The county’s relations with the city of Gainesville have been strenuous in recent years, with each board haggling over issues like gas tax revenue, a transit facility and a fire-service agreement, some of which resulted in lawsuits against the city.
But some say the contentions could soon be resolved.
County commissioners agreed 4-1 to fire County Manager Lee Niblock on Tuesday with Attorney Michele Lieberman serving as interim manager. Some city commissioners said the move shocked them, but are hopeful it will help spark a positive change in how the governing boards work together.
On Monday, commissioners will be put to their first test as the two boards meet to discuss several key issues, including the gas tax dispute, which was recently prolonged for another year for the boards to reach an agreement; and who should take over Grace Marketplace, the city’s homeless service center, and Dignity Village, a homeless encampment outside Grace Marketplace.
“I hope this will lead to better relations between the county and city," City Commissioner David Arreola said. "I like to think any action the county takes will improve our relations.”
Commissioner Harvey Budd, who was out of the country when Niblock was fired, shared the same optimism.
"I hope the change in management will help solve many of our differences and the city commission will be able to work better together with the county," Budd wrote in a text to The Sun.
However, county officials said they don’t know how much impact Niblock’s firing will have on the boards’ future negotiations, since the boards ultimately vote on issues.
Ken Cornell, who chairs the county commission, said he takes responsibility for issues between the city and county, but that a “fresh start” could help.
“I think it’s always good when elected officials can take to each other and the public,” he said. “I’m hopeful with what we did that there can be a fresh start with new leadership from the county.”
County Commissioner Robert Hutchinson said it is up to the boards to mend sides, not managers.
“I don’t think the issue is between staffs,” he said. “I think it’s between stances from commissioners. (The manager) is reacting to what we are asking him to do.”
Cornell said he wants the gas tax discussion to include transportation funds that are spent countywide and will wait to hear back from county staff on what taking over Grace Marketplace would entail.
Hutchinson said he requested that Assistant City Manager Fred Murry send a letter to county officials, inquiring the county’s interest in taking over Grace Marketplace.
He said a potential solution is having the city receive less money from certain Community Redevelopment Agency districts and use the funds for permanent housing.
“Funding is the main issue for permanent housing,” he said. “I think the math works. I think one of the biggest beefs that the city has with the county could be solved.”
City Commissioner Adrian Hayes-Santos said he doesn’t care who pays more as long as city residents are getting the best services possible. Because the county has a social service department, he said, it makes sense for the county to take over the homeless facility.
“I’m open to any kind of conversation,” Hayes-Santos said. “My concern is trying to solve all the problems at once.”
The joint meeting will take place at 3 p.m. Monday at the county administration building at 12 SE First St., in the Jack Durrance auditorium (Room 209).
Contact reporter Andrew Caplan at email@example.com or on Twitter @AACaplan.