Gainesville City Commission District 1 and City Commission At-Large elections ended Tuesday night with no candidate receiving the needed 50 percent of the votes plus one to claim an outright victory.
Harvey Budd will face Jay Curtis for the at-large seat, and Yvonne Hinson-Rawls will be up against Charles Goston for the District 1 seat. The run-off election will be held on Tuesday, April 14.
Budd said his focus now is on raising the money he needs to continue his campaign.
“I’m a little in shock,” he said. “Hopefully, Jay and I will put on a good contest, and I’ll be the winner of that.”
In his speech after the results were released, Curtis thanked his volunteers and expressed excitement.
“I couldn’t be more pleased we get to do this for four more weeks,” he said. “This is me realizing I can give back to the community and the chance is there.”
Goston, facing an incumbent, said he keeps the citizens first and that’s what sets him apart from the other candidates.
“The only way that I can say thank you to them [the citizens of District 1] is to make sure that they never have to suffer through another three years or another term of a commissioner that does not care,” he said.
Hinson-Rawls was not as optimistic. She said she had planned on winning outright, so she does not currently have a plan for the run-off.
“This is so bad,” she said. “I sure didn’t want a run-off. That is punishing me for something.”
Jessica Grobman’s daily dose of five pills represents a lifetime of following a strict regimen.
The medicine is a constant reminder of her condition and that she is not like everybody else.
She missed school once a month to go to the hospital. She had to take what she called “milk medicine” that tasted so bad she gagged. She did not always know she was different growing up. For her, medicine and doctors were the norm.
It wasn’t until a middle school sex education class that she had to deal with the confusion and pain of learning about her condition.
And it was there, for the first time, she realized what it all meant.
Grobman was born with HIV, or the human immunodeficiency virus. Her teenage mother did not realize she was infected with the virus until after giving birth.
Out of new HIV infections, 16 percent are among people under the age of 25, according to the Florida Department of Health. About two-thirds of new cases of sexually transmitted infections are represented by people of the same age group.
It was not until a sex education class in middle school that she began to understand she was different.
“I went through a lot of times in my life where I was like, ‘Well, no one will ever love me because this is going to be something that I’m going to have to deal with, and then they’re going to have to deal with, and they’re going to run away because they’re going to be afraid that they’re going to die,’” Grobman said.
Her life was made more difficult by how little research she had done on her own about the disease.
She openly admits to not understanding how her disease was spread, how it was treated or how to prevent a sexual partner from contracting it.
Cory Neering, the vice president of communications at Planned Parenthood of South Florida and the Treasure Coast, said comprehensive sex education needs to be a higher priority for schools.
“The bottom line is that teens need accurate, age-appropriate education about healthy relationships and healthy decision making,” Neering said. “I don’t think we have enough of that happening.”
Florida requires a half credit of life management skills in high school, which must include instruction in the prevention of sexually transmitted diseases, family life, the benefits of abstinence and the consequences of teen pregnancy.
Neering said one of the biggest problems in Florida is the inconsistency between school districts and how they mandate sex education. He said school principals get a large say in how much sex education their students receive, regardless of school district mandates.
“Even if it’s a school board policy to provide a more comprehensive approach, the principals arbitrarily decide which and when that gets implemented,” Neering said. This means two schools in close proximity may have radically different sex education programs in place.
Grobman said she believes if she had received better sex education in school, she would have understood sooner how to protect her partners. She said while the education she and her classmates received was effective, the two week session was too short for her and her classmates to fully grasp some of the concepts, and certain topics were off-limits.
Kara Ratajczak, a community health educator for Planned Parenthood of South Florida and the Treasure Coast, said she commonly hears students saying they wished they had learned about sexual education issues earlier in their academic careers.
“Just like any other prevention, it should be before exposure happens,” Ratajczak said. “We vaccinate when kids are little, we teach drivers ed before you get behind the wheel of a car and just like any other prevention, sex-ed needs to happen before sex.”
As of Jan. 1, 22 states and the District of Columbia require sex education in public schools.
For Grobman, it’s a continual struggle to keep herself motivated and healthy.
She said depression over her daily reminder of medicine and its side effects, such as fatigue, make her want to stop taking it. During her senior year of high school and first year of college she said she did stop — and it resulted in her health spiraling downward.
