Voting starts Monday in Gainesville races
Published: Saturday, March 1, 2014 at 4:13 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, March 1, 2014 at 4:13 p.m.
Correction: Sheryl Eddie is the community outreach coordinator at the Early Learning Coalition of Alachua County. An earlier version of this article had an incorrect job title.
Early voting for the March 11 Gainesville city election kicks off Monday and runs through Saturday, March 8.
Where to vote early
Voting takes place from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day at two locations:
- Supervisor of Elections Office at the County Administration Building, 12 SE First St., downtown.
- Millhopper Branch Library, 3145 NW 43rd St.
Early voting starts Monday in an election that will decide three of the seven seats on the Gainesville City Commission.
Voters will pick the commissioners who take part in decisions on looming issues such as the city's project list for the November transportation sales tax referendum and the governance of Gainesville Regional Utilities.
Commissioners serve three-year terms and have an annual salary of $32,248.
At-large seat 2
Five candidates are vying to succeed incumbent City Commissioner Thomas Hawkins, who is hitting term limits. Annie Orlando and Helen K. Warren are far outpacing the other three in terms of financial support and endorsements.
Orlando is campaigning in opposition to existing City Commission policies and prior decisions on issues such as the biomass contract and the oversight of GRU. Warren, for the most part, is supportive of the policy direction of the commission majority.
Orlando, a longtime local business owner, was drawn to City Hall by a dispute over the city utility's solar feed-in tariff and joined a contingent of residents who frequent commission meetings to express concerns and objections about the biomass contract and its impact on electric rates.
Orlando has an active lawsuit against the city over GRU's solar feed-in tariff, which pays a premium for solar-generated power
She twice applied for the program but was not selected through the program's random lottery process. She was among multiple 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 response to the concerns, the city auditor issued a report saying more needed to be done to ensure a level playing field. That led to the additional lottery for applicants who were not selected the first time. The city included a caveat that participation in that lottery was a waiver of legal claims against the city. Orlando signed the document, including the phrase “under protest.”
After she was not selected in the second lottery, Orlando filed a lawsuit against the city in late 2011, 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. A major part of that decision involved the fact that Orlando had signed the waiver of legal claims to participate in the lottery.
Orlando is now appealing that decision and continues to feel there was widespread wrongdoing and unfairness in the feed-in tariff selection process. The circuit court judge also rejected the city's motion to recover some $175,000 in legal fees from Orlando.
Warren, a Realtor with Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Trend Realty, has campaigned that the city needs to plan now for how to handle growth, transportation and environmental issues 20 to 30 years down the road. She is the president of the environmental group the Alachua Audubon Society.
On the campaign trail, another prominent environmental organization, the Suwannee-St. Johns Group Sierra Club, endorsed Orlando over Warren. Scott Camil, the co-political chair of the Sierra Club, said there were multiple reasons for it endorsing Orlando.
Two key reasons, Camil said, were the biomass plant and the massive development that Plum Creek plans in unincorporated Alachua County. The Sierra Club has issued policy statements opposing both.
Warren supports the biomass plant as a good long-term decision that she feels will reduce the city's carbon footprint, diversify fuel sources and bring a local fuel source that gives a boost to the area's timber industry.
Warren also serves on Plum Creek's Envision Alachua advisory committee and said she supports the timber and property-holding giant for soliciting extensive community input before applying for land-use changes to move ahead with its development. She said the eventual plans will include extensive conservation areas.
Orlando opposes the biomass plant for contract terms that were unfavorable to the city and because, until a citizen lawsuit, the biomass contract had key financial costs partially redacted.
On the environmental side, Orlando said the city moved ahead with an unnecessary plant when it did not need the additional capacity.
She said Plum Creek is largely a county issue, but she opposes it because of potential impacts on wetlands and the impact of groundwater pumping on the aquifer.
Orlando is endorsed by the Suwannee-St. Johns Sierra Club, Fraternal Order of Police, IAFF Local 2157 Gainesville Professional Firefighters, Builders Association of North Central Florida and Gainesville-Alachua County Association of Realtors.
Orlando's campaign has raised $19,226, including $4,625 in the last reporting period.
Some contributors to Orlando include Gainesville Area Chamber of Commerce Chairman Mitch Glaeser, businessman Ropen Nalbandian, who recently settled a lawsuit against the city over the former selected location of the homeless center, City Commissioner Todd Chase, student apartment developer Nathan Collier and the firefighters union.
Four members of the family who runs Gleim Publishing made $250 contributions. Three Realtor political action committees also contributed $250.
Warren has endorsements from Equality Florida, the Central Labor Council of North Central Florida, the Human Rights Council North Central Florida, Stonewall Democrats of Alachua County and Gainesville Citizens for Active Transportation.
Warren's campaign has raised $17,208, including $4,883 in the latest reporting period. During that period, 57 of her 61 contributions came from individuals. The political action committees of the Central Labor Council of North Central Florida and the Stonewall Democrats of Alachua County both contributed $250 each.
The at-large race also includes Barbara Ann Ruth, Donald Shepherd Sr. and Mark Venzke.
At a forum last week, Ruth announced she was ending her campaign. As it stands, her name is on the ballot and votes cast for her will count. If she officially withdraws, those votes will not count.
Shepherd ran for mayor last year and Venzke ran for commissioner in 2012 and mayor last year.
