By: Chris Eversole
Candidates differ widely on helping business and being responsive.
While the candidates running for mayor of Gainesville in the March 19 election agree on generalities about moving the city forward economically and being responsive to the public, they have wide-ranging views on specifics. Here is what five of the six candidates had to say about their business and economic development agendas. (Mark Venzke did not respond to the The Business Report’s report for an interview).
Braddy, a former city commissioner, is director of testing at Santa Fe College and the founder of the nationwide American Dream Coalition, which is based on the principle that “free people deserve government at all levels that promotes markets, not mandates.”
If elected, Braddy says he would strive to reduce the impact of the Gainesville Renewable Energy Center, the biomass electric generating project that is slated to open late this year. He would seek a rebate of Gainesville Regional Utilities fuel adjustment charges that customers have paid in advance of the plant going online.
He also would try to void the city’s contract with the GREC, he says, because the company sold an interest in the plant without offering that opportunity to the city.
“It’s unconscionable that we’re paying twice as much for power from the biomass plant as the going price for power,” he says. Braddy GRU’s business customers are “subsidizing” residential customers because commercial rates are artificially high. “The cost of doing business has gone up, and it’s getting worse,” he says
Braddy also says that current mayor Craig Lowe deserves little credit for the growth of Gainesville’s “innovation economy.” “The efforts began before his time as mayor,” Braddy says. “Much of the innovation economy comes from university-oriented projects. There’s nothing outstanding about that from the standpoint of the city.”
Braddy says that he pressed for decreasing regulation on development when he was in office. “The city has stripped excessive regulation for Innovation Square,” he says. “Why not do the same thing east to west?”
Braddy would involve people from the University of Florida, Santa Fe College and the private sector in solving community problems, reducing the reliance on government to find solutions.
“We should leverage the creative class,” he says. “People are eager to help.”
Henry, a researcher at UF, served as a city commissioner for two terms. He left office in May due to term limits.
He says that city government needs to reconnect with citizens and strive to assist people in business, rather than over-regulate them.
“We need a new level of conduct from the commission, instead of the petulance, defiance and stonewalling we now have,” he says. “We need to treat citizens with respect and make the commission chambers a welcoming place.”
Henry wants the city to move forward to form a public-private partnership for a downtown hotel and conference center. He estimates that the project would bring more than 200 jobs at all levels of pay and would enhance the growth of downtown and the Depot Park area.
He disagrees with the commission’s decision to drop planning for a hotel and conference center, after two companies made submissions to a city request for interest. “It was atrocious that the mayor and the city manager didn’t have their hearts in the project and that the commission voted ‘no,’” he says.
Henry voted for the biomass plant when it was approved, but he says he wishes he had been “adamant” about getting more information at the time and insisting on a back-out clause.
He feels that the city needs to promote development in East Gainesville, including working closely with county government on converting the current fairgrounds into an industrial park. “We have the tale of two cities, and we need to focus on the needs of all quadrants of the community,” he says.
Johnson is a former member of the Gainesville-Alachua County Regional Airport Authority and the Gainesville Plan Board. He has created several businesses and has worked as a financial advisor.
Johnson says that city government needs to move away from its “adversarial” relationship with the public by keeping people better informed about city government, including through social media, and by fostering more dialogue on issues.
“My core view is that we need new leadership that will take a more holistic approach that creates more buy-in by everyone,” he says.
Johnson says that Gainesville is on the cusp of becoming a great city, but city government needs to be more responsive to citizens for the city to reach its potential. “We need a culture in the city that recognizes how important citizens and businesses are to the city.”
The biomass plant seemed to be important when it was planned, he says, but the need for it has decreased because of the decline in natural gas prices and declining electric use. “We need an aggressive strategy to mitigate the impact of the biomass plant on customers,” he says.
Lowe served as a city commissioner from 2003 through 2010, before being elected mayor in 2010.
The city has experienced great progress during his term, he says, with growth between the UF campus and downtown, improvements in East Gainesville, the creation of new jobs and the addition of airlines at the Gainesville Regional Airport.
“It’s an exciting time, when we’re seeing decades of dreams becoming a reality,” he says.
Lowe says he’s played an important role in meeting with companies that are coming to town, including Mindtree and Silver Airways. “All the new companies cited the quality of life here as a factor in relocating here,” he says.
Lowe wants to continue the city’s role in maintaining the quality of life through preserving neighborhoods and the environment, enhancing the arts and promoting equality, he says.
In Gainesville’s council-manager form of government, the mayor’s role includes providing a vision. “I want to continue to provide ideas that result in a coherent set of policies that promote the quality of life and economic development,” Lowe says.
He played that role in working with School Board Chair April Griffin to resolve a dispute between the city and the school district on stormwater assessments, he says. He also worked closely with Paula DeLaney, then chair of the county commission, in developing a plan for road and bus improvements. (The county commission dropped the bus part of the plan when it put a transportation sales tax proposal on the ballot in November.)
Lowe wants to work with the county and other stakeholders to create a new ballot issue that would fund both roads and buses, he says.
Shepherd says he would work to bring new business to town and provide help for the homeless and the poor.
He would also try to attract large employers, such as UPS and FedX, to the Depot Park area, he says. Shepherd also would advocate for lowering UF tuition and helping low-income students afford college.
“I have the drive and foresight to get things done,” he says.