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Changing Gainesvilles government could take years
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A government system in Gainesville in which the residents specifically designate the city’s mayor as such may be years away.

Earlier this month, the Gainesville City Council produced a draft of an updated city charter that would create a sixth seat on the council — a mayor who would be elected at-large to serve as the official spokesperson for the city and only vote in special circumstances.

The draft, which was provided to the state legislators who represent areas of the city, was the direct result of a citywide referendum in November in which 540 of 974 voters said they wanted to directly elect the city’s mayor.

Though the referendum was nonbinding, and did not require action, city officials pre-empted what might have been a move by the state’s legislature to change the city’s government structure.

On Dec. 10, the City Council handed over a draft of a new city charter — the first since the late 1970s — to the county’s legislative delegation. But to date, city officials have had no feedback from legislators on the proposal, said Gainesville City Manager Kip Padgett.

State Rep. Carl Rogers, R-Gainesville, has been out of town for much of the time that passed since the city handed over the proposed changes and Rogers, who spearheaded the effort to have a referendum on the issue, said he has yet to discuss the proposed changes with the other members of the legislative delegation.

“We’ve got plenty of time to do what we need to do,” Rogers said.

Council members say they hope the changes will not take effect until after the city receives the results from the 2010 Census. That way, if city ward maps need to be redrawn because of population changes, all the changes to the charter could happen at once.

Councilman Danny Dunagan said the results from the census could come as late as 2013.

Proposed changes to the charter are:

Add a sixth seat on the council for the mayor. While no more than one council member can reside in each of the city’s five wards, the mayor can reside in any ward in the city.

Requires more votes than a majority to pass an ordinance, motion or resolution. While the current five-member council only needs three members to vote in favor, the proposed charter requires four council members to vote an ordinance up or down.

Outlines the mayor’s duties. The mayor would be elected at-large for a term of four years to preside at meetings and serve as the official spokesperson for the city and the chief advocate of city policy. The mayor would sign all ordinances and resolutions approved by the council but would not vote on those issues unless there is an equal division on an issue or to provide the fourth affirmative vote needed for approval. The mayor can also vote on the election and removal of the mayor pro-tem, the city manager, the city attorney, municipal court judge, solicitor and city auditor.

Gives the mayor the power to appoint members of city boards, commissions and authorities. The council would have to approve the mayor’s appointment.

Councilman George Wangemann called the proposed changes “doable” and “good for the city,” and that he hoped legislators would approve the proposed changes this legislative session.

Dunagan said he thought the changes were also agreeable to all the council members. Mayor Myrtle Figueras, Mayor Pro-Tem Ruth Bruner and Councilman Robert “Bob” Hamrick did not return calls seeking comment.

“I think this is the best way to go,” Dunagan said.

But legislators, who will make the ultimate decision on the changes, haven’t formed an opinion yet and are not sure whether the legislation will be introduced this year.

Like Rogers, State Rep. Doug Collins, R-Gainesville, said he has looked at the proposed changes but has not spent much time analyzing them. Collins said he was sure legislators would at least discuss the issue this legislative session. Rogers said the next step will be to meet with the City Council. He said the charter the city proposed may not be the final version, but that any changes proposed by legislators would first be discussed with the council.

“I’m glad they made a proposal,” Collins said. “I’m sure we will have some discussion, but I don’t know when.”

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