Neither Shepherd nor Venzke drew much support in terms of contributions, endorsements or votes. Both frequently attend City Commission meetings to speak on issues.
Shepherd describes himself as the “people's representative” and says he will always keep the interests of taxpayers and residents in mind.
Venzke has been a critic of the biomass contract's terms, the manner in which it was negotiated and management decisions involving it since its approval. He wants a full forensic audit of GRU.
Cheri Brodeur, Sheryl Eddie and incumbent Todd Chase are in a three-way race.
Brodeur, a University of Florida faculty member, is campaigning on the need to address high electric rates and invest in infrastructure to accommodate future growth.
Working in conflict resolution at UF, Brodeur said she would work to find common ground between politically divided members of the commission.
Brodeur said she is conducting a grassroots, door-to-door campaign and not accepting monetary contributions. Brodeur said that she has taken that campaign approach so she is not “beholden” to any donor if elected and it has hindered her in attracting endorsements from some organizations.
Eddie, the community outreach coordinator for the Early Learning Coalition of Alachua County, said she feels she will bring a more civil tone to the sometimes acrimonious discourse at City Commission meetings.
Working with an organization that provides day care to the working poor, Eddie said the city needs to do more to address poverty. She said one step in that direction is improving bus service for residents without cars who rely on the bus to get to work, school, the store, the doctor or government agencies.
Chase has spent much of his term saying the City Commission needs to focus more on the financial and rate of the impact of the biomass contract and show greater oversight of Gainesville Regional Utilities' management.
Chase said that, during his time in office, he feels those concerns have gained traction with the commission majority.
He said the city's focus should be more on the spending and budgeting issues of the next few years instead of ambitious long-term plans with significant costs such as potential bus rapid transit or streetcar systems.
Brodeur has received the endorsement of the Suwannee-St. Johns Group Sierra Club. She has put $600 of her own money toward her campaign.
Eddie is endorsed by the Gainesville Citizens for Active Transportation and North Central Florida Human Rights Council, and recommended by the Stonewall Democrats of Alachua County. Her campaign has brought in $2,310.
Some contributors during the last reporting period included former Mayor Craig Lowe, former County Commissioner Cynthia Chestnut and School Board member Leanetta McNealy.
Chase has received endorsements from the Fraternal Order of Police, Gainesville-Alachua County Association of Realtors and Builders Association of North Central Florida.
His campaign has raised $32,875, including $3,375 during the latest two-week reporting period. Residential developer Phil Emmer contributed. Four members of the family who runs local company Gleim Publishing gave maximum $250 contributions.
The city firefighters union and the Central Labor Council of North Central Florida did not make endorsements in this race.
Candidate Craig Carter is making a bid to unseat incumbent Susan Bottcher.
Carter has the support of Mayor Ed Braddy and a similar campaign message to Braddy's 2013 run. Carter says the decisions of current and past City Commission majorities have made Gainesville less affordable to residents and businesses.
Carter points to the high electric rates associated with the 2009 biomass contract, the fire assessment approved in 2010 and renewed each year since and the consideration of potential bus rapid transit and streetcar systems.
Campaigning, Bottcher says the City Commission as a whole and she as an individual commissioner have made strides in economic development, environmental protection and neighborhood protections over the last three years.
Among other things, she pointed to the burgeoning technology economy the city supports through zoning changes and the Qualified Target Industry incentive program, the tougher tree protection ordinance and the decision not to sell off a piece of Loblolly Woods Nature Park, and her involvement in addressing residents' concerns over speeding on a neighborhood road next to Westside Park.
The two candidates differ on the commission's plans for a road resurfacing project in the heart of the district. As part of a larger road resurfacing project on Northwest Eighth Avenue, the City Commission majority plans to reduce a vehicle travel lane and add wider sidewalks and a median to a roughly 7/10-mile stretch near Loblolly Woods park.
Carter opposes the plan because of the lane reduction, which he said he feels will create congestion and is part of an effort to push drivers out of their cars and toward other modes of transportation.
Bottcher has voted in support of the design change, saying it will promote safety for cyclists, pedestrians and vehicles while not increasing travel times significantly for motorists.
Carter has received endorsements from the Builders Association of North Central Florida, the Fraternal Order of Police and Gainesville-Alachua County Association of Realtors.
His campaign has raised $21,235 so far, including $6,440 during the latest reporting period. During that reporting period, three Realtor political action committees made $250 contributions.
The North Central Florida Republican Women committee also contributed $250. Chamber of Commerce Chairman Glaeser, former commission candidate and bar and restaurant owner Rob Zeller and businessman Nalbandian were among the individual contributors.
Bottcher has received endorsements from the Central Labor Council of North Central Florida/AFL-CIO, IAFF Local 2157 Gainesville Professional Firefighters, Suwannee-St. Johns Group Sierra Club, Gainesville Citizens for Active Transportation, Stonewall Democrats of Alachua County and the Human Rights Council of North Central Florida.
Bottcher's campaign has raised $20,148, including $4,685 during the last reporting period. The political action committees for the Alachua County Stonewall Democrats and the North Central Florida Labor Council each contributed the maximum $250.
The city firefighters union political committee contributed $200. Democratic County Commission candidates Harvey Ward and Ken Cornell, Democratic Florida House candidate Jon Uman and former Democratic Florida House candidate Aaron Bosshardt, the president of Bosshardt Realty Services, also contributed.