Alachua Voter Guide

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Archive for the ‘Activism’

Racist or Clueless? You Decide.

April 25, 2013 By: Don Marsh Category: Activism, Local Issues

In our present climate of political discourse it has become too common to just call someone a racist when you want to destroy them politically, or just end an argument when you have no facts at your disposal to make your point. That is why I am hesitant to call the local Democrat Party leadership racist. But I may be wrong. I think they are just ham-handed, smugly superior, and clueless. But I am a white man with a white person’s frame of reference. Either way, I am going to cast this story far and wide to get a decent sampling of opinions. Democrat leadership, you can thank me later.

In a letter dated April 17, 2013, the Alachua County Democrat Black Caucus was told that they should revoke their charter immediately because they supported Ed Braddy, a Republican, against Craig Lowe, a Democrat. They further state that they, “have harmed the image of the Democratic Party locally and likely contributed to the loss of the Gainesville Mayoral election on April 16, 2013.”

After they enumerate the sins of the wayward Black Caucus, including attached pictures of the infractions, they finish off with this, “Our relationship with the local African American community has been negatively impacted and Gainesville will now have a Republican Mayor in part because of the activities of the ACDBC and some of its members. Thank you for taking action on this matter promptly before further damage is done.”

It is then signed by the Democrat leadership:
Robert Prather, Chair
Evelyn Foxx, Vice Chair
Jeanna Mastodicasa, State Committeewoman
Terry Fleming, State Committeeman

To see the entire letter, download it here.

The Black Caucus is accused of harming the image of the party. They are expected to take action in the form of revoking their own charter before further damage is done. Now if I were writing a response to this letter, it would go like this:

To whom it may concern:

We are writing in regards to your request, which didn’t sound like a request at all. It was an accusation against a people that you have taken for granted, and you have refused to listen to for a long time. It was an insult added to the injury you have done us, and then you tell us that we have “harmed the image of the Democratic Party locally.”

What you have failed to see is that you yourselves have  already harmed the image of the Democrat Party locally. You publicly stand against public discourse on the issues. You hide a contract that is harmful to the citizens from the citizens and insult them for disagreeing with you. Then you tell us it is our fault that the party’s image suffers.

The division in the party has been caused by you, the party leadership. Our unhappiness and willingness to look for redress from others is a symptom of your egregious behavior.  Your sins are many, but you have the audacity to accuse us of being unfaithful. You have had many opportunities to mend your ways, but now you come to us with the lash!

We have decided to find our true friends among our neighbors. You who look down on us from your high opinions of yourselves are not our friends. You see yourselves as our masters, and we had better knuckle under and toe the line. This insult will not soon be forgotten.

(Then I would sign it with the names of as many aggrieved persons as I could find.)

I know that this letter contains some language that could be considered racially charged, but I assure you that you can also be white and feel this way. So, please weigh in with your comments. Am I being too hard on the clueless little darlings, or are they really evil, hard-hearted SOBs?

The People Versus The Machine

April 05, 2013 By: Don Marsh Category: Activism, Local Issues

About this time three years ago, I was standing in front of Parkview Baptist Church, holding a “Marsh for Mayor” sign, and waving at incoming voters at the 12th voting precinct. My campaign manager, Rich Sheppard, pulled in and we discussed how we thought we may have this thing won. “Where are his people?” we both  wondered about the Craig Lowe Campaign.

It was a good question. Our supporters had been aggressively canvassing neighborhoods, standing on street corners with signs, and making phone calls for weeks. We were highly visible, but the Lowe Campaign seemed to be invisible. Our only encounter with them during the runoff campaign had been in East Gainesville, where we caught them going to houses with my signs and telling the residents that we were gay bashers. Other than that, it had been an eerie silence from the enemy camp.

As you are all aware, The Machine was quietly, silently grinding away in the background. At the final count, we had won among absentee votes, won with Election Day voters, but got clobbered with early voters. The Machine defeated the amateurs, the people, by 42 votes.

The Machine is hard to beat. It has winning as a priority. For the people, it’s an afterthought. It’s the reason we have such horrific low voter turnout. The Machine is an army of 5 to 6 thousand voters who control a city of 80,000 voters by just showing up. And they do  it without canvassing or putting bodies on street corners.

In this town, The Machine is not just the Democrat Party. It’s a subset of that party. It’s the power brokers within it. Sherwin Henry, a twice elected Democrat, is obviously not their man. He probably upset them by forcing The Machine to raise money for 2 races and forcing a runoff. The question is now, will Sherwin Henry’s supporters now bow their knees to The Machine? Or will they support Ed Braddy and strike a blow against The Machine?

You can be sure that there is a great deal of pressure to bring Henry’s supporters to heel. After all, without being in power, The Machine dies. The Machine must win! That is why The Machine will always come out.

But what about the people? As long as self-government is something theoretical and optional and an afterthought, they will stay home. The Machine will continue to rule over them. And the people will continue to complain about it, and look for an opportunity to move out to the county.

Dismantling The Machine will take time. This April 16th you have a chance to loosen a nut or two. Vote for Ed Braddy and start the process. make it a priority. Link up with his campaign, and see how much the people can accomplish.

Here come The Jest Fest! Just in Time for the Election!

April 03, 2013 By: Gabriel Hillel Category: Activism, Candidates, Local Issues, Media

Can the Jest Fest be as funny as the promised ice skating rink was this winter?

From the Desk of the Jest Fest promoters:
“Captive audiences, innocent bystanders, gawkers, curious on-lookers and pleasure seekers will be stricken with contagious, uncontrollable laughter caught from the antics of “world-famous, internationally known” cirque and variety type acts such as jugglers, magicians, stilt walkers, balancers, clowns, mimes, puppeteers and high-wire artists, as well as an assemblage of other highly talented but “internationally unknown, totally un-famous” rubes, scoundrels, sillies and daring-do performers seeking their first standard rich and famous contracts. These laughable buffoons will “strut and fret their time upon the stage” at the Bo Diddley Community Plaza each Saturday night in April from 6-8 p.m., highlighting the virtues of hilarity.”

It may be that the writer of the above promotion for the Jest Fest once worked in comedy.  If so, it was a long time ago.
  Think Locally, Buy Globally
Thank goodness local vendors and food growers will have at least one day a year to sell their merchandise here. I presume the rest of the time the goods will continue to come to us from the rest of the world.
If you think these comments are not funny, you should read what I write after I have had three beers or whatever it was Ed Braddy used to drink before he turned his life around and ours upside

A joke: How many police officers does it take to assure public safety at the Jest Fest? Answer: It depends how long the YouTube video will be.
When did the elected clowns on the City Commission approve this Fun Fest?

What’s the difference between the acts at the Jest Fest on April 13 and the run-off mayoral election on April 16?

 If Ed Braddy becomes Mayor, will he allow tax dollars to be spent for what any of the local judges surely would call a frivolous event?

It would really be fun to see the Jest Fest move into a courtroom in the Family and Civil Justice Center, on a rainy day. You could have a real laugh riot. Then the prosecutor could enter and give everyone a deferred prosecution. I assume that no Fest Jester will be allowed more than three minutes to present his or her routine.

If you can’t be funny in three minutes….”Thank you for your comments.”

