Mayor sings city's praises in speech

Pegeen Hanrahan gave her final State of the City address Wednesday. Homeless services GRU Down the road


Outgoing City of Gainesville Mayor Pegeen Hanrahan is hugged by Gainesville Police Chief Tony Jones following Hanrahan's State of the City Address at the Hippodrome State Theatre Wednesday, January 20, 2010.

Doug Finger/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Thursday, January 21, 2010 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 20, 2010 at 11:49 p.m.

In her last State of the City address, Gainesville Mayor Pegeen Hanrahan on Wednesday praised the leadership of the Gainesville Police Department, touted Gainesville Regional Utilities' renewable energy initiatives and called attention to several city-funded programs to aid the homeless.

Facing term limits after two consecutive three-year terms as mayor, Hanrahan will leave office in the spring.

Speaking for almost an hour at the Hippodrome State Theatre, Hanrahan said new Police Chief Tony Jones had moved quickly to restructure the department and "restore public confidence" in it after multiple scandals in 2008 and the retirement of former Chief Norman Botsford.

Hanrahan said Jones' restructuring has put more experienced officers on patrol. She also said his efforts to engage the community, combined with his "impressive record of integrity and accomplishment" rising through the department's ranks, should restore public trust in a department that "was unfairly tarnished by the individual actions of a few disgraced officers."

Earlier this month, former Officer David Reveille was sentenced to two years in prison after pleading guilty to sexual battery and other charges for forcing prostitutes to have sex with him while he was on duty. Ex-Cpl. Bill Billings, who was charged with procuring prostitutes while on duty, pleaded guilty to official misconduct and other charges last year.

In spring 2009, the department also suffered public backlash for multiple late-night incidents in late 2008 that involved off-duty officers riding through the Porter's Neighborhood and hurling eggs at individuals they described as prostitutes and drug dealers.

Following those incidents and Botsford's retirement, the city launched a national search for a new chief while Jones served as interim chief.

"Many people, myself included, were lobbying (Jones) behind the scenes ... We are just grateful he was willing to step up," Hanrahan said after her speech.

City Manager Russ Blackburn hired Jones as chief in September.

"He (Jones) had instant credibility, and we all know the department needed that with what had happened in the past with some of the officers," said Officer Jeff McAdams, head of the Fraternal Order of Police.

Ranked as the fifth-meanest city to the homeless by the National Coalition for the Homeless and maligned by some local homeless activists for limiting the number of meals the St. Francis House soup kitchen may serve, Gainesville also pays for a series of programs and services to aid the homeless, Hanrahan said.

She listed: plans to construct a Homeless One Stop Center, which will serve meals and include shelter space, on Northwest 53rd Avenue; the expenditure of more than $500,000 in federal stimulus money to pay for apartment rent and utility bills for individuals who had lived in shelters; and the continued partnership with county government on the Cold Night Shelter Program, which uses Community Development Block Grant funding to provide additional shelter space when temperatures drop.

After her speech, Hanrahan said the planned One Stop Center has progressed more slowly than expected because of property access issues that will require an easement from a neighboring property owner to be resolved.

"I was hopeful that we would have that finalized by today," she said.

Joe Jackson, a professor at the University of Florida Levin College of Law and activist for the St. Francis House, agreed that the city had taken "positive steps" to help the homeless that deserved attention.

"But there are a number of regulations in the city code that are substantial obstacles in the delivery of service to those in need," Jackson said, citing feeding limits on the St. Francis House and places of worship near the University of Florida.

As she did in her 2009 address, Hanrahan pointed to GRU renewable energy initiatives such as the solar feed-in-tariff and the planned biomass power plant as signs of the city's "international leadership in creating green cities of tomorrow."

She said the feed-in-tariff, which pays above market rate for power produced by solar panels, will have produced 4 megawatts of power by early 2010. Hanrahan said that was more solar-generating capacity than the entire state saw installed in 2009.

She also said the biomass plant, which a private firm will build and operate, will ensure the city's "energy independence" and diversity of its fuel supply.

Hanrahan said the outstanding issues facing the city include budget shortfalls that could affect city services and the continued need to remediate the contaminated Cabbot Carbon-Koppers site, which has been on the federal Superfund list for at least two decades. She said recent discussions with the Environmental Protection Agency were a "cause for cautious optimism" but that no remediation plan has been finalized.

Speaking about her own future in politics, Hanrahan said after her speech that she would have liked to continue in city office if she had not hit term limits. First elected in 1996 to the City Commission, she served two terms before taking a two-year break and then seeking her first of two terms as mayor in 2004.

Hanrahan said she initially was interested in the District 2 County Commission seat when she heard incumbent Cynthia Chestnut might not seek another term. But Chestnut has decided to run again, and Hanrahan said she does not want to challenge her.

Hanrahan said she lives in Florida House District 23, which is up in this year's election, but she said she did not want to challenge incumbent Charles S. "Chuck" Chestnut IV, a friend she served with on the City Commission.

"I don't have any immediate plans to run for office at this time," Hanrahan said.

But she did not rule out any future campaign.

"Never say never," she said.

Contact Christopher Curry at 374-5088 or chris.curry@gvillesun.com.

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