Susan Washington, Author at Florida Politics

Susan Washington

Gainesville mourns ‘No. 1 son’ Tom Petty, schedules memorial concert

By the time the sun set in Gainesville, Monday, Oct. 2, conflicting news reports had announced, alternately, Tom Petty’s death and his ongoing struggle to survive at a hospital in Los Angeles.

It was nearly midnight when the legendary rock star — born in Gainesville October 20, 1950 — died, at 8:40 Pacific Standard Time, according to his publicist.

By the time the sun was up Tuesday morning, a large, colorful mural had been painted on a wall that runs along the east side of SW 34th Street — the busy, north-south corridor on the west side of the University of Florida campus. As a young man, Petty had worked as a groundskeeper at UF, but he never matriculated.

“Love you always, Gainesville No. 1 son Tom Petty. Thanks, Tommy,” the mural read.

The image of a guitar plunged, like an arrow, into a big, red heart in the center of the mural.

Since then, photos of the mural — with rays of morning sunshine glinting through the shaggy, overgrown vegetation that rambles across the top of the wall — have been shared countless times on social media and in news reports about Petty’s sudden death, age 66.

But the identity of the artist who painted the impromptu tribute — on a streetside wall long given over to graffiti — remains unclear, and by afternoon that day, the tribute was completely obscured with paintings of gang symbols.

Ever since, discussion has arisen over how to best memorialize Petty in the town where he grew up, attended public schools and formed his first bands, Epic, and then Mudcrutch, before leaving, in his early 20s, along with the original members of the Heartbreakers, which formed in 1976 — Ron Blair, Mike Campbell, Stan Lynch and Benmont Tench — to seek fame and fortune in Los Angeles.

On Oct. 5, Gainesville Mayor Lauren Poe, in a Facebook post hours before a city commission meeting, wrote, “While I fully expect for there to be a discussion of how best to memorialize To[m] Petty at tonight’s meeting, we will not attempt to make a decision. This is an important and lasting tribute and deserves significant community and an inclusive and thoughtful approach.”

Some suggestions posted below the mayor’s comment included recommendations for naming the auditorium at Gainesville High School, where Petty was a student in the late 1960s, in his honor, and naming the local airport after him.

Pegeen Hanranah, mayor of Gainesville from 2004 — 2010, suggested building an amphitheater and naming it after Petty and the Heartbreakers. She also wrote, “I like the idea of naming Northeast Park ‘Tom Petty Park’ since he had a personal connection to it.”

But Monica Leadon Cooper, in an email to Poe about the proposal to name the park after Petty, urged, “Any tribute there should not alter the park.”

“He went there for the solitude and the longleaf pines and other trees,” Leadon Cooper wrote, adding, “He spent a lot of time there with my brother (Tom Leadon) and other members of Mudcrutch.”

In an email to the mayor yesterday, Barry Melton, who described himself as a “local musician and a huge Petty fan,” recommended holding an “annual, outdoor festival concert featuring local and national talents alike.”

On Wednesday, Judy Kramer suggested in an email to the mayor, “have college students create statues that depict all of Tom’s most popular songs.” In her plan, local businesses would bid on the statutes, which would each play a Petty song, attracting, thereby, foot traffic to the businesses and tourists throughout the city.

Liz Draper — of Burlington, Connecticut — in an email Tuesday to the Mayor wrote: “I look forward to attending the venue you choose to honor Tom Petty in Gainesville.”

Amy Hester emailed the Mayor Monday to recommend that Oct. 19 be named “Tom Petty Celebration Day,” to coincide with a planned visit to the city next week from the notorious white nationalist Richard Spencer. “Get as many venues as possible to have bands playing Petty covers or if you can’t find bands, just playing his music, when the Spencer speech is occurring,” she wrote.

Barbara Nordin — of Spring Hill, Florida — suggested a “bronze statue playing his guitar,” and Bob Gooden proposed erecting a statute of Petty in the same downtown location where a Confederate soldier, known locally as “Old Joe,” was recently removed.

John Hurt proposed “an interactive park and museum. Called ‘Dreamville,’” after one of Petty’s early songs, believed to be about Gainesville.

Andrew Nathanson, in an Oct. 4 email to the mayor, recommended renaming the roads that intersect at the busy, northeastern corner of the university — from University Avenue and Highway 441 — to Tom Petty Drive and Heartbreakers Highway.

Jeffery Goldstein, of Miami, emailed the Mayor Oct. 4 with a proposal for The Tom Petty Memorial Gainesville Music History Museum and Music Community Center. Goldstein noted how, as a student at UF in the 1970s, he had been chair of Student Government Productions and a part of The Rose Community Center, which produced “nearly 70 concerts on the U of F campus and various other Gainesville venues.”

“Tom Petty played for us more than any other artist, over 40 times and at some very famous shows,” Goldstein wrote.

Dan Aiken, in an email that he sent to the mayor from his home in Indiana, recalled his years in Gainesville as a baseball player for Santa Fe Community College, in the early 1980s.

“I remember attending a concert by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers at the UF O’Connell Center on October 8th, 1981,” Aiken wrote to Poe. “In fact, I still have the concert poster.”