I can’t wait to see those legendary comedians Swing Lowe and I. M. Braggy at the Jest Fest. Who can forget that great entrance they make as they hilariously walk through the sobriety test to convince us that they are not as drunk as the audience thinks they are?
Of course, the first weekend of Jest Fest will be a success! In the more than 20 years I have lived in this City, I have never known any cultural event opener to be anything other than a success. The test for Jest Fest will come on the second Saturday–the 13th–before Tax Day on the 15th and the mayoral runoff on Tuesday, April 16th. With those days ahead, that second Jest Fest likely will be a success, too. What could be funnier for any comedian than the IRS and the two DUI clowns as subject matters?   If you cannot find humor in the antics of Lowe and Be Braddy, then I suggest you move to a more sober community.

Will Gainesville Be the Next Laughingstock?
New York State continues to be remembered for its Woodstock festival of music. Thanks to the Jest Fest and the upcoming mayoral election, Florida may become known for its Laughingstock.

Let me apologize now for writing all of these comments here. In March, the City gave me and others the opportunity to write comments about how we would improve Gainesville. But after I suggested a half-dozen, someone decided the City would not take any more comments and refused to make those suggestions I have made visible to the public. So I am using every opportunity I can get to let Gainesville know that our City and the only daily in town really are not serious about citizen or reader participation. I urge each of you to make your views known through every channel possible. It is time to stop letting a handful of people tell us what to do and how to act.   Wait!  Word has just come in.  The City is accepting Comments Again!  To reach the City Comments’ page, contact

Check out https://gainesville.granicusideas.com.

Just in time for the Jest Fest…and the Mayoral Run-off.

Gabriel Hillel • Top Commenter • New York University School of Law

The End of Civics As We Know It

March 24, 2013 By: Gabriel Hillel Category: Activism, Local Issues

Before the Election for Mayor on March 19, 2013, in Gainesville, Mayor Lowe sent a card to report among his accomplishments: “Balanced budgets and a surplus in 2012.”
Ed Braddy’s card contained a pledge to go “‘Back to the Basics’ Commitment to You:….Make public safety and infrastructure budget priorities.”
More than 20 years ago, Gainesville’s elected Commissioners wanted to give the Mayor they selected each year the  kind of power envisioned by Mayor Lowe and Ed Braddy. They even ordered a Charter Review Advisory Committee to propose such measures. But that committee recommended against giving the office more power.
“The community is quite comfortable with the form of government we now have,” said the committee chair/former Gainesville Mayor–our very own Joe Little, constitutional law professor emeritus, at the Levin College of Law at the University of Florida. The year before the community had defeated a proposal that would have placed a strong mayor at the head of a consolidated city-county government.
Several months later, Professor Little said that mayoral powers, including responsibility for proposing a budget and a package of legislative priorities “are not totally unacceptable.” Among the additional powers actually considered:
• Propose an annual budget
• Veto line-items in the budget
• Appoint committees
• Serve on all committees as a non-voting member
• Submit an annual legislative package
• Issue an annual report on the state of the city.

But those proposals were shelved for a year, to let voters decide in November 1992 whether they should be approved.

In fact no such approval was given. And when in 1995 approval was given to have the Mayor selected directly by the voters, for a three year term, with a second term being feasible, the new powers were not granted.

The appropriate Ordinance today states:

“Mayor.
The mayor shall be the presiding officer of the commission and shall exercise such powers conferred and implied by, and perform all duties imposed by, this act, the ordinances of the city, and the laws of the state. The mayor shall have a voice and a vote in the proceedings of the commission, but no veto power. The mayor shall be the official head of the city for receipt of service of legal processes, the purposes of military law, and all ceremonial purposes, but shall have no administrative duties. The mayor-commissioner pro tempore shall perform the functions and duties of the office of mayor in the absence of the mayor.
(Ord. No. 4053, § 1, 1-23-95)”

If there were any doubt, the following restrictions also were continued on the powers of the mayor and the commissioners:

“Interference with charter officers.
Neither the commission nor any commissioner, including the mayor, may dictate the appointment of any person to office or employment by the charter officers nor in any manner interfere with the independence of charter officers in the performance of their duties. Except for the purpose of an inquiry, the commission and its members, including the mayor, must deal with employees of the city solely through their respective charter officers, and neither the commission nor any commissioner, including the mayor, may give orders to any subordinates of the charter officers either publicly or privately. Any commissioner, including the mayor, who violates this section is guilty of a misdemeanor of the second degree, punishable as provided in section 775.082 or section 775.083, Florida Statutes.”
(Ord. No. 4053, § 1, 1-23-95)

In brief, only good Democrats will believe that Craig Lowe has done anything about any of the budgets in the last three years.

Only good Republicans will hold fast to the idea that Ed Braddy will restructure the budget. After all, why let facts or law interfere with religious, er, political beliefs?

The budgets were created by the City Manager in consultation with his staff, and Craig Lowe and the Commissioners requested certain minor changes.    If and when Ed Braddy becomes Mayor, the City Manager will continue to control the “infrastructure of the budget,” and every other aspect of the budget.

The City Manager Russ Blackburn is not an elected official.  Rather he was chosen in 2005 by a vote of four in his favor to three in favor of his opposition, an interim female black city manager, before the usual unanimous acceptance of him.

Manager Blackburn has not looked back ever since, and neither Ed Braddy as a Commissioner or Craig Lowe as a Commissioner/Mayor has done or will do anything about the budget, until voters wake up from their stupor and the lulling comments of Joe Little Emeritus, and return control of City Government to elected rather than appointed officials.

 

The Gainesville Sun’s “Paper Bull”–Flashing a Red Herring

March 23, 2013 By: Gabriel Hillel Category: Activism, Candidates, Local Issues, Media

The dynamic duo of editorial page editor Nathan Crabbe, (a/k/a good guy) and retired editorial page editor Ron Cunningham (a/k/a bad guy)—the Sun-Shine Boys–decided that Saturday, March 23, 2013, would be a good day to throw the bull around City issues, to assure us that there is more than “driving under the influence” arrests of the only two candidates for Mayor of the City of Gainesville, at stake in the run-off on April 16, 2013.

With reckless disregard of facts or history, they threw at us readers the views of Pamela Mincey. She claims to be a cargo airline pilot. She extols the virtues of the coming biomass plant to us good citizens of Gainesville, and other customers as well of GRU—the Gainesville Regional Utilities.

Her voice might seem fresh except for the fact that during the last three years, she has written about this topic only for the Sun, on eight different occasions, several times at an unreasonable length, including today. If further distraction still is needed, we will hear from Rob Brinkman, or Ray Washington next.

While most of us writers of letters to the editor nowadays are limited to 150 words every month or so, if we can please the Sun-Shine Boys, they make sure their favorites are given all the space those opinionaters need, as long as the editorial page editors agree with the views expressed, or they see a chance to create a “controversy” or “debate” when one no longer exists, because their point of view has been rejected by the public, either at the polls or in current events.

So Ms. Mincey is allowed to go on and on about the wonders of biomass as a fuel without a single meaningful reference to the real current issue–the soaring, unanticipated costs of the fuel, and more recently, about the miscalculation of GRU in applying financial reserves toward those expenditures rather than for their intended purpose for GRU customers.

