Commission proposes community ID program, mayor's comment sparks controversy

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. (WCJB) - Gainesville city commissioners are considering starting a community ID card program to provide proper identification for people who need it. Gainesville Mayor Lauren Poe says some elderly folks, children, and undocumented immigrants could all benefit.

Since the concept is still in its early stages, the commission is looking into similar programs, working with the county and trying to figure out where the IDs could be used.

"There's a large part of our population who live and work in Gainesville and Alachua County who don't, for a variety of reasons, have access to Florida state-issued identification," Poe said.

The Gainesville City Commission thinks a community ID program can solve it.

Commissioners are still deciding whether it should be government-issued or privately issued and consulting city staff and attorneys on where it would be appropriate to accept them.

"It might be anything from signing up for your utility services to registering your kids for summer camp," Poe said. He also said it could be helpful for those who are newly out of prison trying to find work or housing, or victims of crimes who are hesitant to contact law enforcement because they don't have the proper ID.

You can already get a valid Florida ID at the DMV, but that requires other documentation like legal US status. But the commission is concerned that, if requested by immigration services, the ID information could be used to locate undocumented immigrants.

In a meeting Thursday, that conversation took a sharp turn after the mayor joked about a way to mislead immigration officers.

"One potential solution is we get every gringo in the world to show up on day one and get our IDs so there's sort of a delusion of who might or might not be," Poe said while laughing with the commission.

Gainesville resident Nathan Skop took offense to the word "Gringo," and after Poe explained it in the context of white privilege, Skop swore at the mayor and asked for a public apology.

"It's hard to believe that Mayor Poe made such an insensitive, derogatory, and inappropriate comment during a public meeting," Skop told TV20 Friday.

Mayor Poe refused and insists he does not see the term as derogatory. He says he was using it as a joke to refer to himself, since as a white person he might not understand the struggle of people of color, especially undocumented immigrants.

"It's generally used as an affectionate term, and that's certainly how I was applying it to me and other people that look like me," Poe said.

If the ID program is adopted, Poe said he would want everyone to sign up for it, regardless of their background. He also said the community ID could not be used to vote and would be of no cost to taxpayers.