Q & A: Ray Washington


Published: Monday, January 16, 2012 at 5:15 p.m.
Last Modified: Monday, January 16, 2012 at 5:15 p.m.

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Ray Washington

Facts

RAY WASHINGTON

Age: 56
Birthplace: Georgia
Occupation: Attorney
Education: Law degree, University of Florida (1991); bachelor's degree, Duke University
Political offices: None
Past elections: None
Party affiliation: Democrat
Community involvement: Eighth Judicial Circuit Bar Association; pro-bono legal representation primarily of east Gainesville residents; justice teaching partner, P.K. Yonge Developmental Research School; member, Alachua County Democratic Black Caucus and Florida Democratic Black Caucus
Family: Wife, Elizabeth, and three sons, John, 24, David, 23, and Benjamin, 12
Contact: 352-337-2700, vote4district1@gmail.com
On the Web: website, Facebook | Twitter

1. What are the biggest issues the city faces, and how would you as a commissioner solve them?

The primary issue is: What will be the future of east Gainesville? I have lived more of my adult life in District 1 than any other candidate and have watched my district suffer years of neglect. High-flown words and slogans haven't helped. It is time to reduce costs to District 1 residents, particularly electric costs, and to create a more favorable economic climate for businesses to create jobs. City Commission abdication of responsibility and GRU mismanagement threaten to sink Gainesville's economy, which is barely treading water now. It is time for the City Commission to rein in GRU.

2. The city is projecting a nearly $2 million shortfall for its two-year budget period ending in 2013. What initiatives should the commission put in place to raise revenues or cut expenses to make up the gap?

Any discussion of raising revenues or cutting expenses must begin with an honest discussion of how the city can get out of or alter the ill-conceived, irregularly negotiated, questionably approved and unnecessary GRU-GREC biomass deal. GRU officials now admit, in their latest best-case scenario predictions, ratepayers will be forced to pay a biomass bill amounting to more than four times the city of Gainesville's annual property tax collections. GRU officials now advocate reducing GRU's annual transfer to the city's general fund, offset by increased property tax collections paid by GRU customers. Swift action must be taken to avert the biomass disaster.

3. What are your thoughts on the city's 30-year contract to purchase biomass power?

This bad contract has become the defining issue in this election. I was part of the legal team representing public-spirited Gainesville citizens whose efforts on April 6 resulted in previously secret portions of the GRU-GREC contract being unblackened. I became a candidate after weeks of trying to convince the two candidates for my district's commission seat to oppose the coming GRU-GREC electric rate hike. They both declined to do so. The most important duty of any candidate elected to the City Commission will be to readdress the GRU-GREC deal in light of current circumstances, this time fully in the sunshine.

4. Do you support making changes to employee pension plans?

Existing pension plan provisions are commitments made to current city employees. Many of these commitments were bargained for in return for employees giving up other benefits and salary increases. A city government should not renege on its bargained promises to its employees, any more than it should walk away from its fiduciary responsibility to its citizens, taxpayers and ratepayers to champion irresponsible pet projects like the GREC biomass plant. It is particularly disturbing that city commissioners would consider cutting back on the city's pension promises while approving the transfer of billions of dollars out of state for unneeded electricity.

5. What steps, if any, can and should the city take to improve the local economy?

Grandiose promises and buzzwords do not improve the local economy. In reality, a city commissioner's ability to improve the economy is limited. But a city commissioner realistically operating within the ambit of what a city commissioner is actually able to do can have a profoundly positive effect on the direction of the local economy. Real businesses that are real job-creation engines relocate to and expand in communities that offer the greatest opportunities for success. A significant cost of doing business is the cost of electricity, over which the city commission can have considerable influence. That will be my focus.

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