But our Ms. Mincey makes clear that her topic is not about economics, but what she still loves to call science. In the last six of the eight articles, including that published on Mar. 23, 2013, Ms. Mincey assures us “scientists” are behind the GRU plant all the way. In six of those columns/letters she holds out as her scientific authority Dr. James Hansen, Director of the NASA Goddard Institute of Climate Change. She either does not know or ignores the criticism he has undergone since last year of basing his theory on mathematical formulae rather than on sound data backed reasoning.

See, e.g., “Global Warming: An Exclusive Look at James Hansen’s Scary New Math,” By Paul Tullis, the Space and Science Section, Time Magazine, May 10, 2012. Ms. Mincey also has been challenged by Greenpeace for her claim that the organization endorses biomass, as she describes the issue.

In fact, however, in the first of her contributions to the Gainesville Sun, on this singular topic, Ms. Mincey recognized that the ongoing controversy is about the financial mistakes made by GRU in its agreement for a private company to supply biomass as a primary fuel source for electricity during a 30 year period.

In short, GRU, and its retired but re-employed Ed Regan were given carte blanche to enter into a 30-year contract without an escape clause, and then they made an error in judgment in 2008-09. Apparently not believing anyone knew more than they did, or could offer any insights of value, they have caused the on-going debate about the biomass issue to flourish, now that it is apparent to most of us that the City of Gainesville acted improperly in keeping the 30-year-contract secret from the public.

What they did was make a mistake. They bet our future utility payments that natural gas prices would continue to rise. They fell. By this year, President Obama recognized in his state of the union address that natural gas would provide a proper stimulus for a return to a thriving economy.

Based on that mistake, GRU and the City expected to be able to sell much of the plentiful supply of biomass in the designated area, to other utilities, to other users. But once the price of natural gas declined sharply, and showed no signs of increasing, in part because fracking has supplied increased amounts of the fuel, no one around Gainesville was interested in buying biomass as a fuel for their communities or businesses.

As Mr. Regan reported on deposition after he retired, GRU has been unable to sell any of the products to other customers. So the utility in the foreseeable future will be paying more for the amount of biomass used, rather than less, as they anticipated. But wait. Isn’t it all worth it, if somehow biomass fuel–as it is locally defined–is great for the environment and the economy (more jobs)?

Perhaps. But certainly the science of Ms. Mincey hardly is enough to create believers in the rest of us. Her source is a single science “god”:

Letters to the Editor – July 22 2010 “Dr. James Hansen, Director of the NASA Goddard Institute Climate Change, physicist and discoverer of global warming, states conclusively (as do all climatologists) that coal emissions are the culprit, not car emissions. Millions of tons of coal emissions annually are adversely changing the Earth at an accelerating rate. Hanson supports biomass and renewable (not nuclear) energy development.” http://www.gainesville.com/article/20100722/OPINION02/100729905

Letters to the Editor – March 14, 2011 “The climate crisis is now. Dr. James Hansen, director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies and a leading climatologist, has issued this statement: ‘Well-planned sustainable biomass power plants are a viable source of clean renewable electricity … Knee-jerk opposition to all biomass projects has no sound scientific basis … In my opinion, the proposed waste and residue-powered 100-MW Gainesville Renewable Energy Center deserves support and is a useful step toward the essential task of phasing out coal emissions.’” http://www.gainesville.com/article/20110314/OPINION02/110319767

Pamela Mincey: GRU Contrarians spin conspiracy theories, Sept. 6, 2011 “In fact, thanks to GRU’s management and city commissioners’ leadership, Gainesville has received national recognition for its renewable sustainable solar energy development. The greatest climatologist in the world, Dr. James Hansen, has endorsed GREC. The only individuals benefiting from this abuse of our community and GRU are oil drilling, coal mining and gas fracking industries. For GRU consumers this should say it all.” http://www.gainesville.com/article/20110906/OPINION/110909688

Pamela Mincey: Science vs Tooth Fairy candidates, Dec. 16, 2011  “The world’s leading Climatologist, Dr. James Hansen, states, ‘The tragedy is that many environmentalists line up on the side of the fossil fuel industry, advocating renewables as if they, plus energy efficiency, would solve the global climate change matter…suggesting that renewables will let us phase off fossil fuels in the United States, China, India, or the world as a whole is almost the equivalent of believing in the Easter Bunny and Tooth Fairy.’” http://www.gainesville.com/article/20111215/OPINION/111219746

Pamela Mincey: Biomass is closed-cycle carbon neutral, Jan. 19, 2012 “In 2011 CDAIC converted 70 percent of its facility to forest debris-based biomass energy. The world’s leading CO2 scientists have endorsed sustainable forest-debris biomass as Co2 neutral energy. Dr. James Hansen, of NASA’s GISS, climatologist and grandfather of global warming, stated unequivocal support for Gainesville’s GREC as means to reduce FFCO2 emissions. The science is complete: Biomass is closed cycle carbon neutral, sustainable, renewable energy.” http://www.gainesville.com/article/20120119/NEWS/120119453

Pamela Mincey: Gainesville making smart energy moves with biomass, Mar. 23, 2013 “The scientific community is on the side of renewable and sustainable energy sources: World renowned climate scientist James Hansen endorsed the Gainesville Renewable Energy Center (GREC, a.k.a. the biomass plant) and eminent climate activist Bill McKibben of 350.org is a strong advocate of the sustainability of biomass, just to name two. http://www.gainesville.com/article/20130323/OPINION03/130329910

But what about Bill McKibben? Where did he come from? We would note his connection with James Hansen in the following comment to an article in 2012.  They are referenced in this report in a 2012 comment, to “Massachusetts Finalizes Strict Regulations on Biomass Plants” By Meg Cichon, Associate Editor, RenewableEnergyWorld.com
“New Hampshire, U.S.A. — The Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources (DOER) finalized the Massachusetts Renewable Portfolio Standard Class I regulations for biomass eligibility yesterday after more than two years of evaluation and heated debate.

Comment below

joe-zorzin August 27, 2012″  Bill McKibben, founder of 350.org, likes the small biomass plant built on the Middlebury College campus, where he teaches. And, James Hansen, one of the first scientists to warn of global warming once said the following: “”Well-planned sustainable biomass power plants are a viable source of clean renewable electricity, and thus are helpful for the task of phasing out coal-fired power plants. Knee-jerk opposition to all biomass projects has no sound scientific basis and is harmful to attempts to stabilize climate for the sake of our children, grandchildren, and future generations. In my opinion, the proposed 100 MW Gainesville Renewable Energy Center deserves support and is a useful step toward the essential task of phasing out coal emissions.”

Zorin concludes: The obvious point being that if these 2 can support certain biomass facilities- biomass can’t be all that bad- it’s all about how you do it and where you get the wood.

So enough about biomass for the moment. Let’s get back to what, if anything, can be done, for example, to persuade Stuart Craig Lowe and Ed to step aside, because neither can generate faith in good government among the vast majority of registered voters in Gainesville, if the race comes down to a choice of the lesser of these two evils. Even without a voter boycott, the turnout is likely to be the lowest imaginable.  The loser is clear–the City of Gainesville.

