Ultimate Towing of Gainesville, a company that is not new to controversy, is once again in hot water with Gainesville residents and authorities as complaints mount against the company. District City Commissioner Adrien Hayes-Santos has clashed with the towing company over spotters which contribute to what he and other Gainesville residents have characterized as predatory practices by the company. The most recent clash has the Gainesville Police Department investigating Ultimate Towing over its recent decision not to accept credit card payments, a move city commission says violates city ordinance.
Ultimate Towing has since claimed to have reinstated the ability to pay through credit card. However, they also dispute that refusing to allow credit card payments violates city ordinance. Further violation has been threatened by the GDP with the termination of Ultimate Towing’s business license and the ability to tow trespassers. The ordinance requires towing fees be payable by cash, credit card, and/or debit card. Focusing on the “or” has been the focal point of Ultimate Towing’s argument against being penalized, claiming as long as debit card payments are available they shouldn’t have to accept credit cards.
Ultimate Towing has a history of being on the bad side of Gainesville officials and authorities. It’s previous owner was arrested for stealing scooters and staging them as illegally parked so they they could be towed. The company was also briefly suspended from conducting business in 2011 for violating policies with what city officials then called predatory actions.
Hayes-Santos has stated his goal is to protect the residents of Gainesville from a company that takes advantage and bleeds customers/victims for profit. Ultimate Towing stopped accepting credit cards in response to criticism for its spotting practice, which had led to a large increase in owners of towed vehicles disputing payment for their impounded cars. Complaints reached commissioner Hayes-Santos through email, phone, facebook and reddit about doing something about the towing service. Taking down the company seems like a mission Hayes-Santos intends to fulfill.
Gainesville Regional Utilities is about to close a deal with Gainesville Renewable Energy Center to purchase the facility for $750 million. Currently GRU and the City of Gainesville is locked into a contract with the biomass GREC facility to the tune of $70 million a year. The contract would last the next 27 years and cost Gainesville approximately $2.1 billion dollars during that time. However, despite the contract GRU has been getting power from cheaper sources and has been mostly sidelining the biomass plant, leading to this deal. GRU hopes to use the facility to replace decommissioned plants and avoid paying for power it doesn’t use.
After both sides agreed to the deal, it has now gone to the Utility Advisory Board and the city commission, which hasn’t ultimately agreed to the deal yet either. Concerns over the price tag the city would muster, as well as the time frame being imposed on city commissioners to consider the deal are factors. After the deal was finalized, the city commission is now being asked to look over and sign the resulting memorandum of understanding by April 21st, which at this point is less than a month away.
GRU has repeatedly released statements justifying both the purchase and conditions attached. GRU has claimed that the buyout could save Gainesville $650 million dollars over the next 30 years, and that everyday the deal is not finalized costs the city $70 thousand in fees to GREC. Gainesville citizens have been told by GRU that the buyout will also reduce customer bills by 8 to 10 percent.
Commissioners Harvey Budd and Todd Chase have each indicated misgivings they have towards signing the memorandum. Todd Chase will no longer be in office after the deadline GRU is attempting to set on the City Commission and will not be able to sign any contracts or ordinances regarding the buyout after April 20th. Mayor Lauren Poe continues to support the deal and attempted to get City Commission to vote on the deal Thursday, April 6th.
Regardless of the outcome, Gainesville residents are upset at being forced into this predicament in the first place.
On March 14th, Alachua County held the Gainesville Regular Election. The elections determined who would be representing Gainesville City Commission districts 2 and 3, as well as who would hold at-large seat 2. Harvey Ward Jr. won district 2 in a three-way race while David Arreola and Helen K. Warren defeated their opponents in the race for district 3 and at-large seat 2, respectively.
All the elections were non-partisan races. This meant that two democrats could be running against each other, or two republicans, three libertarians etc. The most contested of the races was the battle for at-large seat 2 between the winner and incumbent Helen K. Warren and challenger Jenn Powell. Powell gained attention in the community as an outspoken activist for Bernie Sanders and other progressive causes in Alachua County. The volunteer force she had cultivated for the presidential campaign in Gainesville manifested itself into support for her own campaign. Powell entered the race less than a month before the election, yet earned over 45% of the vote with around 4,600 votes cast in her favor. Despite her loss Powell told The Gainesville Sun that she would use her influence to hold Warren’s feet to the fire and make sure she keeps election promises.
Each race brought its own surprises that no one in Gainesville seemed to see coming. Namely Harvey Ward Jr. defeating both his opponents outright in the fight for district 2. Because it was a three way race, a run off election was expected as it seemed unlikely any of the candidates would breach the 50% mark required to win the commission seat. However, Ward Jr. had an amazing showing, with his victory being the first called, mustering 50.7% of the vote to defeat opponents Perry Clawson and Sheryl Eddie.
The third and final race we’ll be discussing was a surprise for less positive reasons. Despite being the most expensive of the three races in the Gainesville Regular Election, district 3 suffered from the lowest turnout with around 3,000 votes giving newcomer Arreola the victory over Craig Carter. Arreola claimed 66% to Carter’s 33%, but it’s hard for the win to be seen as voters having high expectations for his abilities. According to the Gainesville Sun the two candidates spent the most out out of the seven running and gained the least bang for their dollar.
This signals to a much larger problem facing Alachua County. Despite the claim from the Board of Elections that more voters participated this election compared to previous years (Which is true) this doesn’t take into account that Gainesville’s population increased over that period of time as well. When taken as a percentage of eligible voters, participation has been steadily decreasing in Alachua County. As can be easily ascertained from looking at their website, turnout was just under 12%. It’s hard to be proud of those numbers, but it’s hard to say what the Board of Elections can do in the future to increase participation.
District 4 City Commissioner Adrian Hayes-Santos will be in court Monday, February 13th for a one day non-jury trial that will determine the legitimacy of his candidacy. A newcomer to politics, Hayes-Santos won with over 80% of vote in the March, 2016 election for the vacant District 4 Commissioner seat. His opponent in that race, Jim Konish filed a lawsuit against Hayes-Santos shortly before the election alleging he did not meet the residency requirements to run for that seat.
Hayes-Santos has acted as commissioner over an area that includes the University of Florida campus for several months. He has supported the Connected Gainesville initiative to improve the speed and scope of internet in Gainesville through GRU. Hayes-Santos made improving internet and utilities one of the main focuses of his campaign, and since the election has been aggressively pursuing and crafting policy to provide internet access to a developing city that sorely needs it.
If ruled against, it is unclear if Hayes-Santos will be removed from the position or how the courts will decide to deal with the political dilemma. Hayes-Santos has recently been involved with a memorandum between Gainesville and the University of Florida to collaborate officially on development projects including transportation, housing and environmental protection. This legal challenge poses the final hurdle to Hayes-Santos’ ability to pursue the envisioned promises of the campaign.
Hayes-Santos has denied the allegations and claims he has met the requirements of residency. As the plaintiff, Konish is identified as a duly qualified candidate for Gainesville City Commissioner. It can be speculated he would attempt to assume the position if the courts ruled in his favor in lieu of a special election, as he was the only other candidate running against Hayes-Santos. Also listed as defendants are the Supervisor of Elections, the City of Gainesville Election Canvassing Board, and the Alachua County Board of Canvassers. Both sides will deliver testimonies in court on Monday before Judge Monica Brasington.