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Elected Gainesville mayor still may be years away
Nonbinding referendum approved a year ago
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Gainesville residents may have approved directly electing a mayor, but the option won’t come for several more years.

Last November, voters who came out to the polls approved a referendum that asked if Gainesville should have an elected mayor rather than a position that rotates.

The nonbinding referendum, introduced as a legislative bill by Rep. Carl Rogers in March 2009, merely asked voters a question. Officials aren’t required to act on the suggestion.

At the same time, Rogers introduced another bill to elect school board chairman for the city of Gainesville. Rogers said the bill was co-sponsored by the entire Hall County House delegation.

“I’ve had numerous calls and e-mails and folks saying this is the right direction,” Rogers said in March 2009. “It’s up to the voters to decide, and it will give them an opportunity to vote for or against it.”

When the referendum passed a year ago, city staff drafted a new city charter that provided for the election, but the charter changes must be passed in the state legislature.

“The referendum was a bit deceiving because we have elected officials. The mayor just rotates every two years, but the intention of this is to have one person elected as the mayor to serve a four-year term,” said assistant city manager Angela Sheppard. “Not a lot of voters came, but it passed by a small majority. We provided the new charter, but it never got into the last legislative session, and that’s where it stands.”

Rogers said he still stands by his referendum but thinks it will take time to get somewhere.

“I’ve been working on it over the interim, and this last year we weren’t able to do it because we didn’t have time,” Rogers said Friday. “Now we need to wait on reapportionment to see how the Census count is. We need to get the numbers, look at drawing lines and deal with the chartering of cities and counties.”

It’ll take time for legislators to agree on a solid plan, he said.

“It has a little ways to go. I have not actually been in meetings to discuss what they want, not even to compare the old charter versus the new one,” he said, suggesting the change may come after 2013. “I don’t know when it’ll be yet. There are a lot of unknown issues to discuss.”

When Rogers first introduced the idea, council members were confused and perceived it as an effort by state officials to dictate what happens at the local level without consulting the local officials.

“Usually what happens is the local body goes to the legislature and asks for a change in the charter rather than being imposed on it from the legislature,” Bruner said when it was first introduced.. “We would like to decide how we think it will work best, because we understand what we do as a city, whereas the legislators really have not been in local government.

They don’t know exactly what a mayor would do or what a city manager would do.”

The move wasn’t meant as an insult to the council, Rogers said, just a way to bring it up to speed with others in the state.

“I’ve lived in Gainesville all my life, and the mayor has rotated as long as I can remember. Out of the 475 cities or so in the state, only 15 still rotate,” he said Friday. “We should give the city folks the right to select who they have, and we need that person to run. It could help leadership issues. We elect the governor and lieutenant governor, so why not the mayor of Gainesville?”

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