She said her illness made her incapable of going to class, working out at the gym or having a job. Without the support of her friends and loved ones, she said she might not have survived.
Now, as 20-year-old elementary education student at the University of Florida, Grobman said she is back on track, healthy and taking her medications. She said she is beginning to realize she can use her disease to help raise awareness in others about the risks of unsafe sex. But she added she fears the potential consequences of being outspoken.
She’s been warned by people she thought she could trust to be careful who she tells about her disease, so she does not tell people until she considers them close friends. She also doesn’t like when people label her as a heroine for something she has no control over.
“I have this disease, this infection, but it doesn’t change anything about me,” Grobman said. “It doesn’t magically make me a better person or a fighter or a stronger human being because I have it. I’m just another person with it.”
Janine Wolf produced this update.
Sam LeNeave sets fires. But that’s a good thing.
LeNeave, manager of the Suwannee Forestry Center, has set prescribed fires on thousands of acres of land for the past 24 years. He is one of hundreds of prescribed fire specialists approved by the Florida Forest Service to conduct burns.
Planned fires help cycle nutrients and reduce potential fuel for unplanned forest fires, said John Saddler, a prescribed burn manager with the Florida Forest Service. He said Florida tends to have a lot of unplanned fires, partly because of frequent lightning. Those fires have created an ecosystem that depends on regular burns to thrive. That’s where forest service workers step in.
John Masters, a forester with Welaka State Forest in Putnam County, said Welaka State has been able to burn above-target goals because of prime weather conditions. This year’s wet weather has made it possible to burn areas that may have been too dry in previous years.
He said the actual acreage burned depends on the weather, drought conditions, forest-structural characteristics and the successes or failures of previous burn efforts
Scott Crosby, a forestry supervisor with the Florida Forest Service, said since December the service has burned 3,137 acres in Etoniah Creek State Forest, west of Palatka. The annual prescribed-burning goal for that forest is 3,380 acres.
“So far, we are well on our way to meeting this goal and most likely will exceed it,” Crosby said. Etoniah Creek was also the site of the most recent prescribed burn; on Feb. 14, 1,288 acres were set ablaze.
Crosby said he plans to burn approximately 1,350 acres in Etoniah Creek from March through May, when plants begin growing after the winter.
Gallberries, palmettos, leaves and shrubs get incinerated in a prescribed burn, and become fuel. After a prescribed burning, the plant remains return nutrients back into the soil easier, said Bill Giuliano, extension specialist with the UF Department of Wildlife Ecology and Conservation
Florida’s wildfire season is year-round, but more wildfires happen from mid-to-late spring and early summer, said Chelsea Ealum, Florida Forest Service spokeswoman. She said prescribed fires are ideal, because they can be controlled and the service can set up firebreaks, which prevent the planned fire – and any unplanned ones — from spreading too far.
“Even if a fire goes through there later,” she said, “it won’t be as large and difficult to control.”
If you’re caught stealing in Bradford County, everyone could know.
They won’t find out from just small-town gossip or social media, but from seeing you hold a sign stating your crime.
For about a year, Judge Richard B. Davis from the Eighth Judicial Circuit of Florida has allowed offenders of misdemeanor crimes, like petty theft, the choice of sign duty as a special condition to their probation.
Davis refused to comment on the subject.
Michael Reeves, spokesman for the Eighth Judicial Circuit, wrote in an email that if offenders do not want probation, they can receive jail sentences or fines, but it’s up to the court to decide.
Reeves wrote that Davis has noticed an improvement in the behavior of people convicted of petty crimes and will continue to implement this method if it’s appropriate.
Capt. Brad Smith, spokesman for the Bradford County Sheriff’s Office, said the sign duty is an interesting twist for probation, and an overwhelming number of people in town support it. The people feel offenders need to pay back to society what they stole and show the consequences of committing a misdemeanor crime, he said.
“If you commit a crime in Bradford County, we’re going to hold you to it,” Smith said.
When families drive by sign holders, parents have an opportunity to talk to their children about consequences and that conversation can prevent future theft, he said.
Smith said when he was at lunch recently, the discussion turned to sign duty and how lately, they haven’t seen anyone carrying a sign.
It has tapered off within the last two or three months, probably because it has shown the possible ramifications of committing a crime, he said.
