Of all the personnel turnover at City Hall over the past six weeks, none has been more significant than the resignation of Scott Gabrielson, the silver-haired, boyish city attorney who turned 58 recently.
Gabrielson's last city commission meeting was June 23, when he was somewhat awkwardly asked to share the council bench with Wayne Rich, tapped by Mayor Buddy Dyer to become the new city attorney. The mayor said Gabrielson would be brought back at a later date to be presented with an award. But for the most part, Gabrielson's last council meeting was uneventful.
That was a far cry from the way Gabrielson arrived at the commission in February 1997. He almost didn't make it as a city attorney because he couldn't work full-time. Former Mayor Glenda Hood, in one of her shrewder moves, argued Gabrielson part-time was better than most attorneys full-time.
He went on to write some of Orlando's more controversial ordinances. He will be forever linked to the 35 blue boxes spread around downtown, the only places where it is legal to ask pedestrians for spare change. Some considered Gabrielson a fascist for writing laws targeted toward beggars. But he was actually trying to find middle ground. Some business leaders -- Bob Snow comes to mind -- were demanding that all of downtown become a no-panhandling zone.
Hood came to rely on Gabrielson the way she did Tom Kohler, the former head of the Downtown Development Board, and Richard Levey, the city's chief administrative officer. When an issue arose at council Hood was unable to handle (which was often), it was usually one of the those three who managed damage control, deflecting blame away from Hood. Gabrielson presented the city's side in the standoff with a group of firefighters two years ago. The firefighters claimed irresponsible medical practices at a city medical clinic led to their severe illnesses. Gabrielson gave the public a PowerPoint presentation on why the claim was erroneous, bringing in experts to testify. The suit was eventually thrown out of court and the firefighter's attorneys had to repay the city $200,000.
He had an extensive knowledge of and respect for the city's history. Born in Orlando, Gabrielson graduated from Winter Park High School and the University of Florida law school. He was a member of 18 local civic organizations, often serving as chairman or president. His love of the city showed. He was often the last one to leave city council meetings, trying to explain the city's position on some arcane topic to a reporter.
In a world of cynics, he was a self-described Pollyanna. He liked to say that Orlando got the leadership it deserved, and it was obvious he liked the leadership he saw. Maybe that label didn't fit everyone -- Hood, for example, had a legion of critics. But it did work for Gabrielson.