Alachua County representatives pledge to legislators that they won’t use taxpayer money to fight single-member districts – but they already have

Alachua County Spokesman Mark Sexton


At yesterday’s Florida House Elections & Public Integrity Committee meeting, representatives from Alachua County pledged to not use taxpayer money or staff resources to take any position on a referendum on single-member districts that will be on the November ballot if it clears the legislature.

However, many of the concerns in their statements to the committee were about how they would need to spend staff time and money to defeat it, and it turns out that Alachua County had already asked citizens to call the legislators and ask them to vote no, indicating that before the pledge was extracted, Alachua County and the county commission had every intention of working to defeat the referendum. In addition, County staff instructed their lobbyist to work against it, the County sent a staff member (County Spokesman and Legislative Affairs Director Mark Sexton) to Tallahassee to oppose it, and a county commissioner submitted an op-ed to the Gainesville Sun (calling the bill a “political assault“) that was at least partially written by Sexton. Sexton also sent emails to city commissioners and County employees, asking them to contact members of the committees hearing the local bill.

Statements from representatives

During the hearing, Rep. Yvonne Hinson (D-20) told legislators: “What we’re trying to prevent is the time and money and effort it’s going to take away from our constituents to do this.”

Alachua County Commission Chair Marihelen Wheeler said, “We really do not have the time and energy to put towards this bill. We have not put forth any–we don’t have to work to fight this bill. We don’t have to fund any–I’m surprised–This is news to me… I have been following this. None of us–and I’ve been at every commission meeting… we have said nothing about this bill, in terms of how we would defeat it. We don’t have to. We just don’t want to be bothered by having it on… a ballot that’s not really worth our time.”

County staff asked citizens, city commissioners, and County staff to oppose the bill

However, four Alachua County commissioners, including Wheeler, strategized about their plan to fight this local bill in the legislature just last week. Not only did they ask their lobbyist to contact every committee member, the County posted a “CALL TO ACTION!” asking citizens to call legislators and ask them to vote no on the local bill. This was posted by an Alachua County staff member on Alachua County’s official Facebook page:

Sexton also sent an email to all Gainesville City Commissioners and undisclosed others before the first committee hearing, urging them to “contact the members and ask them to vote this bad bill down.”

On Friday evening, February 11, Sexton sent an email to County employees from his official alachuacounty.us account:

County commissioners talked about their plan to oppose the bill last week

At the February 8 meeting, County Commissioner Ken Cornell said, “Unless there’s an objection, what we would like to do is send my December 6 letter, the FAC supporting letter, a letter that was written by the chair of the Charter Review Commission, Former Commissioner [Penny] Wheat wrote a letter, and I understand [Commissioner Alford is] doing an op-ed?… If we say that’s okay, then Tom [Alachua County’s lobbyist] is going to begin working his magic with each of those committee members, so any objection to that?”

The others all said, “None,” so Cornell said, “So Mark [Sexton], you have your marching orders.”

Sexton added, “We also spoke about beginning a very deliberate online campaign to increase citizen awareness of this local bill, and we would include in that the members of the committee, their phone numbers, their emails, and we would encourage our residents to reach out to these folks as well.”

County Commissioner Mary Alford later thanked Sexton for his help writing the op-ed she submitted to the Gainesville Sun: “I just wanted to thank Mark [Sexton] for his help on writing this op-ed. You know, he’s such an invaluable employee and supporter of the commission.”

All of this is in the following video:

Sexton also sent Alford’s column to the Gainesville Sun:

Wheeler: “we have said nothing about this bill, in terms of how we would defeat it”

After Wheeler told the committee, “we have said nothing about this bill, in terms of how we would defeat it,” Rep. Blaise Ingoglia (R-35) followed up by asking Wheeler why she was up in Tallahassee lobbying against the bill when she said they didn’t need to fight it. She said, “Why waste our time and your time putting it on the ballot when we have a process?… This is not important to the general population of our community.”

Ingoglia then asked Wheeler if she would pledge that the County would not use any tax dollars or staff time on defeating any referendum that’s going to be on the ballot. Wheeler responded, “Yes, sir.”

