but that's the easy part of the job.
"Nobody's asking you at this point to make a decision," Nielsen said. "When you do sit at the dais and are asked to make a decision, that's where the rubber hits the road. I think at that point, that's when you realize how much you have to learn."
Next week, the commissioners-elect will attend an orientation where they'll discuss everything from taking photos for the city's Web site to signing up for payroll.
They'll also meet in coming weeks with city and Gainesville Regional Utilities staff, who will be among their main contacts and sources of information during their tenure.
"There's a whole gamut of folks to be exposed to," Nielsen said. "There's a real esprit de corps among city staff, and they're anxious to share what they do and what they accomplish with the new city commissioners."
Bryant, coordinator of graduate admissions at the University of Florida and co-owner of Godfather's Pizza, spent the day after the runoff away from his office, doing everything from collecting campaign signs to going to the dry cleaners.
"For the last four months, it's been hectic as anything," he said.
Lowe, a computer programmer at the University of Florida's Center for Library Automation who was elected three weeks ago, said his work of becoming a commissioner hasn't ended. He's been reading up on city issues and sitting in the audience during city meetings.
Gainesville's two freshman commissioners say Lowe and Bryant should enjoy the afterglow of a successful campaign while they can.
"Basically, your life the first few days (after the election) is really nice. What you have are the 'thank yous,' the 'congratulations,' the 'good lucks' from all types of just regular folks," said Commissioner Ed Braddy, who was elected last spring. A commissioner's schedule gets more hectic after taking office, he said.
"You're fairly overwhelmed," Commissioner Tony Domenech said.
Ashley Rowland can be reached at 374-5095 or rowlana@

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