Aiken complained that the concert is not mentioned on the UF webpage that describes the history of the O’Connell Center.

Steve Thomas — of Bay County, Florida — emailed Poe Oct. 4 to recommend changing the name of the city’s transit facility to honor Petty.

“Let’s remove criminally convicted Corrine Brown’s name,” Thomas wrote, referring to the former congresswoman, and he urged “renaming it prior to Brown’s sentencing next month.”

“Tom Petty would care about the image of his old hometown,” Thomas wrote.

Meanwhile, Poe — who was not yet born when Petty attended Gainesville High School, although Poe would graduate there in 1989 — says he won’t be rushed into any decision about a memorial for the Southern rock icon.

“We’re going to take our time with that,” he said in a telephone interview Thursday. “We want to give everyone time to grieve. We want to get it right.”

Poe said he has referred the matter to the city commission’s General Policy Committee, where meetings, although usually attended by the entire commission, include “no official action,” but, instead, “a lot of fact-finding and information gathering.”

With October mostly over by now, however, and Thanksgiving interfering with meeting schedules next month, the committee probably won’t take up the question of a memorial for Petty until December or January, Poe said, adding, “A lot of his family is still local, so we wanted to reach out to them, too.”

“Our sheriff is his cousin,” Poe said, referring to Alachua County Sheriff Sadie Darnell.

In this Petty-memorial lull in Gainesville — a city whose median age, 25, is younger by far than any other city in Florida — a popular Petty tribute band, Heavy Petty, based in Gainesville over the past decade, is planning a free concert for what would have been Petty’s 67th birthday, Friday, Oct. 20.

Daniel App, 31 — who says he has been with the tribute band since its inception — wrote to the mayor in an email Oct 3. “We discovered early on that our shows are not just entertainment, they are therapeutic way for people of this community to connect, remember, feel for Tom Petty and the relationship they’ve had with him.”

“We feel the people of this community need us in some way to help them grieve, remember, love and cherish,” App wrote. “There’s such an outcry for a place for everyone to embrace each other and celebration.”

While Heavy Petty usually plays at bars in downtown Gainesville and at the city’s free, Friday night concert series in the downtown plaza, for the memorial concert, they chose Heartwood Soundstage on South Main Street — close to the city’s recently redeveloped neighborhood that Petty wrote about in his song “Depot Street” in the 2015 album, Through the Cracks.

“We ain’t got no money, we don’t have no car. We stay down on depot street, just dancin’ in the park, dancin’ in the park … And we ain’t been to college, we both quit high school. There was way too many people there makin’ way too many rules. So, we got no education, but we don’t care at all cause it don’t mean much on depot street, behind the city hall, behind the city hall.”

Heartwood Soundstage serves beer and wine and plans to open for the concert at 5 p.m. The show is set to begin at 6 p.m. Tickets are available through the venue’s Facebook page.

By press time, calls and emails to Gainesville’s state legislators, Republican Sen. Rick Perry and Democratic Rep. Clovis Watson Jr., — with questions about whether either plan to sponsor resolutions to honor Petty during the upcoming legislative session — had not been returned.

[Photo courtesy Susan Washington]

University of Florida, Gainesville brace for Richard Spencer speech

Fall is usually a busy time of year in college towns, but during the ongoing fall semester at the University of Florida, the City of Gainesville — the seat of otherwise-rural Alachua County — has been shaken.

First, it was stormy weather from Hurricane Irma, which interrupted electrical service for several days in September, followed this month by the sudden death of the city’s beloved native son, rock star Tom Petty.

Now, the community is bracing for the planned arrival next week of “alt-right” champion Richard Spencer.

“This is our moment to rise up and show the rest of the world who we are as a community,” Gainesville Mayor Lauren Poe, brows furrowed, said in a 3-minute-long video titled, “Responding to Hatred in a Welcoming City,” posted Wednesday on Facebook.

“Free speech stops when it becomes dangerous conduct,” Poe said in the video. “We have an obligation to protect our residents’ health and safety and to protect property.”

During Spencer’s address on the UF campus — set for Thursday, Oct. 19, from 2:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. at the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts — local law enforcement will “stand ready to safeguard that Gainesville does not become another Charlottesville,” Poe said in the video, referring to violent demonstrations that erupted in another college town, Charlottesville, Virginia, home to the University of Virginia, when Spencer spoke there in August.

At that time, Spencer was scheduled to speak at UF on Sept. 12, but the university canceled that engagement after 32-year-old Heather Heyer was fatally injured in Charlottesville while protesting Spencer and other white supremacists, who advocate what they describe as “ethnic cleansing” within the United States.

In response to University of Florida President Kent Fuchs’ initial refusal, in August, to rent space for Spencer to speak on the UF campus — citing a risk of violence to students — Gainesville-based First Amendment lawyer Gary Edinger threatened the university with a federal lawsuit, and Spencer’s speaking engagement was rescheduled to October.

As a result, the university’s largest performing arts hall, which seats more than 1,700, has been made available to Spencer and the National Policy Institute that he directs. The fee for the rental is what the university — on a detailed webpage (freespeech.ufl.edu) created in preparation for the speaking event — describes as “the allowable costs of $10,564 to rent the facility and for security within the venue.”

