The votes were cast last week, and Gainesville residents soon will see one new face on their City Council and a familiar face in a slightly new role.
This was the first year city voters could directly elect the mayor, and they returned former Gainesville Mayor Danny Dunagan to the position. Historically, the mayor’s job rotated among sitting City Council members every two years, with a council member serving as mayor while representing a ward. A 2009 voter referendum set up an at-large mayoral post, and added an additional person to the council for a total of six members.
Dunagan, unlike in the past, will not vote on issues unless there is a split or a need to provide a fourth “yes” vote needed for approval.
The new Ward 1 representative is Sam Couvillon, an insurance broker with BB&T Insurance Services. At 42, he expects to provide the “new blood” as the youngster on the City Council. He ran unopposed and has no prior political experience.
Dunagan faced three other competitors in the race, including past office seekers Rose Johnson and Debra Harkrider and political newcomer Charles Alvarez. He got 62 percent of the vote, with Johnson coming in a distant second with 21 percent. Harkrider earned 11 percent and Alvarez got 6 percent.
The former and future mayor said he’s looking forward to picking up where he left off after resigning in late August to campaign. He said he wants to find city government can trim expenses.
“I want to look and see if there’s any other way to be efficient,” Dunagan said.
The mayor-elect wants to move forward with recommendations from the recent traffic study and work toward developing a hotel and convention center at the end of the pedestrian bridge.
While the mayor won’t vote on every issue, Dunagan said he’s seen many times during his nine years on the council when members are split 3-2.
“I feel sure that I’ll be voting more often than everyone thinks,” he said. “There’s issues where it’ll be 3-2 and that’ll be a big issue because it’s going to be a decision-maker for the mayor.”
Like Dunagan, Couvillon wants to jump into the issues facing the city and get involved. He said he respects the experience of the current City Council members, but hopes he’ll provide another perspective.
“I hope that when I’m 84 years old, that I’m as sharp as (Mayor Pro Tem) Bob Hamrick,” he said. “But with the makeup, I think it’s time for some younger blood to get on there and work with the current members and I’m looking forward to doing that.”
Couvillon agrees with Dunagan that traffic and transportation are major issues for Gainesville. Areas that need urgent attention include Green Street traffic and flow of traffic where Jesse Jewel Parkway and Browns Bridge Road connects into E.E. Butler Parkway, he said. Such improvements likely will require costly solutions.
“There’s going to be some tough decisions that have to be made,” the councilman-elect said.
Couvillon said he strongly supports the Red Rabbit fixed-bus route service, and said public transit is vital to attract economic development. He also praised the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce for bringing industry to the area.
He said he doesn’t want to join the council with hard-lined opinions, but also said he’s not afraid to make hard decisions.
“This is all new to me,” Couvillon said. “I think the last office I held was probably a student council office in high school. But I feel like I have a lot to offer.”
City officials said it was unclear whether Dunagan and Couvillon would join the City Council in December or January to begin their terms.