Gainesville Surely Deserves Better Than Lowe/Braddy

March 21, 2013 By: Gabriel Hillel Category: Activism, Candidates, Local Issues, Uncategorized

As a resident of my hometown of Gainesville, Florida, I appeal to my community to come together, to save our image, to save our souls. Let’s talk about the image of our community now and in the future, in light of the arrest and jailing of Mayor Craig Lowe on Thursday, March 21.  He is charged with “driving under the influence,” after he was arrested.

We can talk, we can write to City Hall, through a portal, eComment, on the web page, http://www.cityofgainesville.org.  Go to legistar, via Agendas/Minutes.   Note 2013 Calendar of meetings and the like.  Find a bold face eComment.  Click on it and start talking/writing. Without public discussion, the City Manager quietly opened up a portal, for written comments and suggestions on the City Website, but neither he nor anyone else for Gainesville has publicized that opportunity since September 2012.
To my knowledge, I am the only one who has used that opportunity for Comment except for initial “trials” by the City Clerk and several commissioners. Citizens can use this vehicle for constant monitoring of City Hall.Without public discussion, the City Manager quietly opened up a portal, for written comments and suggestions on the City Website, but neither he nor anyone else for Gainesville has publicized that opening since September 2012.
To my knowledge, I am the only one who has used that opportunity for Comment except for initial “trials” by the City Clerk and several commissioners. Citizens can use this vehicle for constant monitoring of City Hall.

Gainesville, FL–a Laughing Stock?

Let’s take back our City before an election of April 16, 2013.  A run-off is scheduled to  fill the ceremonial office of Mayor.   For many of you, it is and was a no-brainer.  Ed Braddy now, Ed Braddy then, Ed Braddy forever.   Before you lock your mind away again, I would urge you to read this.   Right now, Gainesville stands to become a “laughing stock” in the nation, because of a mayoral contest between an incumbent and a challenger who involuntarily have become known for their publicized arrests of driving while intoxicated.

Gainesville already has gained a national reputation during this local election, because of mayoral candidate Pete Johnson’s campaign poster of him and his beloved golden retriever in sun glasses, before the dog, Dakota, died last year.  Until the election two days ago, on March 19, 2013, I favored Pete Johnson, but I was willing to accept “anybody but Lowe” as Mayor of Gainesville. Mayor Lowe is scheduled to face former City Commissioner Ed Braddy, in a run-off on April 16.

However, Mr. Braddy already has taken such an unconscionable, condescending attitude, if he is being quoted accurately, that I could not possibly vote for either man. I am sure others feel the same way, though perhaps not among the devout right wing readers of this blog site.

 The Gainesville Sun has quoted him as follows: “Braddy, Lowe’s rival in the upcoming runoff, offered this reaction: ‘I join many in Gainesville in hoping he has a healthy recovery,’ he said. ‘I’m grateful no one was injured in the incident, and I hope he gets the help he needs … I really encourage people, no matter who they are supporting in the runoff, to give him his space.’

“During his second term on the City Commission, Braddy was arrested for driving under the influence in January 2006. He took a hiatus from the commission to enter alcohol treatment and pleaded no contest to the DUI charges. ‘I used it as a turning point,’ Braddy said. ‘I hit rock bottom and had to look at myself and what I was doing and change how I was living. … My thoughts are the test of character is how you respond to something like this. I say that not as his rival in a race but as someone who has been in a similar situation.’”

Mr. Braddy did not step down from his office, after he hit rock bottom, but instead rehabilitated himself while spending more than two years thereafter on the Commission. He was barred by term limits from going on and on….

                                                 As a Sheep In Wolves’ Clothing
As a leftwing blogger for the rightwing Alachua Voter Guide, this month, I was sorely tempted to “out” Mr. Braddy, and his DUI, to place him on the defensive before the election. My friend Pete Johnson on several occasions advised me not to do so. Pete rightly pointed out that taking the low road would be a disservice to the community we both loved.

But Mr. Braddy himself chose to remain silent about his DUI past and his remarkable recovery until now. Thus Gainesville is left with two hypocrites seeking office, neither of whom could or should prevail in light of the former Commissioner’s remarks and attempt to capitalize cynically on the stain on an individual he clearly could not abide, before the Mayor’s DUI arrest. Anyone who has heard Mr. Braddy’s rants on his radio program knows what I am talking about.

In my blog, I previously have faulted Mayor Lowe for his dishonest response about Gainesville’s unconstitutional public records policy which has been preserved to date by a local judge biased in favor of the City. I certainly came to believe that Mayor Lowe says or will say anything he believes necessary to keep him in office.   But Mr. Braddy has done the same thing. Both Mayor Lowe and Mr. Braddy have misled the public about what they can or cannot do in their office.

Except for presiding at Commission sessions, they hold no meaningful power whatsoever. Both the Mayor and former Commissioner Braddy have proven themselves in office, to be rude arrogant officials. However, they lack power. That power lies elsewhere, in the hands of unelected officials. What is at stake now is the image of Gainesville.

                                                                    Saving Face
Though the Office of the Mayor is one without power, the ceremonial role is crucial as the “face” of our City. I came to regard Gainesville as my hometown, because of the positive image presented by former Mayor Pegeen Hanrahan, from 2004, until May 2010. She was barred from seeking three more years in that office, because of term limits.

I enthusiastically voted for Craig Lowe as a worthy successor, as the first local official to openly declare himself as gay, even though like the late Ed Koch, former mayor of New York, Gainesville’s incumbent may chose to be celibate, during his time in office. I became disillusioned during his nearly three years in office, because of his rude, provocative, antagonistic attitude toward the public and toward the law.
However, at this juncture, the real danger is dominance of our city by its City Manager Russ Blackburn, who has been in office since 2005, and, behind the scenes, Marion Radson, who continues to have a title of “temporary senior assistant city attorney,” though he ostensibly retired on Oct. 1, 2012 after 27 years as City Attorney. Mr. Radson continues to be paid apparently, in addition to his retirement pay. Mr. Blackburn controls the budget, the fire assessment fee, and the Office of the City Attorney continues to waste thousands of dollars by hiring private out of town lawyers to defend Gainesville, (and one maybe two local firms).

Either Mr. Blackburn or Mr. Radson to my knowledge is capable of using undue influence if necessary to pull or push Gainesville in a direction he favors.  Gainesville’s anachronistic strong City Manager/City Attorney (highly unusual) former of government was created in 1927, when the Ku Klux Klan flourished here, but then was reinforced in 1995, when charter review was changed significantly only to allow the position of Mayor to be directly elected by the public, rather than by fellow commissioners. The office of Mayor remained decidedly ceremonial.

The power of Mr. Radson was so great then that the charter continued to hold the most bizarre provision I have ever seen in any local government’s basic document:
(Ord. No. 4053, § 1, 1-23-95)

2.10. – Interference with charter officers.
Neither the commission nor any commissioner, including the mayor, may dictate the appointment of any person to office or employment by the charter officers nor in any manner interfere with the independence of charter officers in the performance of their duties. Except for the purpose of an inquiry, the commission and its members, including the mayor, must deal with employees of the city solely through their respective charter officers, and neither the commission nor any commissioner, including the mayor, may give orders to any subordinates of the charter officers either publicly or privately. Any commissioner, including the mayor, who violates this section, is guilty of a misdemeanor of the second degree, punishable as provided in section 775.082 or section 775.083, Florida Statutes.
(Ord. No. 4053, § 1, 1-23-95)
I spoke about this provision with the City Manager last year. He refused to allow any discussion of that provision, but could not defend it. That provision assured him and the City Attorney of blackmailing elected officials into silence.
I would call for a dialogue about the office of the Mayor in the future. Further I would ask that the position be regarded as ceremonial in fact, and that the public be informed that the position carries no weight to do what any of the candidates, including Mayor Lowe and former Commissioner Braddy have suggested.

