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Gainesville City Commission struggles to fill charter officer positions

Gainesville City Hall
Gainesville City Hall

The Gainesville City Commission currently has five of its six charter officer positions vacant.

City Auditor Ginger Bigbie tendered her resignation earlier this month. Four of the city’s charter officer positions are currently held by interim staff. And when Bigbie leaves in January, just one charter officer position will be held by a non-interim. 

“I think running a government is hard and people fight,” said Bryan Eastman, the District 4 city commissioner-elect. “Sometimes they get sick of it and quit.”

The city commission consists of seven members. Four commissioners are elected from single-member districts, two commissioners are elected at-large and one member is elected as mayor.

The commissioners oversee six charter officer positions: city attorney, city manager, city clerk, city auditor, general manager for the utilities and director of equity and inclusion.

The incoming city commissioners, Casey Willits, Bryan Eastman and Ed Book, and mayor-elect Harvey Ward will be sworn into office in January.

People may be hesitant to apply for officer positions because the newly elected commissioners are unfamiliar, Eastman said. 

Five members of these officer positions have left between 2021 and 2022, and those posts are unfilled.

Although people do get tired of working in government, there are other factors that may have driven officers to resign.

In August, Commissioner Gail Johnson announced her intention to resign from office at a special city commission meeting, saying she no longer wanted to be associated with the decisions of former City Manager Lee Feldman. 

Eastman said that since Feldman's resignation, there has been a lot more peace within the commission.

In September 2021, Gainesville City Clerk Omichele Gainey and City Attorney Nicolle Shalley submitted their resignations via email. 

When asked about her previous position as city attorney, Shalley said: “I’m not interested in discussing my resignation. Thank you,” and hung up the phone. Shalley now serves as Levy County's county attorney.

Charter officers are at the highest level within the city of Gainesville. 

Gainesville Regional Utility's general manager oversees the utility’s budget, which is set at more than $460 million for the fiscal year 2023. The city manager oversees city government and the director of the office of equity and inclusion holds the rest of the government and outside entities accountable for civil rights discrimination issues and equal opportunity discrimination issues. The city auditor examines city operations to identify opportunities to reduce costs and increase efficiency. 

The city commission proposed a recruitment plan on Sept.1 in hopes of finding new charter officers. City staff were expected to present where they were in the process at a meeting scheduled for Nov.15.

But the meeting was canceled with no explanation less than an hour before it was scheduled to begin. It has not been rescheduled. 

Current commissioners are unsure who will fill the vital positions.

“Every organization across the country is dealing with a lot of turnovers right now,” said Eastman. “And it's hard, and it's something that we're gonna have to deal with, not just at the top levels of the charter, but within all of our employees in the city of Gainesville.” 

Eastman said people resigning is one of the challenges new city commissioners will have to solve when they start their term. 

Despite the transition of new commissioners and finding new officers, officials are confident they will rebuild a strong government. But for now, interims are getting the job done.                                  

“Practically speaking, it's not like we're losing a lot by having interims,” Eastman said. “Those people know what they're doing. They've been doing it for their entire careers, and they're gonna continue to do it.” 

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