Susan Washington - SaintPetersBlog

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 Memorial Hospital, 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.”

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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)

Catholic Gators, nun celebrate Good Friday with Stations of Cross mural near UF

Sister Ana Galvan, of St. Augustine Church (Photo courtesy Susan Washington)

Gainesville — Braving the midday sun and heavy traffic ahead of the holiday weekend, Sister Ana Galvan, of St. Augustine Church, and Melissa Likamwa, a music education major at the University of Florida, painted the Stations of the Cross on a wall that borders a north-south corridor near the university.

“It’s a way to remind people that Easter comes with the passion,” said Galvan, who wore a bright-white habit. “It’s a way to remind them that first we need to see the whole journey of Jesus to the cross before we celebrate Easter.”

The temporary mural, on a wall that runs along SW 34th Street — a wall typically given over to graffiti of every kind — is a project of Catholic Gators, a student group. Their painting is an innovative interpretation of the Good Friday memorial, also known as the Way of Sorrows, that first entered the practices of Western churches more than 500 years ago.

The stations, which typically number 14, depict Jesus’ condemnation to die and his experiences — including encounters with the faithful — as he carries his cross, sometimes with assistance, through a busy, public thoroughfare, to the place of his crucifixion, where he is stripped, nailed to the cross, dies and is removed from the cross and placed in a tomb.

The appearance along the busy roadside of the petite nun, her hands covered in paint — as she and several students painstakingly painted the dramatic scenes — brought to mind the commentary by the noted Scottish clergyman and WWI veteran, George MacLeod:

“Jesus was not crucified in a cathedral between two candles, but on a cross between two thieves; on the town’s garbage heap; at a crossroad so cosmopolitan that they had to write His title in Hebrew and Latin and Greek… at the kind of place where cynics talk smut and thieves curse and soldiers gamble. Because that is where he died and that is what he died for and that is what he died about, that is where churchman ought to be and what churchmen ought to be about.”

In regards to the 81 degree temperature on Friday, Likamwa said the weather was a welcomed change from the downpour on Good Friday in 2016, which had prevented the student group from continuing that year what, in 2015 — the first year they painted the mural — they expected to become an annual tradition for their art ministry.

“It’s just a good way to evangelize,” Likamway said. “Everyone sees it while they are driving past; at least they think about it for a second.”

Photo courtesy Susan Washington
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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