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Gainesville voters OK elected mayor, not school chairman

School board referendum may return to ballot next year

POSTED: November 4, 2009 12:06 a.m.

The few Gainesville voters who showed up at the polls Tuesday approved a referendum to directly elect who will represent the city as mayor, but weren’t so sure about electing a school board chairman.

With only 9.22 percent of the city’s electorate showing up at the polls Tuesday, State Rep. Carl Rogers said he plans to give voters another chance to decide whether they want to directly elect the school board chairman. The results were close, with 49.38 percent voting in favor, 50.62 against.

Gainesville school board member Sammy Smith said he believes the low turnout and the lack of a decisive majority suggests voters are not strongly opinionated on the issue.

"As close as it is, given the turnout, that is an answer in and of itself," he said.

Current board Chairman David Syfan, who won re-election to his post, said too many uncertainties may have kept voters from voting in favor.

"I think the voters voted down the school chair referendum due to the fact that no one was ever able to say how it was going to help educate the students," he said. "... It was more about politics than trying to help kids, and that’s why it got voted down."

Neither school board member hopes to see the referendum on the ballot next fall, and Syfan charged legislators to fund a second one.

But Rogers said he does not need another referendum to change the structure of the Gainesville City Council. Of the 1,007 voters, 55 percent said they wanted to directly elect their mayor.

"Still, 55 percent for the mayor, I think, is a good number," Rogers said. "I knew the response would be favorable there."

City Council members also said they were not surprised at the results.

Councilman Danny Dunagan, who was re-elected with opposition, said council members "might as well move forward" with the results of the referendum. Mayor Pro Tem Ruth Bruner and Councilman George Wangemann, who also won another term, agreed.

"I figured it would pass," Dunagan said. "And I don’t have a problem with it. Especially, if that’s what the citizens want. ... We’ll get with our legislators and go forward."

Rogers said he will decide how to proceed with the results of both referendums after he meets with the local delegation of state legislators, the City Council and the city school board in December.

State Sen. Lee Hawkins, R-Gainesville, said the City Council’s fate is likely sealed.

"Looking toward the future, I think this is something that the voters obviously would like to see," he said. "We’ve had great leadership through the council members that we’ve had and the rotation that they’ve developed, but the future appears to me that we will be voting for a mayor."

For as long as most Gainesville officials can remember, residents have chosen city council members to represent each of the city’s five wards, who in turn, have chosen a mayor among themselves.

Gainesville’s council members have traditionally taken turns serving in the post, rotating the position every two years.

Councilman Robert "Bob" Hamrick and other members, including current Mayor Myrtle Figueras, have said they did not see the need for a change and residents already have a say in the election of mayor.

Hamrick said Tuesday he was disappointed with the election results, and said the current system works well.

And though Figueras has also stressed that point, she said Tuesday she was glad Rogers planned to meet with city officials before proceeding with any changes to the city’s charter.

"He’s decided that he’s going to meet with us for a change; we’ve asked for that for a long time, so perhaps he will," Figueras said.



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