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Friday, October 22, 2004

Jean Jean the Knucklehead Machine

Why does Alachua Mayor Jean Calderwood hate people?

In 2000, when confronted with the rather devastating impacts that a proposed $500 million dollar industrial development was going to have on this small rural town of Alachua, Calderwood said it wouldn’t change “the character of Alachua” – that it would be "an enhancement."

The 1,700-acre project, dubbed Alachua West, was to be centered around the one million-square-foot Dollar General distribution warehouse on County Road 235A. Minus Dollar General, the area was either farmland or homes on acreage.

Alachua West would have nearly doubled the population of the city. It would have added 11 million square feet of industrial development and almost one million square feet of commercial development. Most importantly, the project would have put more than 5,000 semi-trucks on the city's road system every day. The small, quiet town of Alachua would have become the world's largest truck stop, and any charm the city had would have been lost. (Click here for an in-depth story I wrote on this in 2001.)

Calderwood lost her re-election bid that year by a wide margin. The politically re-aligned City Commission voted down the proposed development.

Calderwood spent the next three years waging personal attacks against the re-aligned City Commission and city staff members that she did not like. She and her husband tried to get a planning and zoning board member removed from her position because she did not vote the way the Calderwoods wanted 100 percent of the time – just 75 percent of the time was not enough.

Now the Wicked Witch of Alachua West is back on the commission, this time as mayor. Her election last spring is largely due to the efforts of a right-wing propaganda publication called Alachua Today, which helped the Calderwoods smear any city commissioner or staff member who did anything to promote smart growth and fiscal responsibility. The campaign of deceit has been very successful.

Upon resuming her seat on the commission, Calderwood didn't leave her hate for the people at home.

Two weeks ago she had a column printed in The Gainesville Sun disagreeing with the Alachua County Commission's unanimous decision to not let FEMA spray poisons from airplanes over the county.

The proposed mosquito control is widely considered marginally effective, and the potential danger to people inhaling or eating the poisons used has not been tested thoroughly.

It should be noted that most County Commissioners are inclined to agree with Calderwood on growth and environmental issues, so her pro-spraying stance is extreme even for them.

She won't get her way with that issue. However, in her own fiefdom, Calderwood is queen bee. And when it comes to any proposed development, no matter how bad for the citizens, she sees only a pot of honey.

This week, Wal-Mart announced plans to build a supercenter store in Alachua. Calderwood says she supports that project, even though local business leaders say it will hurt the already struggling mom-and-pop shops in town. According to The Sun, Alachua Chamber of Commerce President Cathy Cain said "a supercenter offered Alachua's mom-and-pop businesses little chance to compete."

"I love going shopping in one if I'm near one, but to bring one here would hurt those local businesses that make Alachua, Alachua," Cain said. "If Alachua loses those businesses, it would lose its small town charm."

Alachua Mayor Jean Calderwood said she shared Cain's worry about increased competition to small businesses. But she said the specialty shops the city has tried to promote may benefit from the extra shoppers a supercenter could lure.

"It's sort of a mixed blessing," Calderwood said. "This should be a wake-up call for the citizens in our community to show loyalty to the specialty shops that have been around for quite a while."

Calderwood ignores the experience in every community where a Wal-Mart Supercenter is built. The company's volume buying and cut-throat pricing makes it impossible for locally owned businesses to compete. The coattail effect that Calderwood mentions is fantasy.

So it is with great pleasure to award Jean Calderwood the Knucklehead of the Week award.


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