As DeLaney leaves County Commission, she reflects on rewarding job
Published: Monday, November 19, 2012 at 8:01 p.m.
Last Modified: Monday, November 19, 2012 at 8:01 p.m.
Outgoing Alachua County Commissioner Paula DeLaney spent time emptying her office on Southeast First Street last week, preparing for the end of an eight-year run on the board and a 20-year career in local politics.
She spent Nov. 15, two days after chairing her final regular commission meeting, separating files into small stacks she'd like to leave for her successor, Robert “Hutch” Hutchinson, and hefty stacks she no longer needed. The floor was strewn with boxes of budget and rezoning reports from years past, most of which would remain with county staff.
Screws jutted from the main wall, her gavels and plaques from her time at the county and on the Gainesville City Commission already stored away in bubble wrap.
Still hanging on the wall: A massive map of Alachua County, her longtime home and the center of her professional life for the better part of a decade.
Much of her time as a commissioner was spent in boardrooms, but she said she loved getting out in the community to learn firsthand about the impact of the government's policies.
“Paula definitely cared about the people that she served,” County Commissioner Lee Pinkoson said. “There was no question she tried to make lives better for the people in the county, and I think the underprivileged were very near and dear to her heart.”
In her last months as a commissioner since deciding in January she wouldn't run for re-election, she visited most of the county's departments to thank employees for their work.
“I always find this hard to call it a job because it's so rewarding,” DeLaney said.
She won a seat on the Gainesville City Commission in 1992, launching a 20-year career. She was 39 then. She will turn 60 in January.
The youngest of her three children, Caroline, was in preschool during her first campaign. Now she's 25 years old.
Her official responsibilities sometimes took precedence over family matters, and she missed many home-cooked dinners and school events. She said she still feels bad about that, and in hindsight she wonders if she made the right decision.
“But you owe citizens this level of devotion, and it comes out of your family time,” she said.
Luckily, she said, her husband, Bruce, is a good cook who easily handled making dinner for the kids while she spent evenings in commission meetings.
She was a Republican when she served on the City Commission from 1992 to 2001 and became the city's first elected mayor in 1998.
Former Gainesville Mayor Pegeen Hanrahan, a Democrat who served with DeLaney on the City Commission, said she was a great person to work with even when they disagreed.
“She was always very easy and warm and pleasant to work with, and we always had a very friendly relationship,” Hanrahan said. “In fact, I'm struggling to think of anyone she served with that she didn't have a friendly relationship with.”
After DeLaney lost her mayoral re-election campaign in 2001, she spent months consoling her supporters more than herself while she worked in Archer at Maddox Foundry and Machine Works, her family's business.
“You can't be in this business and do this job if you're not prepared to lose every time (you) run,” she said.
When she returned to the political arena in 2004 to run for and win a seat on the County Commission, she emerged with a new political party affiliation. She switched from Republican to Democrat, a shift that was a long time coming, she said.
Even before the party change, she campaigned for City Commission on her support for revenue diversity, including the use of impact fees and sales and gas taxes, to lessen the burden on property taxpayers.
DeLaney said she considers herself a born-again liberal Democrat and believes her record on the County Commission soothed any skepticism that she changed parties to pander to the Democratic majority among Alachua County voters.
Hanrahan said DeLaney was committed to her perspective both as a Republican and now as a Democrat.
“For me, though, it says something positive about Paula that she has continued to remain open in her viewpoints and be willing to evolve,” she said. “It's been an arc rather than a flip-flop for her.”
County Commissioner Susan Baird, a Republican, said DeLaney was always gracious and pleasant regardless of how fundamentally they disagreed over issues, never letting those arguments impact their relationship outside the boardroom.
“The one thing I must admit about what I felt about Paula DeLaney is that she would listen intently, and that's really all you're asking for,” she said. “Bottom line: Even during tough times we could still laugh, and that's always good for the soul.”
As Hutchinson and two other Democrats, including current Commissioner Mike Byerly, are sworn into office today and DeLaney's time on the board ends, she isn't worried about the county's future.
“I feel very good leaving office,” she said. “I really do believe that I'm leaving the commission behind with people who share my values.”
Contact Morgan Watkins at 338-3104 or email@example.com.
Reader comments posted to this article may be published in our print edition. All rights reserved. This copyrighted material may not be re-published without permission. Links are encouraged.