The arrangement — the result of a settlement crafted in part by Edinger — satisfies the letter of the law, but the university is exercising its opposition to Spencer in other ways.

The website for the Phillips Performing Arts Center, where Spencer is scheduled to speak, includes no mention of his engagement. And according to UF spokeswoman Janine Sikes, the parking lot and garage usually used by those attending events there will be closed to cars during Spencer’s engagement, open only to those who arrive on foot. She said she was not aware of any other time when the parking facilities there had been closed.

An extensive list of items that the university will prohibit in that area during Spencer’s speaking engagement also includes “bicycles, scooters and skateboards,” as well as “weapons, firearms Tasers, knives and sharp objects” and “lighters matches, torches or open flame,” “any athletic equipment or other items which could be used as a weapon” and “backpacks, bags, purses, clutches” and more.

On Tuesday, Fuchs posted on Facebook a video message of approximately two minutes: “Over the past several months, our nation’s great public research universities have increasingly become the targets of individuals and groups who intend to gain national publicity for their messages of racism and hate by inciting protest, which has led to violence.”

His comments — also emailed to UF’s more than 50,000 students, faculty members and staff members — noted that he was “surprised and even shocked to learn that UF is required by law to allow Mr. Spencer to speak his racist views on our campus.”

But Joseph Little — a longtime professor at the UF law school, a former mayor of Gainesville and also co-counsel with Edinger in the lawsuit that was planned on Spencer’s behalf — wrote Wednesday in an email to a reporter: “UF’s lawyers should not be surprised by what the First Amendment requires and should have kept President Fuchs fully informed. I suspect we would not have heard this expression from UF if the speaker had been a left-wing activist …”

Little described Fuchs’ remarks as “overly defensive and even designed to interfere with Spencer’s First Amendment rights.”

“Under the law, neither UF nor any other similarly situated public institution may discriminate on the basis of the content of a presenter’s presentation, absent illegal presentations such as pornography and immediate incitement to violence,” he wrote.

Free speech rights were also the focus of a panel discussion Wednesday night at UF, featuring Dr. Clay Calvert, the director of the university’s Brechner Center for Freedom of Information, and Professor Kenneth Nunn, of the UF law school, and Dr. Paul Ortiz, a history professor.

Around 300 students and several faculty members, as well as Fuchs, attended the 90-minute event.

“We are having this conversation in a room that is beautiful in its diversity,” said Nunn, who also teachers in UF’s African-American Studies program.

Among the several students who asked questions of the panel members was Hunter Wolff, a 19-year-old who described herself as second-year political science student from Orlando.

In a discussion after the event concluded, Wolff said that although she plans to attend classes Oct. 19, she did not expect to attend Spencer’s talk or to protest at the venue where he will be speaking. “I originally thought I would like to protest, but over safety concerns, I will be staying home,” she said.

Other students, including 20-year-old Henry Nguyen — a junior studying bioengineering and born, as he said, in Panama City to parents who immigrated from Vietnam — plan to protest in a “virtual assembly” during Spencer’s engagement. Nguyen described the online platform — #TogetherUF — as “a safe way to stay engaged without being actively there.”

Meanwhile, the Facebook page for Spencer’s institute describes him as “The man UF President Fuchs and Little Marco Rubio DON’T want you to hear!”

[Photos via Susan Washington]

Dr. Paul Ortiz, a history professor at the University of Florida, discusses free speech rights with students following an event held on campus Wednesday, in preparation for white nationalist Richard Spencer’s talk at UF on Oct 19.
From right, University of Florida students Bijal Desai, Ianne Itchon and Henry Nguyen were among hundreds of students who attended “A Conversation on the First Amendment” at UF Wed. night, ahead of white nationalist Richard Spencer’s speaking engagement at UF on Oct. 19. Also pictured, in the dark suit, is UF President Kent Fuchs. In the green tie is Dr. Clay Calvert, director of UF’s Brechner Center for Freedom of Information.

At Organic Food & Farming Summit, everything old is new again

At the Organic Food and Farming Summit — this week in Gainesville, Florida — everything old is new again, and citrus growers attending the conference said they are turning to time-tested agricultural methods, which don’t use chemical fertilizer or chemical pesticides and relying on plant breeding to control the incurable disease that has devastated Florida’s most important crop.

Lynn Steward, who owns an organic farm in Arcadia, Florida, was a member of the panel that discussed citrus greening disease — also known as Huanglongbing, or HLB — at a workshop Monday morning at the Hilton University of Florida Conference Center. He traced the arrival of the disease from Asia with orange jasmine — a fragrant, flowering plant — imported to a Walmart Super Center in Miami.

By 2005, HLB — spread by an insect, the Asian citrus psyllid — was found in citrus in Miami-Dade County. And by 2015, the disease had spread to every Florida county where citrus is grown — from St. Johns County, on Florida’s northeast, Atlantic coast, to Monroe County, on the state’s southwestern, Gulf of Mexico coast.

