Gainesville Mayor Ed Braddy is seeking re-election in the upcoming city election on March 15. First elected in 2013, Braddy also served as city commissioner from 2002 – 2008.
He sat down with WUFT News to discuss some of the issues affecting Gainesville, and here’s what he said:
For years, elected officials have promised to take steps to improve the economic situation in East Gainesville. What can you promise that won’t just be more of the rhetoric of years past?
I would say look around and you can see the improvements that are being made.
The partnerships for economic development have never been stronger, partnerships with the Chamber of Commerce, the University of Florida, Santa Fe College… We have been robust supporters of the start-up culture and entrepreneurship. We’ve totally revamped our development review process to make it easier for small businesses to get started.
Last year, I launched the Blue Ribbon Committee on Economic Competitiveness… that is aimed at making Gainesville the most citizen-centric city in the country, business issues small and large and also just how citizens are treated in this community.
Other than Butler Plaza, the Standard and the downtown hotel construction projects, what other major developments do you have in mind to enhance the local economy, attract outside businesses, raise the city’s profile and facilitate local job growth?
I think there’s a limit to what would be major on the scale of something like the Butler expansion, but I would look to Heartwood, which is in East Gainesville.
For the first time, East Gainesville is getting the attention it’s long deserved, so we have a whole redevelopment and marketing strategy in East Gainesville.
My concern has been from day one the small business. The man, the woman, the student coming out of college, they don’t have the connections, they don’t have the financial resources, they don’t know how the process works. So we are reorienting our development process, our small business process, to really help them understand how they can get a business started here.
The Florida Municipal Electric Association numbers for December show residential bill comparison in Gainesville higher than any other city in the group. The city commissions regarding GREC and the biomass plant have talked about audits, outages allowing other power to be used, the NAVIGANT study and even buying the plant. All that notwithstanding, what are you going to do to help reduce electric rates for customers of Gainesville Regional Utilities?
Before we can make a claim on reducing the rates, I think its important to point out that we’ve stopped the bleeding.
One way we’re addressing it is to look at areas of the contract we can turn to our advantage. The second is that we have actually, for the first time in years beginning in January 2016, reduced the fuel adjustment charge, not by a whole lot but a lot. We’ve gotten our first rate decrease, and I am confident under the current leadership we have, both on the commission and the utility, this year we’ll be able to bend that cost curve down.
How do you make Gainesville more business friendly considering the already high utility costs and reputation some business people espouse as having a reputation of not being business friendly?
What I tried to do with the Blue Ribbon Committee on Economic Competitiveness is just transcend that question and say, ‘how can we make Gainesville the most citizen-centric and thus business-centric?’
We are reorganizing our departments. But what it does is it reorients staff around what the main purpose is – which is we are supposed to be doing things to help people do things that are important to them. To help business thrive. We’re gonna go to them and ask them, ‘what can we do?’
Why do city commissioners and the mayor deserve a pension from taxpayers?
It’s a job. We are responsible for providing the direction for the city. We even have meetings just exclusively devoted to GRU. We put a lot of work into the decisions that are made. It’s pretty serious work, and as such elected officials are compensated and they are a part of the retirement system.
What will you do to cut taxes in Gainesville?
The one large tax that we have direct control over is the property tax, or your millage rate. So, two years ago I encouraged the city commission and we adopted a rollback of the millage, last year I also advocated again. But I didn’t have majority of support there.
I get it that some people may not feel that relief on their taxes because then they have to pay the GRU bill. So, we stopped the bleeding with GRU, it’s beginning to curve downward finally – and we did slightly lower the millage rate.
What are your plans and what is your vision for the future of Grace Marketplace and Dignity Village?
The future is for it to be on a financially sustainable footing. Where it’s at now, the costs continue to escalate. And we really don’t have, I think, a coherent plan to sort of round it out.
It should be a facility under the guidance of in, up and out. They come in, they get lifted up and then they go move on. It shouldn’t be seen as a permanent dwelling. We do have some problems and so now we’re identifying those problems.
In your opinion, are the efforts through the Empowerment Center to provide upward mobility to the homeless population in Gainesville working?
Yeah, I’d say it has mixed success. We’re in frequent communication with the manager, so I hear the dozens and dozens of individuals who’ve come in there, received case management… and they have successfully moved on. So, there are success stories, unfortunately some of those get dwarfed by the other stories, the Dignity Village, you know, the tents springing up, some of the violence out there. We’ve had limited successes. We have some systemic problems, and we need to address those.