Coda: I expect at this site to be disregarded, most of all by Mr. Braddy himself.  I can only promise that as long as I can appear at the City Commission meetings or write commentary to suggest the facts as I see them, I will not let him rest easier in office, until and unless he should apologize sincerely for the unbelievable advantage he has tried to take, by a false piety, about what he did to turn himself around when he hit bottom–what he did was remain in office at public expense for the next two and a half years, and to set a bad example so that in fairness I and others cannot ask Mayor Lowe to resign, as he should do.

Part 2–Florida Blue Key May Have A New Legend On Its Hands

March 19, 2013 By: Gabriel Hillel Category: Activism, Candidates, Media, Uncategorized

Florida Blue Key (“FBK”), the University of Florida honorary society, known for its many lawyers and judges, federal as well as state, Florida Governors, and U.S. Senators may have the makings of a new history to create, not just for the state, or even the nation.  Someday, people of Gainesville, Florida, may remember when they voted for a young man who went on to become the leader of Venezuela.  In power and beloved by millions, Alfredo Espinosa once again may provide the United States with oil this country needs in this hemisphere, so that it is not as dependent for that vital resource on the fledgling democracies of the Middle East.

A poll purported to have been provided by the St. Petersburg Times earlier this month showed the 20-year-old Venezuelan, by way of Brazil, leading handily in the college student-based District 4 election for City Commissioner.  The incumbent Randy Wells trailed him by nine percentage points, and the wily old Mac McEachern was breathing hard and running last.

The young Espinosa already has become some sort of social medium.  He boasted of signing up hundreds of fraternity brothers for his campaign.  That may explain the incredible bulge in the number of voters who selected to vote early and even the very low turnout on election day at the precinct on campus on the second floor of the Reitz Union.

On the day of the election, that is, today, Espinosa reportedly according to the Gainesville Sun still was campaigning.    Veteran Reporter Brittany Ann Morrisey spotted him “about 1 p.m. Tuesday….campaigning outside of the J. Wayne Reitz Union.  He said he was visiting this polling place because he was ‘just trying to go where the traffic is.’  Espinosa stopped passers-by to tell them who he was and ask them to vote. He told some people where they could get a margarita if they brought in their “I voted” sticker.

On March 19, 2013 this blogger can confirm that 101 Cantina on University Avenue was making that offer on its website.   Literally thousands could benefit from this seemingly small restaurant across from the campus.   At an event staged by Espinosa at the place owned by 101 Management on February 19, his website reported that he actually invited 1,780 people on that date; 235 said they were coming; 45 others said “maybe” and after the happening, four people actually said they liked it.  Under other circumstances, 101 Cantina may be remembered as the place a teenage coed left last fall before she was raped, but not on this occasion.

That was the last event Espinosa had on the ground, before he took to the internet to really rev up his campaign, for the next month.  But on this election day, Ms. Morrisey reported:
“Espinosa stopped to speak with 19-year-old Jack Hackett about encouraging fraternity members to vote. Hackett wore a white shirt with the name ‘Alfredo Espinosa’ on it.  Hackett had been campaigning in front of the Reitz since 7 a.m. He is a UF student studying political science and has been working with Espinosa throughout the campaign.  Hackett told several passers-by where their polling locations were. He said getting to the correct polling locations before they closed was a big issue for students.

Hackett said he voted by absentee ballot and planned to campaign for Espinosa until the polls closed at 7 p.m. He had missed class to campaign.”

The kind of luck Espinosa has in this campaign, is personified by the following story reported on-line by the Gainesville Sun:

“One 21-year-old student wanted to vote at this precinct 9 (in the Reitz) today. She is registered at a different precinct because she does not live in this area.

“However, she did not have time to get to her polling place because she has classes until 5 p.m. and then a project to work on after that. The polls close at 7 p.m. She was told that she could not vote here, but she could get an absentee ballot for elections in the future.

“She wanted to vote for UF student Alfredo Espinosa for City Commission District 4 because it ‘would be good to have someone our age.’”  - Brittany Ann Morrisey

 

 

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LWV forummac

Is Craig Lowe a Liar? If Not, Who Is?

March 18, 2013 By: Gabriel Hillel Category: Activism, Candidates, Local Issues, Media

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As Sunshine Week slowly sets in the West….
If the Gainesville Sun told the truth when the daily quoted Mayor Craig Lowe as saying there would be a “great delay” if the clerk had to process all requests for public records, he is a liar.
How Lowe Can He Get?
Lowe was answering the question posed by Pete Johnson, at the Candidate Forum last week. Pete was stunned into silence. As a fair, principled candidate, he could not very well suggest what is stated as fact here: Lowe lied, and knew he lied when he suggested that the current system used by the City to respond to requests for public records is likely to provide a timely response.   The City intends and achieves maximum delays if it bothers to respond to requests at all.
Kurt Lannon, the City Clerk, never experienced a great delay when he was the primary custodian of records from 1993, to 2009. The delays have resulted since the City Attorney/City Manager stripped the Clerk of the duty to act as custodian of any records except those specifically entrusted to him in April 2009.

 

That City Manager Punch and City Attorney Judy Show tricked the elected officials into approving the change in duties for the Clerk on the consent agenda without discussion. The fact that the change made Gainesville out of compliance with state law did not worry the City’s power brokers.
The Florida Public Records Act, Sec. 119.011(5) specifically defines the term “custodian of public records” to mean “the elected or appointed state, county or municipal officer (e.g., the Clerk) charged with the responsibility of maintaining the office having public records, or his or her designee.” A custodian of public records may designate another officer or employee to permit the inspection and copying of public records, but must disclose the identity of the designee to the person requesting to inspect or copy public records.

Gainesville’s Foreign Public Records Policy
But the current system in Gainesville is not contemplated by state law, and certainly not by Florida Constitution Art. I, §24a (1992). That provision was intended to guarantee meaningful access to public records. But that is the last thing Gainesville wants. Real access to public records would reveal corruption in the Department of Parks, Recreation, Nature, the Environment, the Old West, the New South,  and Culture. Check out, for example, the real reason the manager of the Ironwood Golf Course was fired last year.
Gainesville informed us we could have that information, if it existed, if we provided $13,000 plus up front. Then a search would begin. Or perhaps you want to know how and why contamination has delayed and continues to delay the opening of Depot Park. Yeah. Right.
How are record requests processed in Gainesville? In February 2012, Craig provided the Lowe- Down in response to a citizen comment requesting information about the appropriate person to contact, for instance, if there were records from a variety of departments which were sought, for example, to review 1) contracts made by the City Attorney with private lawyers, 2) fees paid to those lawyers, and 3) the process used by Gainesville, for selection of that private counsel in each particular case. Until that information was requested specifically, the inquirer naively believed that he could simply ask for the records he needed at a recorded City Commission meeting, and the City Clerk would provide them, as he had done for more than a decade.
Adding the inquirer’s name mentally to Craig’s list, the Very Pattern of Our Modern Mayor General stated that the individual would have to go to each agency for the particular records in question. The Mayor Mayor had no answer at all when he was asked how an applicant for records was supposed to know the appropriate employee to ask in each instance. Florida legal decisions note that the fact that an employee may have a record is his or her possession does not mean that he or she is custodian of the record.   Under Florida law, you go to a designated custodian.  But in Gainesville, the practice is to the Mary Mary quite contrary, says His Honor.

