Annie Orlando running for City Commission


Published: Sunday, November 17, 2013 at 5:30 p.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, November 17, 2013 at 5:30 p.m.

Blue, green and white campaign signs bearing the name “Annie” have popped up around town, signaling that Gainesville’s election season is underway.

Local business owner Annie Orlando has launched a campaign for the at-large City Commission seat now held by Thomas Hawkins, who is hitting term limits.

Drawn to City Hall by a dispute over the city utility’s solar feed-in tariff, Orlando, 59, has, in recent years, joined a contingent of residents who frequent commission meetings to express concerns and objections about the biomass contract and its impact on electric rates.

She said she feels the majority of the current commission has been unwilling to listen to those concerns. Orlando said that is one major reason she decided to run.

“The people who wanted to try to bring information to the commission were being shut out,” Orlando said. “The commissioners didn’t want to hear anything. Their attitude was, we know better than you. Just leave us alone. We’ll take care of it. I want to change the culture and be more responsive to the citizens’ concerns and the public who come to the meetings.”

Orlando’s past civic involvement includes time as a member of the nonprofit East Gainesville Development Task Force, which formed in the late 1990s in an effort to spur economic development.

She was also a member of the Alachua Clean Energy Committee and the Gainesville/Alachua County Cultural Affairs Board.

Serving on that cultural affairs board, Orlando said she saw how much local arts group could do with a modest amount of money from the city.

“I’m a big proponent of the arts and funding the arts,” she said. “Why give tax breaks to out-of-town developers when you could give a small dance troupe $3,000 and it will benefit more people?”

Orlando and her husband own Atlas Screen Printing, which sells embroidered T-shirts with artistic designs and employs 20- 25. She said she wants to bring that experience as a small business owner to City Hall.

Owning a business on the city’s east side, she says the city needs to do more to spur economic development in the area.

On transportation, Orlando says she opposes plans for bus rapid transit. She said the focus should instead be on improving service on current routes and upgrading bus stops that lack shelters.

On development, she said the city has put too much focus on dense, mixed-use infill development. She said she would like to preserve neighborhoods of single-family homes.

A critic of the biomass contract and financial decisions involving the utility, Orlando said she has an “open mind” on the future oversight of Gainesville Regional Utilities and the possibility of an independent or semi-autonomous board. State Rep. Keith Perry, R- Gainesville, is considering filing legislation to require a referendum on the issue of changing the utility’s governance.

Orlando’s campaign raised $3,394 in contributions during the first reporting period, including $500 of her own money. Some other contributors include County Commissioner Susan Baird, former Gainesville commissioner Mac McEachern and several opponents of the biomass plant.

Orlando has an active lawsuit against the city over Gainesville Regional Utilities’ solar feed-in tariff, which pays a premium for solar-generated electricity. She twice applied to participate in the program but was not selected through the program’s random lottery process. She was among the unsuccessful applicants who raised concerns about the fairness of the program in 2011 because another firm, Solar Impact, was allowed to submit multiple applications for a single property when other companies were not informed that was allowed. That company also submitted applications from limited liability corporations that were not yet legally registered.

In November 2011, she filed a lawsuit against the city, alleging Sunshine Law violations, fairness issues and that the city ran an illegal lottery.

In September, a judge granted the city's motion for summary judgment but subsequently granted a rehearing on the lottery issue because it was supposed to be handled in a separate hearing from the other claims. The city, which spent at least $173,300 in legal fees, is seeking to recover legal costs from Orlando.

So far, other candidates for the at-large seat up next Spring include Donald Shepherd, who ran for mayor earlier this year, and Helen Warren, a local real estate agent and the president of the Alachua Audubon Society.

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