Despite the reduction in Florida’s citrus crops over that decade, U.S. Department of Agriculture data for 2015 showed Florida continuing to lead the nation in orange and grapefruit production at that time. But panelists at the citrus greening workshop Monday said that HLB damage to Florida citrus now means that California produces more citrus than Florida and will benefit from what citrus farmers in Florida have learned about the disease.

Ben McLean III, a horticultural scientist whose family has been growing citrus commercially in Florida for four generations, said, “You feel like you are in the middle of the war, so much is happening. We are so desperate to find a solution.”

He is a vice president of the family-owned juice business Uncle Matt’s Organic, based in Clermont, Florida. The website for the company notes, “Due to fruit shortages and citrus greening disease, we are currently not selling any gift fruit or produce.”

The citrus greening panel also included Dr. Tripti Vashith, a citrus extension agent from the University of Florida.

Marty Mesh, who founded the nonprofit Florida Certified Organic Growers and Consumers in 1987, opened the workshop describing a “more holistic system that we thought would be beneficial to the issue.” The panelists echoed his view.

“You view your farm as an ecological whole,” McLean said. “You are trying to bring an ecological balance; you are not just producing a crop to sell. Treat your farm as a whole unit. That’s what the future is really going to have to rely on, the whole system.”

McLean recalled his grandfather’s concerns that “farming got in a big hurry somewhere in the 1960s.”

“My granddad took care of trees that were 60, 100 years old,” he said. “Now we can’t get trees to live 20 years.”

He blamed the change on “a lot of inputs and a lot of chemistry.”

“It was almost like you thought, wrongly, that you could just sterilize the place,” he said, adding, “Synthetic fungicides and herbicides worsen problems.”

McLean — a director of the nonprofit Citrus Research and Development Foundation, which is responsible for oversight of citrus greening research — recommended “low-input technologies,” like applications of botanical oils, such as camphor and thyme emulsions, and the use of wasps and spiders in citrus groves to disrupt the life cycle of the Asian citrus psyllid.

He also discussed the advantages of using cover crops and compost to maintain soil health, and he recalled the traditional use of tobacco leaves as mulch around citrus trees because nicotine helps the trees to resist insect infestations.

McLean’s father, Benny McLean II — the production manager for Uncle Matt’s Organic — was among the approximately two dozen attending the workshop, including University of Florida students and farmers from Florida, Alabama and Georgia. The company’s website notes that the elder McLean has been working in the Florida citrus industry since he was 10-years-old, back in the 1950s and that his grandfather “farmed without the use of harmful pesticides or synthetic fertilizers.”

Tyler Nesbit, the moderator for the workshop, said: “What we call organic is truly traditional.”

The younger McLean mentioned the value of “very robust, older varieties” of citrus that have better resistance to HLB, including mandarin and pomelo, “hybridized decades and sometimes centuries ago.”

While those are suitable for organic growers, he cautioned against genetic modification of citrus to resist HLB since GMO varieties could not be exported to Europe and Japan, due to regulations that ban such imports.

Steward expressed optimism. “I believe we are going to develop rootstock combinations that will survive,” he said, adding, “We have become better farmers since 2005. We are trying everything. We are thinking outside the box.”

Approximately 200 attended the two-day conference, which began Sunday with a tour of organic farms in Alachua County and a trade show with about 40 representatives offering books, fertilizers made of natural substances — like earthworm castings or fish — and a range of expertise, from agricultural loans to social justice for farmworkers.

Beyond citrus greening, topics addressed in 20 workshops Monday included climate change and farm resilience, seed saving, the national farm bill, urban farming, organic certification, poultry and more.

During lunch in a packed ballroom at the hotel, applause and cheers broke out when Mesh, giving the conference’s keynote address, said: “Make American organic again!”

The summit, commemorating the 30th anniversary of the organic-advocacy group he founded in Gainesville, continues today with training in food safety and resources available for new organic growers.

Longtime citrus growers Ben McLean III (left) and Benny McLean II discussed organic methods for managing citrus greening disease at the Organic Food and Farming Summit in Gainesville. Photo via Susan Washington.

As a teen, Gainesville pivotal to shaping Andrew Gillum’s political rise, ambition

For the charismatic, 37-year-old mayor of Tallahassee, a day in Gainesville was an opportunity to campaign for Florida governor — the job he hopes to win in next year’s election — but also a chance to reconnect with a place and some people who he describes as “pivotal.”

Following an economic roundtable discussion with University of Florida students and local leaders in business and government Tuesday afternoon — at Tower Technology Park, near Interstate-75 in Alachua County — Andrew Gillum, a native of Miami, took a few minutes in an interview to recall the six formative years he lived in Gainesville, from 1992 -1998, and the important friendships he developed as a teenager.

His family’s move to Gainesville from Miami — to be closer to his paternal grandfather, JT Gillum, who was ill at that time — “felt like moving to a foreign place,” Andrew Gillum said.

But the slower pace, compared to Miami — as well as family members and other community connections in Gainesville — were transformative for Gillum.

“People took time to ask you, “how you doin’?’” he remembered, adding, “It was pivotal to slowing down my life to a pace where I could start to pay real attention to my education, to my community, to setting goals because I got exposed to a different type of environment,” he said.