There Will Be A Short Delay
As for delays, a custodian of public records and his/her designee must acknowledge requests to inspect or copy records promptly, according to State law. But think of all the mistakes which could result. Surely the time for response is whatever the City thinks it should be.
For other communities, the Florida Supreme Court has said that a reasonable time is the amount of time allowed for a custodian to retrieve the record and delete those portions of the record the custodian asserts are exempt. A municipal policy which provides for an automatic delay in the production of public records is not permitted. Gainesville’s City Attorney had been around far longer than any of the Supreme Court justices and he knew better.
So how did that the process for obtaining records work last year, when a former City employee sought to review the e-mails sent to, from, and about her during the seven years she worked for Gainesville? She needed the records to show that there was reason to believe that she had been terminated, because she needed time off to have a disability treated.
The City did not respond to her request for more than two weeks. The response eventually came from the Office of the City Attorney, rather than from the Parks, Recreation, Nature & Culture Office where she was the public arts coordinator. The Office of the City Attorney apparently feared that someone inadvertently might release those e-mails without checking each one for a possible Social Security number or other information exempt from disclosure.
To review the e-mails for such possibility, that Office estimated that a search for the e-mails would not begin until the former employee paid an estimated $39,000 plus in advance. Meanwhile, the assistant City Attorney responsible for the records used some of them to defend Gainesville against the employee’s charges of discrimination.

But to protect the City from potential liability, the City Attorney would not even provide copies of those to the applicant until payment was made. The former employee by then had hired an attorney. The Gainesville Sun reported on the delays in the process, including a change in the estimated cost to compile the records to a third of the original amount. That change was made three months later. After the estimate was lowered, the assistant City Attorney in charge of the records left on maternity leave without disclosing that fact. The matter already was in Court, so a hearing was scheduled for July 5, 2012.
The judge already had ruled that the Attorney Gabe Kaimowitz could represent both the former employee and the Butterfly Education Project, LLC, to pursue records which had been denied to the Plaintiffs. The Butterfly Education Project requests in the main simply had been ignored.
Though the Florida law requires that a hearing to determine whether records were being held properly must be immediate, the local Alachua County Circuit Court saw no reason for haste. The hearing begun on July 5 continued through July 24. Only an hour was left, when the presiding Judge Victor L. Hulslander decided to disqualify himself.

Despite the Sun’s presentation of Judge Hulslander’s reasons for stepping aside, the judge himself limited his reason to a simple statement that he was stepping aside without further explanation. The successor Judge Toby S. Monaco was called upon to work his magic.   Judge Monaco has a long and proud history of 27 years of practice representing people who get sued.  On the bench in the next 13 years, Judge Monaco continues his admirable representation of people who get sued.  The City and Mayor Craig Lowe had no reason to fear that justice or any due process of law would interfere with Judge Monaco’s rights as a jurist to award the City with whatever it needed not to embarrass anyone in their mutual social set.    The court is especially protective of the City since its Senior Litigating Attorney Dan M. Nee is married to Judge Denise Ferrero, a long-time favorite of the Alachua County 8th Judicial Circuit Bar Association, Inc. (except for 1941-1957, 2001-2004).

   Watch Judge Monaco at Work.  You Will Never See Work Like It Again.

In six short weeks, Judge Monaco managed to ignore Judge Hulslander’s order to allow the Plaintiffs to proceed.   He threw out the pleadings of both plaintiffs, held a one-day trial for the former City employee, and granted judgment in favor of the City. His cryptic judgment without explanation is on appeal. But if history is any indication, the appeal will be ended with an affirmance without opinion and the case will be dead without any recourse, to the Florida Supreme Court.
But what about applications for public records by any other applicant? What should be clear by now is that in Gainesville, the delay was far greater than any experienced during the 16 years or so that Clerk Lannon was the primary custodian. The power was taken from the Clerk and placed in the hands of each City employee. That left each of the more than 2,000 “foxes” employed by the City and the Gainesville Regional Utilities (“GRU”) in charge of his or her own “hen house” of records. That protection racket avoids disclosure of records which might expose corrupt, illegal, or unethical acts.
What sort of acts? A widely publicized law suit filed last year was brought to expose the City’s secret actions to hide the steps taken to approve the 30-year biomass plant contract arranged between GRU and a private company and/or its successor. After a settlement to discuss the events openly in public had been reached between attorneys for Gainesville, and the solo practitioner representing the plaintiffs, Mayor Lowe called the law suit “aggressively frivolous.” The solo practitioner who brought the suit noted that the agreement had been reached between her and the private Jacksonville law firm which had been paid close to $100,000 to defend the law suit.
In recent years, the Office of the City Attorney has doled out millions of dollars for defense of at least three dozen law suits to private out-of-town law firms, and one favored local firm. The Office of the City Attorney has insisted that an applicant for the records of those transactions must pay an undisclosed sum in advance for research to begin. But fortunately, another City Department did provide the financial payouts to some of those law firms.

If Local Democrats Have Any Decency Left
Mayor Lowe has benefited greatly from that silence. Democrats on the City Commission and those who recently were elected should be ashamed of themselves. But look at Randy Wells, who is seeking re-election, or priggish Lauren Poe, or grinning Tom Hawkins, and you can tell they are not ashamed because of his actions at all. Their rationale apparently is the rightwing talk show host who would replace him would be worse for all of us.
The public however likely will have the last cry. Mayor Lowly is unlikely to get a majority of those voting on Tuesday. He will find himself in a run-off with the support of his fellow Democrat Scherwin Henry who refuses to recognize that his political career has been over since his campaign stalwart Armando Grundy was defeated last year. Henry’s tails to the religious black community are not long enough to get a significant African-American turnout for Craig Lowe, a gay marriage advocate. You are unlikely to hear black church leaders calling for their congregations to vote for a Mayor who had the audacity to have his young white campaign manager hired by Lowly’s good friend, none other than the powerless Kurt Lannon.

Let the Sunshine In….
The first time around Mayor Lowe won a run-off by 41 votes, thanks to the intervention of Ray Washington, the Gainesville Sun’s contribution to the local bar. But Ray certainly will not be doing that again. So unless the public wakes up, unless sanity steps in on Tuesday and Pete Johnson somehow is elected to save the day for the City, Gainesville’s next mayor will be that right wing talk show host, Ed Braddy, who swears he has no vision for the municipality. Obviously the sun is setting fast on Gainesville. Perhaps someone will turn the Sunshine on again in 2016.