Joy Beck, probation supervisor for Tri-County Probation, listed in an email rules offenders must abide by while holding the signs: Their service must be held during daylight hours, they should dress weather-appropriate and they cannot obscure their identity. Also, they must not have any handheld devices.
Art Forgey, spokesman for Alachua County Sheriff’s Office, said he couldn’t recall a single time an offender in Alachua County has been given a court-ordered option to carry out sign duty as part of their probation.
“It surprises us sometimes what (judges) do,” he said. “It’s not the court’s job to shame someone or belittle them further.”
Jonathan Cohen, a University of Florida professor and expert in alternative dispute resolutions—methods of resolving legal issues without going to court—said the sign holding is a form of public shaming that is unusual in society, but not unheard of.
“For many people, this comes across as dehumanizing to have someone standing like that,” he said. “I expect that the judge was thinking that this will have more of an impression than just going to jail.”
People can go to jail and not experience a lot of shame for what they’ve done, he said. It’s more effective when a person is part of a community they know. Cohen believes some judges would say public shaming would reduce the likelihood someone would repeat committing the same kind of crimes.
But Cohen believes it’s important, especially in public shaming probations, that criminals get reintegrated to society as first-class citizens rather than a stigmatized second-class citizen.
Erica A. Hernandez produced this update.
Current District 1 commissioner Yvonne Hinson-Rawls was born, raised and educated in Gainesville.
She studied special education at the University of Florida and at age 22, she was recruited to teach neurologically impaired students in New York.
She later worked as an educator in Miami and became the principal of a magnet art school, where she created job training programs for at-risk students.
“It was the joy of my life,” Hinson-Rawls said. “I spent 15 years there, and it took them five principals trying to replace me.”
She wants to bring similar ideas to Gainesville.
One of her top priorities includes creating job-training programs that would allow people to learn skills while on the job.
She also wants Gainesville jobs to incorporate bias awareness training to ensure equal opportunity.
“I think I need to consider teachers doing this,” she said. “I can see the University also getting involved.”
Hinson-Rawls has begun seeking grants for these programs but said reoccurring dollars are needed to turn the programs into realities.
A tax increase could help fund these projects, but Hinson-Rawls wants to make sure citizens are on board first.
“If we truly want to move forward, it’s going to take money,” she said. “I would not want to raise taxes without surveying my people.”
She suggested a poll to gauge how citizens feel about it.
Hinson-Rawls said she wants to redevelop areas in east Gainesville to include office suites, medical buildings, cafes and outdoor areas with Wi-Fi to attract more people to the area. She said funds can be used from the Community Redevelopment Agency to make this happen.
More information about Yvonne Hinson-Rawls can be found on her website.
District 1 City Commission candidate Christopher Weaver is living out a lifelong dream of running for public office.
As a testament to his enthusiasm to serve in a public office, his email address was once email@example.com.
Weaver said he is motivated to run for office by his commitment to his constituency, which is mostly comprised of University of Florida students and members of the African American community of Gainesville’s District 1.
Weaver said his thorough understanding of public administration was a key motivator when making the decision to run.
“I’m a scholar in local government,” Weaver said. “So I figured, who better to run for local government than a scholar in local government?”
In wake of State Rep. Keith Perry’s proposed bill to create an independent Gainesville Regional Utility commission. GRU governance is perhaps the most divisive issue for District 1 and At-large commission candidates alike.
Weaver believes GRU should remain under the oversight of the Gainesville City Commission, which would ultimately leave control in the hands of Gainesville residents.
Weaver said GRU is already equipped with experts who carry out administrative and technical asks and cited their contributions in the city’s contractual agreement with GREC.
“Although the city voted for the GREC contract, the more technical fine points were done by those who are considered experts are GRU,” Weaver said. “So I don’t think that putting an expert on the board will help a great deal.”
Weaver attended most but not all of this election season’s candidate forums but said his time was well spent on the campaign trail.
“I could’ve gone and might’ve gotten maybe two people who can vote in my district that would’ve voted for me,” Weaver said. “But I met about 150 people that can vote, and they live in my district. I had to do what was best for the campaign.”
More information about Christopher Weaver by visiting his website.
Scherwin Henry, a Gainesville native, has been married to his wife, with whom he has two children, for 43 years. His son serves in the U.S. Navy, and his daughter is an accountant for the city of Gainesville.
He has a degree in food science and is recently retired from the University of Florida as a senior biological scientist.
