Economy top issue for District 3 candidates


Jean Calderwood, left, and Robert "Hutch" Hutchinson participate in a debate on Sept. 29 at theTrinity United Methodist Church Youth Building.

Elizabeth Hamilton/The Gainesville
Published: Sunday, October 7, 2012 at 8:54 p.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, October 7, 2012 at 8:54 p.m.

As former Alachua County Commissioner Robert “Hutch” Hutchinson campaigns to rejoin the board as its District 3 representative, he faces an opponent who plans to shift local government in a different direction.

Facts

CANDIDATE BIOS

Jean Calderwood
Age: 63
City of residence: Alachua
Political party: Republican
Current occupation: Retired
Political experience: Alachua City Commissioner, 3 years; Alachua Mayor, 4 years
Immediate family members:
Husband: Dr. Hugh Calderwood (semi-retired veterinarian)
Sons: Patrick, Joseph and Peter
Three stepchildren

Robert “Hutch” Hutchinson
Age: 59
City of residence: Gainesville
Political party: Democrat
Current occupation: Executive director, Alachua Conservation Trust
Political experience: Alachua County Commissioner, 4 years
Immediate family:
Wife: Meg Niederhofer



Election coverage on Gainesville.com

Republican Jean Calderwood, who served seven years on the Alachua City Commission, including four years as mayor, got into the race because, as her “Changing Direction” slogan states, she wants to take county government down a new path.

“I support very strongly the basics of a community, which is a place for people to work, a place for people to live, and a place for people to have recreation and go to school,” she said. “I see that lacking in Alachua County.”

Bryan C. “Buck” Buchanan also is running in the race as a write-in candidate. Voters interested in learning more about him can visit votebuckbuchanan.webs.com, call him at 870-2053, or e-mail him at votebuckbuchanan@yahoo.com.

To Calderwood, the race's major issues are the economy, infrastructure and governmental cooperation.

She said she sees the government watching out for the environment but not doing enough to promote job creation. It also needs to focus on road repair rather than new bicycle paths, she said.

Finally, the dysfunctional relationship she sees between the County Commission and local city commissions must change. She said she wants these governments to work together for the residents' benefit.

Like Calderwood, Hutchinson sees the local economy as the top issue, but he said he doesn't think the county wards off businesses with its regulations.

“Alachua County doesn't have draconian rules,” he said. “Everything's not perfect here, but we have a lot going for us.”

He said griping about the county's business climate, particularly by conservative candidates, creates a perception that the county is bad for business, which could alienate companies more than policies do.

“It's being created by the complainers,” he said of the county's anti-business perception.

Hutchinson also said water issues need to be addressed more directly and regularly.

He said funding for social services is also key. He is committed to properly funding programs that handle substance abuse treatment, mental health counseling and alternatives to jail sentences.

Both Hutchinson and Calderwood said they consider selecting a new county manager and developing next fiscal year's budget to be their top priorities if elected.

Hutchinson said he wants a county manager who has proven he or she can handle budget shortfalls like those facing Alachua County.

Regarding the budget, Calderwood would look for ways to improve the county's efficiency across all departments. She said she does not want to raise taxes and said the county needs to be more restrictive in its spending.

Hutchinson said balancing the budget could require either raising revenue or reducing expenses, but most likely a bit of both. He said he believes dramatic reductions might be necessary.

Unless staff members are doing work that directly helps taxpayers, such as firefighters or public works employees who repair roads, the number of people doing the more bureaucratic, office-bound work should be minimized to increase efficiency, he said. For example, some departments could be consolidated.

In addition to evaluating next year's budget, Calderwood said she wants to place a six-month moratorium on impact fees for development in the hope of generating job activity.

If elected, she said she also would recommend an open-ended moratorium on advisory boards that aren't required by statute. She said these boards should be reviewed to see what they cost to operate, what purposes they serve and how high their attendance is.

As the candidates near Election Day, they are working to deliver their messages to voters in the last five weeks of the race.

“The last month is what I call the Red Bull month,” Hutchinson said.

He said he contacted about 14,000 households by phone or by knocking on doors during his primary campaign and plans to match or exceed that effort for the general election.

Calderwood is focused most heavily on upcoming forums, where she can emphasize the clear differences between her approach to governing and Hutchinson's.

“We need to change, in my opinion,” she said. “He thinks we need to continue in the same path we've had.”

Hutchinson, however, said he considers them to be more closely aligned on such issues as land conservation. But one difference is in their focuses. He said he thinks his is more Gainesville-centric, while hers is more on small towns like the city of Alachua.

“I think one of the things that we can point to that's a little different is how well we'll cooperate with the city of Gainesville,” he said.

Contact Morgan Watkins at 338-3104 or morgan.watkins@gvillesun.com. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/morganwatkins26.

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