Q & A: Gainesville Mayoral Candidate Donald Shepherd

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Gainesville resident Donald Eugene Shepherd Sr. is eager to improve Gainesville’s infrastructure as a mayoral candidate  in the 2016 election. Shepherd will run against Lauren Poe and Gainesville Mayor Ed Braddy in the upcoming city election on March 15.

He recently discussed some of the issues affecting Gainesville with WUFT News, and here’s what he shared:

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?

The reason why they make the promises that they do is because a mayor or a commissioner really don’t have the power to make the financial decisions of our city. It’s done by planning boards. It’s done by what they call Super PACs, like the Chamber of Commerce and the boards. Those decisions are the ones that help make what the mayor and city commissioners do. But, a city commissioner and a mayor what they do as a runner-up candidate, they have their own decisions of what they want to take and address the citizens and the way that I choose to address the citizens is the same as I am doing here today is to take and tell you and speak from my heart the face-value of how we are going to take and address the problems of the city of Gainesville.  Our first problem is our financial infrastructure of north east Gainesville and east Gainesville and that there infrastructure is the houses, the roads and the quality of living that is there. That’s the ideals on which I plan to take and make a new change to our city commission.

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 want to do two things: I want to attract outside businesses on which I have two businesses that are going to be coming into town. One is going to be across the street from Depot Park, and the Harn Museum is going in there in Depot Park, which is an educational field to educate people who are unemployed, who are homeless, who just have an interest to learning profession. That’s what is going to go there. What’s going to go on the other side of the street in the old Home Depot music building is a work shop building business that’s going in there. Forgive me, I forget the name of the business. But, I have literature on it (…) that would prove my words. We have mind of putting a business in there that would improve the appearance of that corner, one, and give general revenue to our city.

The Florida Municipal Electric Association numbers for Dec. 2015, show residential bill comparisons show Gainesville electric rates higher than any other city in the group.  The city commission 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 these highest in the state electric rates for customers of Gainesville Regional Utilities?

What I plan on doing, if I am allowed to do it, because I don’t know what my allotments are – what I’m allowed to do, what I’m not allowed to do. But, what I want to do is I want to turn our biotreatment plant into a plastic plant, a recycling plant where we recycle cardboard and plastic. I’ve talked to several other cities within the state of Florida, Buffalo and wherever they have the biotreatment plants. My plan is to buy out every biotreatment plant and turn them into recycling centers. And these recycling centers are what we need here in Florida because we do not have, to my knowledge, a plastic plant in Florida. That will stop the dumping of the trash in the ocean. That will stop the recycling that gets buried into the ground. We just recently had a church that is over on the east side of Gainesville by back of Lincoln Middle School that when they went to go dig up the ground to put the foundation for the church, they found trash in the ground. It wasn’t on the lease of the property. This notification wasn’t in the paperwork of the purchase either. So, one, they tied the realtor’s hands, in which I plan on changing the rules and regulations for realtors. I plan on changing that all purchases of property must be listed on the title of the ownership of the property. Also, there has to be a surveyor to take and survey the property prior to purchase of the land, and if the owner would like a second survey, that has to be paid by the land owner. Everything would be specified by the seller and the realtors so they can stop this kind of problem in the city of Gainesville.

Why do city commissioners and the mayor deserve a pension from taxpayers?

In my opinion, they don’t. We had an ex-GM from the GRU that took and left with $28,000 or $28 million of retirement money. This needs to stop and stop now. Why do we need to put our baby boomers financial structure in behalf of the electrical outlook and the purchases of property because of these individuals who are running our electric and our city commissioners and mayors making decisions that are unruly and uncommon sense, not using common sense, which has been demonstrated in the last 10-20 years that this has been going on. I am going to start various businesses over on Hawthorne road and then NE Main street. Why I say north Hawthorne road? Because that’s one of the areas that the city has stolen businesses from there. I say stolen. The reason I say stolen is because they had a chicken plant over there. They took that. They had a fish store that sold fish and sold fishing rods and tackle and they took that down to put a fountain there. No. Those people didn’t need that. They needed that fish and tackle place there, so that they could go in there and get their needs to go fishing to put food on their tables from our local streams.

What are your plans, and what is your vision for the future of Grace Marketplace and Dignity Village?

My vision for Grace Marketplace is what I would like to do is I would like to put storage buildings out there or little sheds out there for these people to get in out of the cold. I would like to do that the moment I get into mayorship – becoming your mayor. The reason is because people are who vote you into office and people matter to me. It’s the only reason I’m running – it’s for the people. I’m not running for the money. I’m not running to wear this fancy tag on my shirt. I’m running to represent the people and these are people, too. Why should we have them laying in Bo Diddley Plaza when we should have a nice area out there. But, we do not. We don’t have no cooking facilities out there. We don’t have no cleaning facilities out there as far as a laundromat. We do not have any showers out there – only two that I have seen. This should have all been done prior to moving these homeless people out there. They should have put them up into motels or other areas of living instead of putting them out there. I plan on closing the St. Francis house down because of the problems that they’ve had throughout the year. I don’t need to speak of them because they’re pretty bad.

How do 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? 

