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New mayor to be sworn in
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GAINESVILLE — It’s a new year and a new term for most of the members of the Gainesville City Council.

More than half of the Gainesville City Council will kick off another term of city service at the council’s first meeting of 2008.

Robert "Bob" Hamrick, Myrtle Figueras and Ruth Bruner will all be inaugurated Wednesday morning, swearing to serve the city for another four years. Figueras will likely be named the city’s new mayor and Bruner as the new mayor pro tem. Hamrick will return to a position as a regular council member for his 38th year on the council.

Hamrick first took office in 1970. Hamrick said he first ran for office because he wanted economic diversity in a city that was once a two-industry town.

"We needed to diversify, and we also had substandard housing that we desperately needed to work on back then," he said. "I just felt that I could make a contribution, and hopefully I have over the years."

Hamrick said he is looking forward to continued growth in Gainesville over the next four years and promises to be careful with Gainesville’s tax dollars as he continues to represent Ward 2.

"We’ll always be conscious of how much taxes we pay and try to keep the cost of the services that we provide at an affordable rate," he said.

After the inauguration, council is expected to vote on Figueras as the city’s mayor for the next two years. If chosen, this will be Figueras’ second term as Gainesville’s mayor.

Figueras, who has represented Ward 3 since 1996, said she will be the same council member this term as she was in previous terms.

"I plan on doing exactly what I’ve been doing, and that is working to do the best I can for everybody who lives in Gainesville-Hall County" she said.

Unlike the other incumbents, Figueras did not mention any specific plans for the next four years.

"I promise to do the best that I can to be just me and do the best that I can in all situations," she said. "You won’t hear me listing projects ... what I will try to do is make the best decision that I can make, according to me."

Before serving on the council for twelve years, Figueras taught French at Gainesville High School for 30 years.

Figueras says this term could be her last on the council.

Council is also expected to choose Bruner as the Mayor Pro Tem for the next year after she is sworn in for her second four-year term representing Gainesville Ward 5 on the council.

In her next four years, Bruner said she wants to see a stronger tree ordinance to come to fruition in Gainesville. According to a recent study, Hall County has lost nearly 15 percent of its tree cover in the last twenty years, and Bruner says more of the bigger trees on Green Street will soon be lost to the drought and age.

"Tree canopy adds so much in terms of quality of life, the beauty of the surroundings, as well as the health of the city," Bruner said. "When you grow, you start losing so much of your canopy."

Bruner said she wants to work with developers and tree owners to make sure Gainesville does not continue to lose its trees.

Also, Bruner said she wants the city to improve its gateway corridors. She wants to encourage creating community improvement districts to enhance the roads that lead into the city, such as U.S. 129, Browns Bridge Road, Thompson Bridge Road and Atlanta Highway.

But, Bruner isn’t looking for a quick fix. She said these improvements could take four years to produce results.

"It’s going to take a while to really see a lot of improvement," she said. "If you change zoning and change usage requirements, you have to wait for the usage to change before you see a lot of improvements."

Prior to her position on the Gainesville City Council, Bruner was involved with the League of Women’s Voters from the 1970s to the 1990s, and was a member of the Gainesville Board of Education for nearly ten years.

"I’ve really enjoyed it," Bruner said of her first term as a city councilwoman.

Gainesville code requires that the council’s first meeting of the year following an election be an organizational meeting. The purpose of the organizational meeting is to swear in new members and choose the mayor and the mayor pro tem.

The council will meet for the first time this year Wednesday at 9 a.m. in the Georgia Mountains Center.

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