Do As These Former Commissioners Plan, Not As They Do

March 16, 2013 By: Gabriel Hillel Category: Activism, Candidates, Local Issues

sherwin2013Henry (left) Braddy (right)edbraddy2013

Three former Commissioners wanting to be Mayor apparently want voters to consider what they plan, rather than what is done on the East Side of Gainesville.   Former Commissioners Ed Braddy, Sherwin Henry, and Craig Lowe, now Mayor, have always looked on the bright side, of plans for a neighborhood some whites consider to be black on the east side of the City.    The actual East Side is not well-defined, but many whites consider the area in question to be the black neighborhoods on that side of Gainesville.

Commissioner Henry however does not like to consider race, except perhaps when redistricting of the area threatens the loss of a black on the Commission.  So Commissioner Henry refers to the black section as the East Side.  Like other whites in Gainesville, I am prepared to accept the issue as blacks might define it.

So what has been happening, say, for the last 10 years on the East Side?   Nearly a decade ago a public housing project with hundreds of tenants was contributing to the tax base.  But that area now is  vacant property where hundreds of people lived from 1968 until 2003.  The site was the location of what was known as Kennedy Homes.

In 2003, the housing project was riddled with code violations.  More than 470 people, mostly women and children, mostly African-American, lived there.   Always quick to be responsive to black leaders, former Commissioner Craig Lowe said “I think (condemnation) is an avenue we should explore.”   Commissioner Lowe was echoing the suggestion of former Commissioner Charles Chestnut, who was the black representative on the commission at the time.  Before condemnation, however, a fire at the complex was the final straw after life-threatening gas and electrical problems forced the evacuation of the residents.  They were dispersed among several shabby hotels/motels.

In November, 2003,  after the tenants were forced out, former Commissioner Ed Braddy first claimed credit for lobbying the federal government to assist them.  “Braddy, who has been lobbying for Kennedy Homes residents while in Washington…for a business conference said he was happy residents will finally be able to move out of their hotel rooms.  ‘While I understand that this is great news and tremendous progress, it’s frustrating that it had to get to this point.  It would be wonderful if this had been taken care of a long time ago,’ he said.  Legal documents that will allow HUD to terminate its contract with (the owner) could be completed early next week, Braddy said,” according to the Gainesville Sun, Nov. 22, 2003.

But a month later, when the City somehow was being blamed by the residents and the public, Commissioner Braddy defensively said that the City did the best it could to help Kennedy residents, but “we have no direct control over Kennedy Homes.  None,’ he said,” according to the report in the Gainesville Sun on Dec. 29, 2003  The City would condemn the property and purchase it on Braddy’s watch, but he did not discuss the matter much after 2005.   The complex eventually was shut down.   The Kennedy Homes tenants were scattered everywhere with little if any assistance from the City.   Eventually the City razed the abandoned buildings and planned for mixed-use housing to be built on the site.     A vote was taken on the project in 2005.   The Gainesville Sun provided this report:

            ‘Renaissance’ OK’d at

             Kennedy Homes Site

By JEFF ADELSON  Sun staff writer  Published: Friday, June 24, 2005.  “Aplan by Gainesville officials to buy and develop the former Kennedy Homes Apartments and surrounding properties could become a reality within three years, filling the now unused sites with a mix of market-rate and subsidized housing.

“Voting to instruct staff to move ahead with the Southeast Gainesville Renaissance Initiative by: conducting a market study of southeast Gainesville; negotiating to buy the Kennedy Homes Apartments and two adjacent properties; seeking developers interested in developing homes on the properties; and beginning the process of bringing the area around the properties into the Eastside Redevelopment District.  FOR: Craig Lowe (and five Democrats);   AGAINST: Ed Braddy”

“Gainesville city commissioners…gave a nod of approval to the Southeast Gainesville Renaissance Initiative, a city project which would use municipal resources to buy the sites and begin development. The move came during a daylong meeting to discuss goals for the coming fiscal year….Commissioners instructed city staff to conduct a market study to determine the viability of the project, negotiate to buy the three properties being sought, begin courting developers for the project, and initiate procedures to bring the properties into the Eastside Redevelopment District.

“Commissioners Ed Braddy cast the sole dissenting vote, arguing the proposal should not be voted on  before the commission discussed the rest of its funding priorities.  Gainesville officials have sought to replace the blighted Kennedy Homes apartment complex, 1717 SE 8th Ave., since it was shut down in October 2003 after a fire exposed serious problems with electrical and gas lines in the complex. Inspections by city and federal authorities had previously documented potentially life-threatening problems with apartments in the affordable housing complex.”

City Purchases The Property in 2007

The City purchased the property for $1.95 million in 2007.   The City Attorney Marion Radson stated that “Now we can move forward with the renaissance plans and construct a high quality mixed income residential project.”

In 2010, when Commissioner Lowe was seeking to be Mayor, the Kennedy Homes project  plan was raised again.   Lowe pointed with pride to the plans the city has made during his time in office for the east Gainesville area, including the proposed redevelopment of the site of the Kennedy Homes housing development.

The following year, when Commissioner Henry was concluding his time in office, he likewise pointed to the Kennedy Homes plans in citing his accomplishments in office.  The Gainesville Sun reported on March 10, 2011:

“The keynote speaker at the annual meeting of the nonprofit East Gainesville Development Corporation, Henry said….he has seen great strides on the east side of the city, which the organization defines as the area east of Northwest and Southwest 13th Street.

“With a slide show, Henry took the audience of community leaders and businesspeople on a virtual tour of the area, highlighting businesses that have moved in and city projects that have been completed — for example, the Community Redevelopment Agency’s new building at 802 NW Fifth Ave. and the Walmart Supercenter on Waldo Road — and things that are yet to come.

“Key among projects in the pipeline is the redevelopment of the former Kennedy Homes property, which could be a mixed-use site home to single-family housing for all income levels as well as commercial space.

“While Anthony Lyons, the CRA manager, and his staff don’t have concrete plans for the expansions yet, the agency has a number of projects under way in its Eastside zone that he hopes can serve as a catalyst for change.

“Not the least is the redevelopment of the former Kennedy Homes low-income apartment complex on Southeast Eighth Avenue. Still in the planning phases, the CRA’s plan for the site is a mixed-income subdivision with a focus on sustainability. Lyons said there should be a detailed plan for the property, which the city purchased for nearly $2 million, by February.”

In 2012-13, in the mayoral race involving Braddy, Henry, and Lowe, the plans for the vacant area were not discussed.

 

Take Action on Koppers Superfund: Demand Resignation of Attorney

March 14, 2013 By: Gabriel Hillel Category: Activism, Candidates

The federal government comment period about a consent decree to allow Beazer, Inc., to get away with murder at the Koppers Superfund site in the Stephen Foster neighborhood in Gainesville ends today, Friday, March 15, not with a bang but a whimper.

But there still is something candidates for Mayor can do to show that they really are aware of what residents near the contaminated site want. They can notify high-priced attorney Bill Pence and his law firm that their services no longer would be needed if the candidate speaking at the moment was elected, he, being everyone including the incumbent.  Why would each of them say such a thing? Mr. Pence seems to pose a danger to women, children, and anything else living too near the Koppers’ Superfund Site.

The City Commission seemed to understand last week that the top priority for residents who have been imprisoned in the Koppers’ Superfund area because they cannot sell their homes is purchase of their properties.  The elected City officials asked the federal government to consider purchase of the homes of some of the residents.   However Bill Pence says that is not going to happen.  Hey.  Is Gainesville really paying this man and his law firm for such arrogance?

