Two weeks after Richard Spencer’s speech at the University of Florida, the Gainesville City Commission met to discuss the ramifications of upholding his free speech. During the regular City Commission meeting on Thursday, Commissioner Harvey Ward asked local officials to evaluate the expenses caused by Richard Spencer event in Gainesville.
The cost for security that UF had to pay to ensure safety on campus during the event was previously estimated as more than $500,000.
An official report of all Spencer-related expenses won’t be available until the next few weeks, said City Manager Anthony Lyons. Some commissioners, like Harvey Budd, expressed interest in searching for ways for the city to be reimbursed for part of the cost, either from UF or the state government.
What else we learned:
- Ward proposed the compilation of all expenses related to Spencer’s appearance. The commissioner felt the community was interested in seeing the breakdown of costs associated with Spencer. Ward directed Lyons to create a report that shows where the money was spent, which can be used for future scenarios, Ward said. He would also like to hold a town hall meeting in the future where residents have the opportunity to discuss the Spencer event. “Citizens need an opportunity to unload a little bit and unpack the situation,” Ward said.
- Through mutual aid agreements, Gainesville received extra law enforcement help with little cost. Through mutual aid agreements with agencies including the Orange County Sheriff’s Office and the Tampa Bay Police Department, Gainesville didn’t have to pay for these agencies’ services, only their food and lodging, said Mayor Lauren Poe. “That’s the nice thing about a mutual aid agreement is you know you don’t have to think about the dollars and cents,” Poe said. If another city finds itself in a similar situation, Poe said, Gainesville would extend the same services.
- The state could potentially reimburse Gainesville for Spencer-related expenses. Because Florida Gov. Rick Scott declared a state of emergency in the days leading up to Spencer’s speech, that created the possibility for the state to reimburse the city for expenses they paid as a result of Spencer’s appearance, Poe said. However, at this point, there has been no indication that the state will reimburse the city for the cost of Spencer’s visit.
- Budd is interested in asking UF to reimburse the city if possible. The commissioner feels that the financial burden should fall on UF since it was the location of Spencer’s speech. “I would hope that we would be able to make a claim against (UF) at least if that’s an equitable thing to do, and I would hope the university would respond in a positive way to that,” Budd said. Budd said that UF should pay for any direct expenses that were a result of security issues on or around the campus.
- City Commissioner Charles Goston thinks UF should’ve allocated the money for a lawsuit instead. Goston feels that the cheaper option would have been for UF to deny Spencer’s request to speak, and then deal with the likely lawsuit that would follow. “The cheapest thing to do is let them sue you,” he said. “It’d be real simple, real quick, and then we wouldn’t have to deal with these issues.” Poe raised a few objections to Goston’s claim. The mayor said he would rather let the money go to law enforcement agencies than into the hands of white supremacist groups. “(White supremacist groups) want to go to court and then get compensated,” Poe said.
What’s next? The commissioners unanimously agreed upon the motion to have Lyons prepare a report on the expenses surrounding Spencer’s visit. Following the presentation of this report, commissioners will assess whether or not to seek reimbursement from another party and determine how to better handle a scenario like this one in the future. Poe believes it is a situation that will inevitably present itself again. “I do believe that this will not be the last time we’re confronted with this,” Poe said.