In Gainesville, his paternal aunt, Patricia Gillum Sams, a graduate of Florida State University, and his paternal grandmother, Elizabeth Gillum, a nurse who worked days at Kanapaha Middle School and nights at North Florida Regional Medical Center, were an inspiration for him.

“I came here and got exposed to a little bit of a different life in some ways — my mom, however, was still driving the school bus, and my dad was still doing construction; we just had exposure to people who had more means and had gone to college.”

He also recalled a teacher at Westwood Middle School — “she had the longest hair,” he said — who made an impact when she insisted that he sign up for an honors curriculum at Gainesville High School. “She said, ‘You ought to do this; you are bright.’”

“That then put me on the trajectory in my sophomore year to taking an honors and a pre-AP course and my junior year taking AP classes and testing and getting some college credits for my AP classes at GHS,” Gillum said. “I can credit that, being pushed to take honors courses, with putting me on a pathway to going to college.”

Of his immediate family — his parents, Charles and Frances Gillum, and six siblings — Andrew Gillum was the first to graduate high school, followed by his two younger siblings, Monique Gillum and Marcus Gillum, who also graduated high school and attended college.

“My parents loved us without measure, but they had to work a lot,” Andrew Gillum said. “They didn’t have time for politics, only for work and church and family.”

He said his parents now live in Valdosta, Georgia, and other members of his family are in Miami or Jacksonville. In Gainesville, he said, there are “just some people who I love and know.”

One of those is the former Gainesville High School director of student activities, Linda Awbrey, who retired last year after more than 40 years with the Alachua County School Board. On her way to Gillum’s 5 p.m. fundraiser, Awbrey — who also spoke at Gillum’s March 4 gubernatorial campaign kickoff in Tallahassee — recalled his “immense heart and great empathy for people.”

She said she met Gillum when she taught a high school leadership class in which he was enrolled. As vice president for the Gainesville High School student body, “He was trying to get people to work together and understand each other,” she said.

Soon Gillum was elected by the Florida Association of Student Councils as state parliamentarian. “That was an unbelievable feat for North Florida,” Awbrey said. “He was so personable and got to know so many people across the state.”

She said the role of parliamentarian consisted of bringing to the governor — at that time Lawton Chiles — student proposals from throughout Florida, some of which the governor passed along to the legislature for consideration.

“Many a time I told him, ‘You will be governor of the State of Florida or president of the United States,’” she recalled.

Gillum attended Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University in Tallahassee, and, at age 23 — in 2003, shortly before graduating college — he became the youngest person ever elected to the Tallahassee City Commission. In 2009, he married fellow FAMU grad R. Jai Howard. They became parents to twins — Jackson and Caroline Gillum — in 2014, the same year that Andrew Gillum was elected mayor. The Gillums are expecting a son.

Andrew Gillum credits the Chestnut family of Gainesville with mentoring him into a political career. Charles Chestnut III, the longtime owner of a funeral home, was among those hosting Gillum’s fundraiser at the home of Jason and Rachel Haeseler.

“My mayor, Lauren Poe, has been telling about Andrew Gillum and what a great mayor he is for Tallahassee,” Jason Haeseler said as he greeted guests on the front porch of his home Tuesday night.

Also greeting guests at the Haeseler home was Dr. Cynthia Moore Chestnut, chair of the Alachua County Democratic Party. Her stepson, Charles Chestnut IV, has served on the Gainesville City Commission and in the Florida House of Representatives. He currently serves on the Alachua County Commission.

But it was Gillum’s friendship — beginning in high school — with Christopher Moore Chestnut, the son of Charles Chestnut III and Cynthia Moore Chestnut, that drew Gillum into the politically active Chestnut family.

“Chris and I were in AP classes together,” Gillum said. “We were the only two black men in those classes, so we kind of, you know, bonded.

At that time, Cynthia Moore Chestnut was serving in the Florida House of Representatives, having previously served on the Gainesville City Commission, including as mayor.

“When I learned his mom was a legislator, when I’d call the house to talk to him, I’d spend time on the phone with her,” Gillum recalled. “It was like a big thing to be able to talk with her about important stuff like the legislature,” he said.

He described her as an “informal mentor.”

“My notion was, she wouldn’t have time, but she took time,” he said. “When she took Chris to the capitol for him to be a page for the week, she had me coming up there on the weekend. I was seeing it. I was experiencing it. And I was like, ‘Wow! OK!’”

“She totally inspired me,” Gillum said. “She was really big on education.”

“I’ve got a huge passion for education, and I think I tuned in very early just by virtue of watching at-that-time Rep. Chestnut doing what she was doing,” he said.

After a decade in the House, where she served as chair of the House Committee on Education and vice chair of the Education Appropriations Committee, Cynthia Moore Chestnut was elected to the Alachua County Commission, where she served until 2011.

When asked to comment on Gillum at the fundraiser Tuesday, she said, “I’m actually putting a cheese tray together.”