Working So Hard on the Consent Degree

The Gainesville Sun last week mentioned Pence for the first time in the 15-20 years that he and his law firm have been advising the City about environmental matters, according to the archives maintained by the only daily in town. Pence is one of those high-priced lawyers from other cities in Florida who are rewarded by the Office of the City Attorney to take on the burden that the million dollar a year in attorney salaries public law firm cannot handle. Pence is called upon to advise the Office of the City Attorney on such matters as the 30-year-old contamination of the Stephen Foster neighborhood. Pence occasionally also advises City officials.

What was the Pence advice? The Sun reported: “Bill Pence, an outside attorney who the city of Gainesville contracts with as environmental counsel, said the permanent relocation of residents was ‘not going to happen’ and that the EPA made that decision when the cleanup plan was approved in 2011. Pence also said if Beazer East purchases off-site properties, the company would be under no legal requirement to clean the contamination off them.”

What Are We Talking About Here?

“The Cabot/Koppers Superfund site at N Main St and NE 23rd Ave, Gainesville, Alachua County, Florida covers 140 acres bridging two properties. It is comprised of two sites; the Koppers portion covering 90 acres on the western side, and the Cabot Carbon portion covering 50 acres on the eastern side.

“A wood treating operation on the Koppers portion of the site, which ceased operations in late 2009, had been active since 1916. Cabot Carbon formerly operated a charcoal production operation on the Cabot Carbon portion from 1911 to 1955. The Northside Shopping Center was built on a portion of the former Cabot facility, which was historically used to distill pine oil and pine tar from pine trees. As a result, soil and groundwater data from the locations beneath the building or nearby locations indicate the presence of relatively low levels of volatile organic compounds,” according to a sampling investigation report published on Oct. 2, 2012, after a soil sampling investigation at the City of Gainesville’s Municipal Storage Yard (MSY) and adjacent areas in Gainesville, FL .

Two “potentially responsible parties (PRPs) are funding the site cleanup. Beazer East, Inc. is the PRP for the Koppers portion of the site. Cabot Corporation is the PRP for the Cabot Carbon portion,” notes the report.

A Farthing for Your Thoughts, Mr. Pence

An e-mail obtained in response to a public records request reveals that Mr. Pence has been paid by Gainesville at least since 1996, when the City reached an agreement on the clean-up of the contamination of the Cabot Carbon site. That was accomplished without anyone going to court.

If you actually have to go to court, of course, Mr. Pence is not the man you would need. He apparently is only admitted to practice really at the trial level, in the Florida state courts and the U.S. Court for the Middle District of Florida. He apparently is not admitted in the U.S. Court for the Northern District of Florida, where Gainesville is located, or in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit.

But Mr. Pence does not have to go to court to prove his worth, to the Office of the City Attorney. Here is what Mr. Pence can do and has done for Gainesville at the low, low price of $360 an hour. This summer, Mr. Pence and his law firm were actively involved in the legal effort to protect City employees from harm near the Koppers site. Without attracting much attention, the City initiated several “dust avoidance practices for onsite workers” based on a significantly high concentration of dioxin discovered in June 2012, by the Beazer East’s consultant on the Material Storage Yard (MSY) site. What could be done for the workers, if not the residents? “Minimize dust-Water truck if necessary.” “If dusty, use dusts masks;” put up “Do Not Disturb” signs near the sampled sites. The contamination was said to have reached dangerous dioxin levels at the City of Gainesville, Public Workers Center, Material Storage Yard.

From the safety of his office at the Sun Trust Center, far, far away in Orlando, Florida, Pence went right to work. On July 12, 2012, Pence worked 0.80 billable hours (about 48 minutes) to “review memorandum from (future City Attorney) Nicolle Shalley results of dioxin testing on City Public Workers Center parcel and strategy for responding to the presence of dioxins on the site; confer with Nicolle Shalley regarding same.”

One Tax Dollar for You, One Tax Dollar….

Pence worked nearly twice as long less than a week later to “Review information provided employees at City operations yard regarding the discovery of dioxins in onsite soils; prepare for and participate in conference call with Stu Pearson (Koppers’ on-site manager for Gainesville) and Nicolle Shalley regarding same; review EPA’s 104(e) information Request regarding Cabot site; confer with Stu Pearson regarding same.”

Pence put in a hard 90 minutes on July 27 to “Prepare for and participate in conference call with Stu Pearson, (and others), regarding completing site specific risk assessment to evaluate potential risk to City employees working at Public Workers Center adjacent to the Koppers site,” and then another 24 minutes or so on July 30 to “Review correspondence from Stu Pearson regarding revised exposure scenario for on-site City employees; begin review of surface water discharge data reported from Koppers site.” Pence also billed for 24 minutes in that month to “Review results of additional dioxin sampling performed in settling ponds and storm water pipe sediments on the City’s operational parcel;” and Pence  ” conferred with “Stu Pearson regarding same.” For that arduous effort, Baker & Hostetler billed the City for $1,728, for July 2012. Oops. We forgot. There was a cost of an additional $180.

But we should consider ourselves fortunate, in light of past charges, and the other commitments the Office of City Attorney has made to Bill Pence. The Office of the City Attorney retained him for special consultation services for review of environmental liability issues related to the City’s proposed purchase of Smokey Bear Park in 2010.  Mr. Pence gave Gainesville his reduced price rate of only $360 an hour for that work.  What is the problem with Smokey Bear Park?

Did You Know Smokey the Bear Park Is Contaminated?

By March of 2011, it was learned that “the city of Gainesville has not yet finalized an estimated $490,000 purchase of Smokey Bear Park from the state of Florida. Concerns over soil contamination from the underground fuel storage tanks on site when the Florida Division of Forestry used the northeast Gainesville property have slowed the purchase, said Gainesville Parks Recreation & Cultural Affairs Director Steve Phillips.”

By June of 2011, the Sun reported: “The city’s land purchasing efforts with Wild Spaces & Public Places have yet to produce significant results. Plans to purchase Smokey Bear Park from the state are held up for the time being because of soil contamination from underground fuel storage tanks that were on site when the Florida Division of Forestry used the property. Phillips said the city continues to look for a piece of conservation property to purchase with $2.2 million set aside for that purpose.” That’s the last known fact about old Smokey Bear Park.

What else has Mr. Pence done for us lately? Well, in 2011, by March concerning the consent decree for the Koppers Superfund site primarily, Baker & Hostletler was billing $13,656.15. In April, Marion Radson okayed another $2,325.00. For May, Mr. Pence charged only for 84 minutes of time for a telephone conference, a review of correspondence, and correspondence to the City Attorney about what he had learned. Mr. Pence also conferred with several others; charges were limited to $462.00. Mr. Pence capped off May and June with a half-an-hour spent to “Review County Chairman’s correspondence to President Obama regarding implementation of remedy at Kopper site: prepare correspondence to Marion Radson regarding same.” Total; Only $528.00.

But if something actually happens at the Kopper Superfund site, legal fees might just skyrocket, if Mr. Pence has anything to say about it.  Of course, it would have to be approved by the Office of the City Attorney.  Yeah.  Right.

Hey, hey. Ho. Ho. Bill Pence, you’ve got to go.

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