How do you plan to minimize the financial burden of the Empowerment Center on the people of Gainesville at the same time it says it needs more money for expanding services, infrastructure and security?
I think the city should put a clear marker on what the limits of our support are. And then, through the development of partnerships, private fundraising, grants, we can flex out a full budget that can cover a wide range of services.
Some of the advocates for the homeless, their view is ‘wherever the homeless are, they need to know this is a place they can come and receive help’… for a guy who knows that our city resources are derived from the people of Gainesville and the people of Alachua County, my view is we need to take care of our own first.
Because of the fanfare that came in establishing this program, word has gotten out. But we have to understand it eats away at our finite resources. My goal is not to say ‘you can’t come in here if you’re from somewhere else’ necessarily, but to have some type of program to identify people and help them reach out. Maybe there are other social services they weren’t aware of back in their communities that we can help them get to, so that we can first really take care of those in our community who need the help. And then we can try to make sure that we can accommodate others.
There has been much discussion surrounding the renovation and opening of Bo Diddley Plaza. How are you going to ensure to the taxpayers that their new community center will not be overrun by the homeless who have previously been known to loiter and linger around the park and dissuade those who paid for it from enjoying their new plaza?
We’re going to have a beautiful downtown area for people to come bring their kids, family and enjoy, and it’s an open area and so people who may be homeless have every right to walk through and to be there, but what we’re going to try to address is the issue of camping. Can they set up a sort of establishment there and stay over night?
One of the things we’re doing is we’re looking at the widths of the sidewalk, how we define the park versus the public right of way and we’re going to address that. And that will, I think, potentially minimize the space that is just open where people can pitch a tent. We do have some legal issues we’re having to address with this, but I think we’re addressing it in a responsible way.
How big an issue is crime in this city and what do you plan to do to fight crime and improve policing?
We’ve re-tasked the police department around a more community policing model. We’re not content with sort of just leveling it off. We want to see a serious reduction in crime. We have partnered with the University of Florida, for example, to improve street lighting in the university context areas.
We’ve launched the Duval Initiative in East Gainesville, which again is aimed at a whole neighborhood-wide approach to reducing crime. We’ve reduced the number of juvenile arrests 40 percent overall, so we’re making some, I think, important improvements in the way we tackle the entire criminal-justice, public-safety question.
What is your position regarding underage patrons being allowed into drinking establishments and the local business people who rely upon underage drinking for “three quarters of his business”?
The ultimate goal is safety. If bar owners comply with our rules and regulations, then they will have plenty of patrons. And if they try to skirt around and take shortcuts that endanger the lives of students and others, they’re going to get shut down. We’re trying to do even more innovative and creative things that would assist this part of our economy, which is an important part.
You have openly discussed the circumstances surrounding your relationship with Jeff McAdams and the spending of money from the Fraternal Order of Police to pay for gentleman’s clubs, dinners and hotels.
What are the people of Gainesville supposed to think when the newly elected mayor and face of the city admits to patronizing strip clubs while on a trip to discuss city business?
I addressed that when it came out, I did not know the FOP funds had been used, and so I reimbursed the FOP and I self-reported to the commission on ethics because there may be a potential violation there.
The officer in question has been a longtime friend of mine. He and I went out and I had met with someone down in the Daytona area to discuss something related to the utility, and after that was done I basically said to my friend ‘we’ll go wherever you want, happy to.’ [I] didn’t know where we were going until I got there, certainly should’ve used better judgment, but you know that’s what it is.
Like I said, I’ve tried to step up and be accountable, I’ve sought guidance on, you know, how should I appropriately handle this, and that’s what I’ve done.
What are the people of Gainesville supposed to think when the leader of the city needs to leave town and have friends purchase hotels for him during what you called a “rough spot in a relationship?” What happens when and if the mayor experiences a “rough spot” while running the city or dealing with difficult relationships with city commissioners or constituents?
Evidently, it happened while I was mayor, and things are working out pretty well.
I think the people of Gainesville will recognize that even the mayor has a right to privacy, and those are private matters and I’m probably not the only one who’s ever had bumps in the road.
So, you know, I’m a regular guy, I never presented myself as the saint of the city… I think by all accounts people are saying Gainesville is heading in the right direction. I do have a private life, it’s not the most pristine in the world, it’s not that horrible either, and I will maintain my prerogatives to a private life.