Cynthia Moore Chestnut — chair of the Alachua County Democratic Executive Committee and a longtime mentor of Florida gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum — greets Andrew Gordon, a professor emeritus of the University of Florida, on Tuesday evening, April 25, 2017, at a fundraiser held at the home of Jason and Rachel Haeseler in Gainesville, Florida. (Photo courtesy Susan Washington)
Andrew Gillum, a candidate for Florida governor, is pictured with Duncan Kabinu of Gainesville Dev Academy on Tues., April 25, 2017. (Photo courtesy Susan Washington)
Andrew Gillum, a candidate for Florida governor, holds a round-table discussion with University of Florida students and local leaders in business and government at the Tower Technology Park in Gainesville, Florida, on Tuesday afternoon, April 25, 2017. Gillum is seated between city commissioners Adrian Hayes-Santos, to Gillum’s right, and Harvey Ward. (Photo courtesy Susan Washington)
Andrew Gillum at 16 (Photo courtesy Gainesville Sun)

 

UF law students discuss, debate ahead of Constitutional Revision Commission meeting

Gainesville — With the Florida Constitutional Revision Commission set to hold a public hearing here Wednesday — the fifth of nine hearings scheduled throughout the state as a part of Florida’s unique, citizen-initiative constitutional revision process, which occurs every 20 years — several dozen law students at the University of Florida assembled Monday afternoon in an auditorium named in honor of the chairman of the state’s first CRC, Chesterfield Smith, to discuss the constitutional revision process with a member of the 1997-98 Commission, Jon Mills, and a historian of the state constitution, Mary Adkins.

One thing the students learned in the hourlong talk is that the CRC that convened this year is the first in Florida history that has not been chaired by a graduate of the UF law school.

“Here’s a fun fact,” said Adkins, whose book — Making Modern Florida: How the Spirit of Reform Shaped a New State Constitution — was published last year by University Press of Florida. “From the 1956 group that was created by statute to originally draft this constitution, through to the 1997-98 group, all of them were chaired by a UF law grad.”

Referring to the chair of the 2017-2018 CRC, Carlos Beruff — a real estate developer appointed last month by Gov. Rick Scott — Adkins added, “This particular chair is not a college graduate.”

“There are no minimum qualifications to be a member of the body that has the power to place constitutional amendments directly on the ballot,” she said.

A student spoke up to say he was “very disappointed” in that change in the leadership tradition of the CRC, but Adkins said, “It’s a new era, not a lot of looking toward the past. This is also the first (CRC) in which there are no members on this one that were ever on (a Florida CRC) in the past.”

Mills, who served on the previous CRC, is a dean emeritus of the UF law school and a member of its faculty. He urged students to attend the commission’s hearing and present the proposals they developed in his public policy practicum this semester.

“Many of you already have much more detail in your proposals than almost anybody, so I suggest you follow through,” he said. “I do encourage you to articulate those and put them in front of the commission.”

Mills — who represented Gainesville as a Democrat in the Florida House from 1978-88 and served as House speaker from 1987-88 — recalled a medical marijuana proposal that he opposed when it was presented to the 1997-98 CRC.

“Things you bring up may have their own life,” he told the students. “It may be wrong, but it may happen.”

Mills’ current practicum addresses “constitution-making by initiative and in the context of constitutional commissions,” according to the school’s online catalog. He said that his students have developed constitutional proposals aimed at “making elections broader and more accessible in terms of both registration and days to vote and issues dealing with reapportionment.”

Another proposal developed in his class would ensure that a minimum 1 percent of the state budget is used to fund the judiciary in Florida. Without such a provision in the state constitution, Florida’s judiciary “could be cut entirely,” Mills said, recalling resolutions filed in the state House and Senate this Session that urge the U.S. Congress to amend the U.S. Constitution to allow Congress to reject judicial rulings.

Some other proposals UF law students have developed would raise the mandatory retirement age to 75 and repeal a prohibition on a state income tax in Florida, “giving us a little bit of fiscal flexibility,” said Trevor Tezel, a second-year law student from Cocoa Beach.

Adding human rights protections in the categories of “gender identity and sexual orientation” also “seems prudent,” he said.

The CRC hearing in Gainesville is scheduled to begin at 5 p.m. at the UF Curtis M. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts. A CRC hearing is also set for Jacksonville Thursday and next month in Panama City, Fort Myers and Hillsborough County.

Jon Mills (second from right) was a member of the 1997-98 Florida Constitution Revision Commission. He is pictured on Mon., April 24, at the University of Florida law school with some of the students enrolled in his spring semester 2017 public policy practicum: from left, Brian Nelson, Anthony Sabatini, Trevor Tezel and Josh Rieger. (Photo courtesy Susan Washington)

In mock court, UF law students argue case echoing infamous FSU ‘Jane Doe’ lawsuit

The black-robed justices who filed solemnly into a courtroom at the University of Florida law school Thursday morning were not the justices of the U.S. Supreme Court, but they were announced as if they were.

“All persons having business before the Honorable, the Supreme Court of the United States, are admonished to draw near and give their attention, for the court is now sitting,” a bailiff boomed out as students, law professors and attorneys with Holland & Knight — the law firm that sponsored the event — stood respectfully.