This is not his first entrance into politics. He’s a two-time Gainesville city commissioner who served in the District 1 seat from 2006 until 2012.
He said he feels the city commission is losing some of the momentum it gained during his term and would like to see it pick up again.
“I feel that we are losing some of the ground that we gained in the areas of economic development as well as community development and transportation,” said Henry.
His platform includes increasing community and economic development and improving transportation.
Henry wants to see the community develop by investing in Gainesville’s children. He suggests creating apprenticeship programs through various city departments for high school students that would allow them to learn a skill.
“Those who do not desire to go to college will have a skill and be able to support themselves,” he said. “It would also be nice if we could get other businesses to allow the students to come in and even give them a stipend for being there.”
When asked if he would raise taxes to fund these projects, he said it would be a last resort. He said there are funds set aside that could be used.
“You don’t raise taxes just to raise taxes,” he said.
Henry has lived in east Gainesville his whole life and said it’s the hidden gem of Gainesville. He said he wants to see improvements in transportation for that area as well as more development to attract businesses.
More information on Scherwin Henry can be found at his campaign Facebook page.
While 23-year-old Lucas Jewell is the youngest of five candidates, he said his age shouldn’t be cause for discrimination.
“The law is such that you can be 18 and run, and a lot of people on the east side of Gainesville, particularly minorities, deal with discrimination on a regular basis,” said the former U.S. Navy Air Traffic controller.
Jewell is currently an economics student at Santa Fe College. He is originally from Jacksonville but has lived in Gainesville on and off for the past three years.
Jewell became politically active after serving in the Navy and this is his first time running in local politics.
His main focus is prevent GRU rate increases as well as new tax increases. Jewell said our high GRU rates will be his number one concern. He believes rates need to be lowered in order to help ease financial burden for east Gainesville residents and this can happen by ending the contract between the city and Gainesville Renewable Energy Center.
Jewell said only 40 percents of police cars have dashboard cameras and he wants to make sure all cars have cameras and that police officers are equipped with body cameras. He also wants to reform marijuana possession laws. He said he will “pressure the city manager to tell the police chief to issue notices to appear in court instead of arresting people for marijuana.”
Education is another issue Jewell said he will focus on. He wants to give families the option of picking a school and said the area where someone lives should not determine the quality of education.
In regards to transportation, Jewell said the residents of east Gainesville are underserved in public transportation. Adding additional RTS bus routes and extending hours are two ways he thinks this problem can be resolved. He also wants to promote more bike-friendly roads and implement cycling-related projects.
Jewell people who want to see change in District 1 should vote for him. He said a vote for him is a vote for young, new ideas.
More information on Lucas Jewell can be found at his campaign Facebook page.
Charles Goston said he’s running for the District 1 seat because he’s tired of seeing little change from commissioners in his district year after year.
“They’re not even concerned about their own constituents,” he said. “I’m watching this because I’m living in the district.”
One of Goston’s primary concerns for the district is the high cost of utilities. He said the biomass contract City Commissioners signed with Gainesville Regional Utilities has caused a serious financial burden for Gainesville residents.
“Now, people my age…are going to leave their property to their children, who are going to be strapped for the next 20 years with these escalating utility bills,” Goston said.
He said he hopes lower utility costs will inspire new businesses to move into District 1.
Other important things on Goston’s platform include the construction of an emergency medical center on the east side of town and a revamping of the Regional Transit System. He said he will use money more efficiently than it’s been used in the past to fund these projects.
Goston claims he is already more active in the community than many elected officials. He said he has played an unofficial role on various city campaigns and spoken on behalf of city developments like the Plum Creek Project.
“Why should [people] have to come to me in an unofficial capacity when I could run for office, and they could come to me in an official capacity, and I could do a heck of a lot more?” Goston asked.
He was born and raised in Gainesville and was among the first 700 black students to attend the University of Florida.
Goston played a role in many firsts at UF, including the creation of the university’s Insitute of Black Culture and the Black Student Union. He then went on to create the first African American collegiate publication, Black College Monthly, which still circulates nationally today.
Goston also worked at major radio stations around Florida as well as creating three of his own. He has served as president of the Alachua County Black Caucus two times.
More information on Charles Goston can be found at his campaign Facebook page.
Austin Landis, Agustina Buedo and Ryan Nelson contributed to this report.