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Gainesville Voters to Decide on Ballot Initiative for Charter Review Commission

District 2 City Commissioner Harvey Ward is in support of changing the Gainesville City Charter by adding a City Charter Review Commission. (Haley Sparks/WUFT News)
District 2 City Commissioner Harvey Ward is in support of changing the Gainesville City Charter by adding a City Charter Review Commission. (Haley Sparks/WUFT News)

Gainesville voters will decide in next week’s municipal election whether to amend the city charter to create a new commission that could recommend changes to it every 10 years.

The charter is the framework that establishes the city government and how it operates.

Among the amendments a review commission could suggest include changing the number of city commissioners, having a strong-mayor system, and how often elections are held, officials said.

Last year, the city commission placed an initiative on the ballot that, if approved by voters, would have it appoint 11 citizens to a charter review commission. Those appointments must happen between May and November. The first meeting would occur sometime in 2019.

By May 2020, the review commission would propose any changes it might suggest for the charter. The city commissioners would then review those suggestions and decide whether to put any of them before the voters in the November 2020 general election.

The same process would ensue every 10 years after.

Currently, amending the charter has proven difficult and almost impossible to do, proponents of the ballot initiative said. Ten percent of registered voters in Gainesville have to sign a petition in 90 days, or six out of the seven city commissioners must vote to put a change on the ballot.

City officials noted that most counties – including Alachua – and cities in Florida and around the country have review commissions.

Adrian Hayes-Santos, who is seeking reelection Tuesday as District 4 commissioner, said a charter review commission could help Gainesville as it continues to become a larger city.

“The important thing is to make sure … that the community is taking a deep dive into their charter,” Hayes-Santos said. “It’s good government.”

Gainesville District 2 City Commissioner Harvey Ward supports the ballot initiative that would create a charter review commission.
(Haley Sparks/WUFT News)[/caption]

Robert Mounts, the candidate challenging Hayes-Santos for the 4th district seat, agreed that a charter review commission is a good idea. However, Mounts said, such a commission needs to be balanced and represent the entire community.

“It needs to be fair, open and transparent,” Mounts said.

District 2 Commissioner Harvey Ward also supports the ballot initiative.

“This is an opportunity for people to have the chance every 10 years … to see what could be better and determine if we are doing as well as we can,” Ward said.

Not everyone agrees that the charter should be amended or a new commission should be created.

Gary Gordon, a former Gainesville mayor and city commissioner, questioned why officials want to consider changing the charter when there was no public outcry to do so.

“I suspect the hidden agenda is to use this review commission to move to a strong-mayor form of government,” Gordon wrote in an article decrying the ballot initiative in The Gainesville Iguana.

Haley is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by emailing news@wuft.org or calling 352-392-6397.