Once they started this— once the city commissioners and mayor started housing homeless people, they created that financial problem. If they wanted the people out of the Bo Diddley Plaza, they should have just done what they were doing, which is by telling the people ‘you cannot sleep here, this is not a bed and breakfast area. This is a public space and the people of Gainesville are scared to come into this area because you are here.’ And the police being out there in the Dignity Village and the Empowerment Center is a necessary thing. If you’ve ever been out there or the news channel has been out there, they will see that it is a need out there. Firemen, emergency is two other infrastructures that is needed out there. And how do I plan on addressing the financial thing of it? It’s going to have to be addressed as it is right now of us giving money to them. But, as I said before, what they’re going to need to do out there is proper housing and upkeep of these people. Until that’s done, there is always going to be a handout of money— of the taxpayers money to the firm of the Dignity Village and the Empowerment Center and they also call it Grace Marketplace.

There has been much discussion surrounding the renovation and opening of Bo Diddley plaza. How are you going to ensure to the tax payers that their new community center will not be overrun by the homeless who have previously been know to loiter and linger around the park and dissuade those who paid for it from enjoying their new plaza?

How can I do that? By giving the police the power to take and arrest these people and when they’re arrested, they don’t go to jail. They go to an education center. And in the education center, like Harn Museum and other educational centers we have. If they want to be let off arrest that they have to sign a piece of paper saying that they will take that educational center to make their lives better.

What will you do to cut taxes in Gainesville?

What will I do to cut taxes? Not raise taxes. You’ve got Ed Braddy, who’s the mayor now, and you have Lauren Poe, who is the next runner up, who is the ambassador of taxes. Lauren Poe has been the ambassador of taxes. I’ve said that I wouldn’t raise taxes. But, as I’ve said, I have not only said that it’s not all in my power, but if it is, then there won’t be no taxes raised. (…) I would take and clear out the financial infrastructure of Gainesville within my three-year term, and how can I do that? How I can do that is because of the checks of Celebration Point, Butler Plaza and other housing complexes that have just been built in the last two years. Those checks are just coming in to our audit finance board and our audit finance, in general funds, of our city. And, that’s in millions. And, I’m going to take that money and pay off the old debt. I’m going to take that money and buy the biotreatment plant and turn it into a plastic plant. Create jobs. Getting back those people that worked at this biotreatment plant, give them back their jobs. Yes, they had to be on  unemployment for a while, but giving them back their jobs. And not giving them back their jobs just only, but giving them jobs, if I can make it happen, I want to give them back their jobs at $15 an hour, which has been said by our senators and by our mayor, Ed Braddy. If he got re-elected that he would give a $15 an hour wage across the board. And I told the city workers that if I got into being mayor that they would all get paid – raises.

How do you make Gainesville more business friendly considering the already high utility costs and what some business people espouse as having a reputation of not being business friendly?

I would take and address that our businesses in Gainesville, starting with our contractors and our businesses, asking them to come to see me at the city hall. And when they come to see me at the city hall, that’s when I’m going to take and review the records that they have, review the records that of what’s on the city audit finance and other books that we have that are in the city. Then I’m going to say what I’m going to do as your mayor is I’m going to do my best to lower your business tax, so that you can stay in Gainesville. This is what needs to be done and the people who are in the city hall that are staff need to work with me to make this happen. We do not need to take and have excessive bidding of contracts throughout our contractors. We do not need to raise business taxes on our businesses. We have been told by our city mayor that there are grants out there for them to take and purchase for them to better their business or start new businesses. Well, where is that? Has our mayor took and said any of this during the times of forums or addressed you?

How big an issue is crime in this city, and what do you plan to do to fight crime and improve policing? 

What I would like to do is take money from our general fund or some fund, due to transfers so that we have the money to hand to the police department so that they can get cameras to be on every officer, new radios to be on every officer. These PS-25s, which we’ve just been introduced to, and I’ve been to three different police stations in the city of Gainesville to address this radio problem and this is something that is desperately needed. Our radio stations, like our water pipes, like our electrical systems, our phone systems are all outdated. So, what I want to do when I start my road package is I want to start from the ground up. What do I mean by starting from the ground up? I mean when they’re redoing those roads…tearing the roads up, they tear them up enough to put new infrastructure of pipes alongside the road of wherever they are needing those pipes to be. But, I’d prefer them to be alongside the road. Why? Because every 5-10 years, the roads get redone. So, why can’t we have a fund set up so that this here is addressed in a proper manner as I had spoken of? And this is how we are going to keep our city of Gainesville, Florida up-to-date by starting from the ground up and having an infrastructure that works.

At least one city commissioner has suggested the police chief be put under the direct supervision of the mayor, instead of the city manager.  What do you think about that idea?

I think that’s a good idea. The reason I think that’s a good idea for the police chief to be under as a mayor and city commissioner because the mayor supposably is the head of the city, so, why shouldn’t he be also the head of the police department? We have a program I watch on TV called “NSI,” and on that program who is the one that has the say? The commissioner and the mayor and that seems to work good. So, why can’t we bring that to Gainesville and address that in this proper manner?

About Cindy Kabiru

Cindy is a reporter for WUFT News and can be contacted by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.

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