Sexton also said that Alachua County would not spend money opposing the bill, but only “educating the voters.”

Legislators seemed satisfied with the pledges, made “in the sunshine, where your constituents are listening,” but Newberry City Commissioner Tim Marden, who also attended the hearing, said, “I know they’ve already broken that promise. It will be interesting to see if this gives them any pause moving forward or if they will revert back to their old tricks.”

  • Is anyone surprised by this? If these people are all against this than than there must be something beneficial in it for the people. You know they don’t want different opinions or to share whatever power they have. These are liberals and Democrats and they at their core are authoritarians. Just look at the national picture. Look at Canada.

  • Too bad it’s not legally binding. We all know the BOCC of could care less about what the Florida legislators ask/demand/write/say.

  • This article misses the fundamental point. Counties can actively oppose proposed legislation. It is when it actually becomes a ballot imitative that money cannot be spent on advocating for or against.

    • Alachua County (Mark Sexton) did you just come up with that? Torres splitting hairs find some little crack you think you can find some cover in since you got exposed?

      • Exposed? We have posted these things on social media with over 100K followers. Hardly a secret campaign.

        • The only time it was posted on FB was to denounce it. I would know, Alachua County Silent No More. I keep reading how this bill is an “assault on democracy” would you please explain how? Commissioners want to have an “education campaign” so please educate how this bill would not be good for Alachua County voters.

      • Can we hear the story about the Miami Mark Prius Debacle again? Or has that been SCRUBBED ? Like with a brush?

    • Because you are free to comment your view here, why not open up commenting on your own social media posts?

      • It’s not social media if someone has blocked everyone from responding. It’s antisocial media.

  • It’s impossible the status quo could be called “democracy.” Every other place these same leaders would support more representation. Just not when their own jobs might be harmed. Then it’s called “a racist, white John Birch conspiracy”

  • I am curious if Alachua County will allow commenting on their social media posts that will encourage opposition and voter suppression

    • I would guess they are not going to add opposition or opposing views to their social media any time soon. Luckily we have pages like Alachua County Silent No More and similar that are more informative then their usual puppy of the day puff posts.

    • Are you the walt that sent in multiple single member topics to the 2020 Charter Review Commission? Still bitter that they rejected all of them? You and Little Timmy and Weird Sort bitter you cannot get enough signature cards to put it on the ballot yourself. Tough, educated university people reject the “conservative” Republican bullcrap.

      • “Tough, educated university people” HAHA…….How ironic that one of the most vocal supporters of SMD was Barbara Sharp, surely tougher and more educated than you…..and hardly a bastion of Republican bullcrap.

  • “This is not important to the general population of our community”.is a very revealing statement about how the BoCC views our rural citizens, to whom this is a very important issue.

    • How does she really know that without a vote or it even being discussed at the CRC? She really truly can’t know that.

  • I am 100% in favor of this but the big question is does it have much of a chance of passing? Gainesville dominates Alachua county elections and we all know which way those voters lean.

  • The question that was posted on the FB page Alachua County Silent No more poses a good question. What is the benefit of keeping the voting district how it is currently over the proposed change? Without using, “well that’s the way we always did it”, or “That is how it has always been done. If this is an “assault on democracy” I would like someone to explain how it is.

    • Only the informed.

      It’s not an assault on democracy, it’s a threat to current leaders’ tyranny over outlying communities whose voices are drowned out by the noise of the heavily liberal populous of Gainesville.
      Current leadership shrouds the truth in deception because they don’t want people to know. If they believed and supported home rule they wouldn’t have changed the charter recently taking home rule away from towns like Newberry, Alachua & other smaller communities.

      Hypocrites then, hypocrites now. Those who believe them, lemmings then, lemmings now.

    • It’s an assault on idiocy. Take a look at our elected commissioners – a picture truly is worth a thousand words in this case. And we have our Director of Communications (former Deputy) who might be able to function adequately as a high-handed, bombastic spokesperson but seems completely devoid of all technical know-how aside from turning Comments on social media to the ‘OFF’ position. He’s probably afraid he’d be replaced with someone more technically able.

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