But when Florida’s chief justice, Jorge Labarga, took a seat behind the long desk at the front of the room, along with four of his colleagues from the state’s high court, and said, “I’m actually Justice Roberts” — referring to the chief justice of the nation’s high court — laughter and applause erupted throughout the room.

Ignoring the outburst, Labarga continued. “We’re here today to decide over … ah, the case of …” he flipped through a file before him, “Chilton State University and Jane Doe.”

Over the more than two hours that followed, two law students representing that fictional university and two students representing a fictional female student presented arguments explaining why the university had, or did not have, responsibility under the federal law known as Title IX to investigate her allegations that she was raped at an off-campus event by a male student who had a leadership role at the university that they both attended.

Title IX prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in any federally funded education program or activity. The law also addresses sexual harassment and rape of students.

In the fictional case presented at UF’s 33rd Annual Raymer F. Maguire Appellate Advocacy Competition, events, characters, circumstances and questions of law — discussed by the students and the justices — sounded strikingly similar to a high-profile lawsuit that another “Jane Doe” brought in 2015 against Florida State University. That lawsuit was resolved last year, when FSU paid a historic Title IX settlement — $950,000 — after Erica Kinsman accused the university’s star quarterback at that time, Jameis Winston, of raping her at an off-campus location in 2012. (Kinsman eventually identified herself publicly in a documentary film, “The Hunting Ground,” about sexual assault on college campuses in the United States. According to the film, college administrations often fail to adequately address the assaults.)

In the fictional lawsuit used in the competition at UF, as well as in the lawsuit brought against FSU, the female student who said she was raped as a freshman withdrew from the school, complaining that the university had not adequately responded to her accusations.

In the case at FSU, Kinsman accused the university of hiding her complaint “to protect the football program.” A year after she identified Winston to police in Tallahassee, he won the Heisman Trophy and led the Seminoles to FSU’s third national championship. The state attorney’s office in Tallahassee investigated, and FSU held a disciplinary hearing, but no charges were brought against Winston.

In the fictional case — which the American Bar Association created last year for use in appellate advocacy competitions throughout the United States this year — the accused student was promoted to president of a fraternity following the rape accusations against him.

The case dealt with “topics that are very relevant to our age and time,” said Aaron Holman, a second-year law student from Winter Park. He said that, as his team prepared for the competition, representing fictional “Chilton State University,” the case at FSU “has come up in discussion as something very similar.”

The Chilton case is an appeal — to justices presumed to be sitting on the U.S. Supreme Court — and addresses the question of “duties of educational institutions to adjudicate allegations of student-on-student assault that occurs off-campus” and “whether Title IX allows a claim for relief against a university that refused to investigate an allegation of student-on-student harassment because it occurred purely off-campus and outside the context of any university program.”

At the competition at UF, Justice Barbara Pariente, referring to what she described as a “proliferation of sexual assaults on campus,” said “I’m sure fraternities are the breeding ground for many of these sexual assaults, when drinking takes place.”

But Seth Donahoe, a third-year law student from West Palm Beach, said that when a sexual assault is alleged to have occurred away from campus and outside of university-sponsored activities, for the university “to embark on an ad hoc, informal investigation would subject the school to potential different types of liability because they are not considering the due process rights of the accused.”

His teammate Sara Altes noted how “in 2001, the Department of Education went through formal rule-making procedures that set out how a school must go through allegations of sexual assault. This would provide and ensure safety for both the accused and those who experience sexual harassment.”

She added, “While it is incredibly unfortunate what happened to the respondent, Title IX is not the proper legal remedy.”

Steve Cline, a second-year law student from Virginia, represented the respondent, Doe, in the Chilton case, as did Brandon Cook, a second-year law student from New Smyrna Beach. Referring to the continuing effects suffered by Doe from the on-campus presence of the alleged perpetrator of an off-campus assault, Cline said the university should “look into the allegations to ensure that there is no continuing effect on campus.”

Cook agreed that educational institutions are obliged under Title IX to investigate after students allege an off-campus assault from another student, adding that “the university’s duty to respond to reports of sexual assault or harassment is independent of any duty of police enforcement.”

But Justice C. Alan Lawson noted, “You really are saying that each university in this country has to come up with means and mechanisms and personnel and resources to independently investigate sexual assaults between students, no matter where they occur.”

Justice Ricky Polston questioned how universities would ensure due process rights of accused students. Justice Charles Canady also judged the competition.

At the conclusion of the competition, Labarga announced the team representing the university as the winning team and Donahoe as the winning “oralist.”

After the competition, Donahoe said his challenge had been “reigning in a really complex, administrative law problem to very simple, deliverable points in oral argument. It’s not necessarily the law was or was not favorable. It’s just very nuanced.”

His teammate, Holman, agreed. “There are fair and strong arguments on both sides. There is no clear-cut answer.”

He described the competition as “a showcase for our school and a practice for the national tournament,” which is set for Chicago in April. Next month, the teams from the UF law school plan to attend a regional competition in Boston.

