Biomass issue fires City Commission debates
Published: Sunday, January 8, 2012 at 10:01 p.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 8, 2012 at 10:01 p.m.
In the sprint toward the Jan. 31 finish line, Sunday was a relative marathon for Gainesville City Commission candidates, who spent the day glad-handing and fielding questions at two forums that were marked by more rhetoric over the biomass issue.
At-large 1 candidate Nathan Skop continued to single out former City Commissioner Lauren Poe, one of his seven opponents in the race, over biomass, as Poe was a member of the commission that voted unanimously to sign a contract to purchase energy from a power plant fueled by burning wood waste.
Skop went on the offensive on other issues, blaming public-safety issues like a recent homicide in the city's garage on “failed leadership at City Hall, including my opponent who was voted out of office” during the first forum Sunday, hosted by the League of Women Voters of Alachua County and held at the downtown library.
Though it was a clear reference to Poe, fellow candidate Donna Lutz asked him to clarify who he was referring to.
“Our opponent is Mr. Poe,” Skop responded. “There is a reason why eight of us are running for City Commission. It's because we want change at City Hall. There is a reason why Mr. Poe was voted out of office by a margin of over 10 percent and Commissioner Chase was elected.”
In the spring, Poe lost his re-election bid in District 2 in a runoff to Todd Chase, who actually won by 9.28 percent.
Poe has also gone after Skop, referring to him in an email to supporters as “my main opponent” who “seeks to reverse everything we've accomplished over the last few years” and represents a “radical right-wing agenda.”
So far, the two have raised the most money in the field, but Skop held a significant advantage as of Dec. 23, 2011, raising $14,255 to Poe's $8,685.
Poe didn't address Skop during the forums but stood by his record in office, including his vote in favor of the biomass contract.
At the second forum on Sunday evening, jointly hosted by the University Park Neighborhood Association and the Suwannee-St. Johns Sierra Club and held at the United Church of Gainesville, Lutz took a shot at Skop on the issue, noting that he voted in favor of the plant as a member of the Florida Public Service Commission, which regulates utilities.
Skop took issue with that, saying that he and the commission as a whole warned the city the deal would not be economically sound unless cap-and-trade legislation came to fruition, which has not happened.
James Ingle, an electrician, continued to say a working-class voice was lacking on the commission and that all of the city's issues stemmed from high-degree poverty and a lack of good-paying jobs here.
“You cannot earn a living in this town,” Ingle said, pushing for a local-hiring preference on city projects.
Darlene Pifalo, a real estate agent, said the city's regulations were a burden to businesses, which in turn provided a burden on jobs.
The one example she cited came from the North Central Florida Business Report, which stated that a local restaurant was required to submit a planned-development petition in order to locate in a residential area.
“Without jobs nothing happens, and with too many regulations nothing happens,” Pifalo said.
In the District 1 race, Ray Washington went after his two opponents, Armando Grundy and Yvonne Hinson-Rawls, saying he would not have entered the race had one of them responded to his emails asking them to come out against the biomass plant.
Hinson-Rawls has maintained the deal will be good for the city, while Grundy has said District 1 residents are concerned about electric rates, not necessarily biomass itself.
For Washington, there is no separating biomass from the issue of electric rates — or any other issue.
In response to questions on everything from transit service to public safety, he came back to biomass.
“This may be the most important election that's ever happened,” he said.
Hinson-Rawls and Grundy focused on economic issues, with Hinson-Rawls calling the income disparity in Gainesville “atrocious.”
“We need to having living wages for our residents,” she said.
Grundy, a Walmart employee, said he was a member of the “99 percent,” the term used to describe Occupy members and their supporters to distinguish themselves from the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans, and said he could relate to people who are unemployed or have to take the bus to get around.
“I know poverty,” he said, earlier contending that District 1 is the most economically disadvantaged area of the city.
Contact Chad Smith at 338-3104 or email@example.com.
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