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Candidates could define new Gainesville mayor’s role

4 hopefuls seek redefined office as early voting begins this week

POSTED: October 12, 2013 11:13 p.m.

Aside from any major issues to confront, the new Gainesville mayor also will be in something of a political fish bowl.

The job had been rotated among sitting City Council members for two-year stints. The new post, set up with voter approval in a 2009 referendum, carries a four-year term and the spotlight of being the first person to assume the office.

The election between Charles Alvarez, Danny Dunagan, Debra Harkrider and Rose Johnson is Nov. 5. The runoff, if necessary, is Dec. 3. Early voting starts Monday.

“We hear a lot of talk indicating that this is a ribbon-cutter position, but I believe it’s a lot more than that,” said Alvarez, 55, a real estate associate broker. “I believe that there’s a great opportunity to use your power of influence on what needs to be done.

“I believe there’s a great opportunity to really get down to hear what the people’s voice is. The people want someone they can talk to and the mayor’s position fills that gap between the council members and the community.”

Alvarez went on to say, “It’s more of a personal touch issue with the community that the mayor would have, and (the mayor) would be able to bring that feedback into the City Council meetings and let them know what’s going on. To me, it’s a position of great importance.”

Dunagan, 63, a longtime businessman who has served on the council since 2006, said he believes some things will change and some will remain the same with the new job.

“The mayor’s going to have just a few more powers than (before), as far as appointment of board members, but those appointments have to be approved by the City Council,” he said. “The biggest change is going to be the vote.”

The mayor will not vote on issues unless there is a split or a need to provide a fourth “yes” vote needed for approval. The council still will have one member to represent each of the city’s five wards.

“The new mayor will be the chief advocate for the city of Gainesville,” Dunagan said. “You’ll be a promoter for Gainesville.

“The mayor is the face of the city,” he added. “It’s the go-to person. Whenever someone comes into town wanting to locate their business in the town or talk about doing business in the town, they want to see the mayor.”

Harkrider, 58, a registered nurse and small-business owner, said she believes Gainesville is primed for a mayor.

“As we’re growing, we need a captain of the ship, who sets our goals, our course,” she said. “The council has done a great job of taking turns, but I just don’t think it’s the right way to go about it.

“With Atlanta growing toward us ... it’s going to be more of a visible job.”

Harkrider, who is a political newcomer, said the mayor should serve as a moderator, “to pull everyone back to the subject and the problem that’s at hand.

“The mayor should be a great mediator and great moderator. The power is going to be not quite there, and I don’t care if I have power or not so much as ... (be) someone who can say, ‘Enough’s enough. Let’s make a decision.’”

Johnson, 59, a longtime community activist and small-business owner who has run for City Council in 1990 and 1995, said the city staff’s problem-solving efforts are inspirational, and “I think, as mayor, it’s a real important opportunity to ... utilize the skills and assets of a strong staff to help build a connection with the community and business all around.

“One example of that is neighborhood preservation and how the comprehensive plan has been developed and is unfolding. What an important opportunity to promote the character, culture and the people who live in these various neighborhoods throughout the city.

“I think the role of mayor in that sense is connecting to community in a more engaging way. For me, it’s really important to know who people are, what they think, to know what their cares and concerns are.”

One thing likely not to change with the new elected post is the mayor’s pay.

The council is expected to take official action by the end of the year, but “it is expected to remain the same based upon council’s last discussion on this subject,” City Clerk Denise Jordan said.

If so, the new mayor would receive a base pay of $500 per month, an expense allowance of $100 per month and per diem of $125 per meeting up to 10 meetings per month. Council members receive a base pay of $400 per month, an expense allowance of $75 per month and the same per diem as the mayor.

GAINESVILLE MAYOR'S RACE: Rose Johnson

Interview with Rose Johnson, candidate for Gainesville mayor.

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