From left, Florida Supreme Court Justice C. Alan Lawson, with University of Florida law students — Seth Donahoe, Sara Altes, Steve Cline and Rachel Sheffield — at the conclusion of the annual appellate advocacy competition, Feb. 16, 2017. (Photo: Susan Washington)
Five justices of the Florida Supreme Court — front row, from left — C. Alan Lawson, Charles T. Canady, Chief Justice Jorge Labarga, Barbara J. Pariente and Ricky Polston, at the University of Florida’s annual appellate advocacy competition, Feb. 16, 2017. (Photo: Susan Washington)

North Florida water managers OK first-ever long-term usage, supply plan

ALACHUA, Fla. — The first-ever long-range plan for water use in a vast, North Florida region — home to around 1.5 million people in 14 counties stretching over more than 8,000 square miles — was approved here on Jan. 17, in a joint meeting of the governing boards of two water management districts.

“This plan stands squarely on our science,” said Dr. Ann Shortelle, executive director of the Saint Johns River Water Management District.

Shortelle was previously executive director of the Suwannee River Water Management District, whose governing board — along with that of the SJRWMD – approved the water plan for a region of Florida that includes more than 140 springs.

The two-hour-long meeting was the second occasion that the two boards had convened together. The first time was at the start of the regional water-planning process, in 2012.

Anticipating a large turnout for the final meeting — following dozens of meetings over four years, during which members of the public had aired a range of views on the water plan — a public address system was set up outside city hall, where the meeting was held. But only about a dozen demonstrators assembled, waving handmade posters. Some of them criticized the water plan during the public comment portion of the meeting, prior to the boards’ unanimous approval of the plan.

Dr. Robert Knight, the founder and director of the Florida Springs Institute, cited a reduction of as much of 40 percent in water flow for some rivers in the region — including Silver Springs and the Suwannee River — and urged a halt to all new permitting for water use.

“We are not protecting the natural environment as we are required to do by law,” said Knight, a wetlands ecologist who was previously employed by each of the two districts.

Florida law requires the state’s water management districts’ governing boards to “conduct water supply planning … where it determines that existing sources of water are not adequate to supply water for all existing and future reasonable-beneficial uses and to sustain the water resources and related natural systems …”

According to the new plan, the districts had determined that groundwater alone cannot supply an expected 21 percent increase in water use in the region over a planning period that extends to 2035 “without causing unacceptable impacts to water resources.” The possibility of drought would increase water demand further for the region, which extends, in the north, from the Georgia border with the Florida counties of Hamilton, Columbia, Baker and Nassau south as far as Gilchrist, Alachua, Putnam and Flagler counties and including, as well, Florida’s Atlantic coast north of Daytona Beach.

Because of the projections for increased water use — as high as 117 million gallons per day by 2035 — the North Florida Regional Water Supply Partnership was established in 2011 by the Florida Department of Environmental Regulation. And 36 public hearings were held throughout the region, including one meeting with the Southwest Water Management District.

But some environmentalists who attended the final meeting in Alachua complained that their input — throughout the public hearings, which were conducted by a Stakeholder Advisory Committee consisting of 12 appointees representing public water supply, commercial/power generation, industrial/mining, agriculture, environmental and local governments — had been ignored.

“The environmental side of the house is underrepresented on that committee,” said Dr. Pat Welsh — a retired oceanographer and environmental engineer. “It is underrepresented in everything we do.”

The advisory committee had voted unanimously in November in favor of the water plan. And Jacquie Sulek, a resident of Fort White who had served on the committee, spoke at the boards’ meeting Tuesday in favor of the plan.

“Adoption of the regional water supply plan will be a very, very important first step,” she said. “This is not the end. This is the beginning.”

Don Quincey, chairman of the SWRWMD, said of the comments from those who opposed the plan, “We haven’t heard anything today that we haven’t heard many times.”

Quincey — the owner of Quincey Cattle Company, located in Chiefland — is also a member of the board of the Florida Cattleman’s Association.

And water pollution — and water consumption — due to cattle ranching were among the concerns expressed by some who attended the meeting. Stephen Hunter, a longtime resident of Bradford County, which is included in the water-planning region, complained of the SJRWMD’s recommendation last month of approval for an increase in water consumption for a cattle ranch near Silver Springs.

“It’s our water. It’s my grandchildren’s water and yours,” he said.

The region includes the St. Johns River, Nassau River, portions of the St. Mary’s River, Orange Lake and the Santa Fe, Alapaha and Ichetucknee rivers.

To compensate for expected increase in water consumption, the plan relies heavily on increased water conservation, with conservation expected to account for 46 percent — or 54 million gallons per day throughout the region — by 2035.

Rick Hutton, an engineer who oversees water and wastewater planning at Gainesville Regional Utilities, was among the representatives of a coalition of utilities in the region who spoke in favor of the plan and its reliance on water conservation.

“Our customers have reduced their per capita water use by 28 percent since 2007,” Hutton said, adding that conservation had reduced overall water consumption for GRU by 18 percent “even though our population has increased by 13 percent.”

“We support the plan,” he said.

Protesters hold handmade signs at a meeting of the governing boards of two water management districts approving a long-range plan for water use covering a vast, North Florida region. (Image: Susan Washington)
Map provided by St. Johns River Water Management District
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