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“I’m really glad that we have this team back together again”: Returning County Commissioners present their goals for the next few years:

County Commission Mary Alford delivers her remarks after the Nov. 15 swearing-in ceremony

BY JENNIFER CABRERA

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – The three recently-elected County Commissioners – Mary Alford, Ken Cornell, and Marihelen Wheeler – were sworn in this morning at a Special County Commission Meeting.

After taking their oaths, the members of the County Commission were given an opportunity to make remarks. Alford, who was elected after previously resigning from the County Commission in May over residency issues, said this has been one of the most challenging years of her life, “dealing with grief from my mom and having an unexpected election and moving and finding a house I could afford… mostly paying the bills.” She added that she now has “a great feeling for people that are struggling to find housing. If someone as privileged as I am had to struggle to find a place that I could afford when I lost my housing in my district, I can’t imagine what it must be like for other people.” She said one of her priorities would be to make sure citizens of Alachua County have “attainable housing.” 

Alford said roads will be another priority, “and of course I’m still going to work on the environment, work on sustainability, as well as the resilience of the county, and I am so excited to get back to work.”

Ken Cornell

Cornell congratulated Alford and Wheeler and reiterated his campaign promises to “invest in our kids and our neighborhoods, that we protect our water and our environment, and that we continue to focus on our core services like public safety and roads.”

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Cornell said he hoped the City Commission would reverse their exclusionary zoning ordinances and that Ability Housing would relocate their planned workforce housing to somewhere west of Main Street. He said that if the development couldn’t be moved, “then I want to purchase that land and try to find other places where we can focus on affordable housing throughout the county, knowing that we have a funding source for 10 years” of about $4 million a year from the infrastructure surtax that was just approved by voters. 

Cornell also said the County would be completing its Climate Change Resiliency Plan, which was started about two years ago. He said that 76% of Florida’s population live in coastal communities, and “all you have to do is look at Ian and Nicole, in the past two months, to know that they’re going to be coming here.”

Cornell added that he favored purchasing parts of the Hickory Sink project with Wild Spaces & Public Places funds, “and with our focus on east Gainesville, and we have new leadership at Florida, perhaps the University of Florida will consider building a golf course on the eastern part of the county. Who knows?”

He said he was looking forward to an additional $10 million per year in roads funding from the new surtax, adding that Ramon Gavarrete, Public Works Director, “is literally going to have to probably double the size of his department to actually build roads; we’re gonna be building and maintaining a lot of infrastructure that, for decades, we haven’t had the funding to do.”

Cornell also said he would be focusing on hiring, retaining, and continuing to support first responders, “and so I think we’ve gotta make sure we keep and attract the best and the brightest to Alachua County.”

Marihelen Wheeler

Wheeler spoke briefly about her year as Chair of the Commission, saying, “I felt like I just got to be the hostess up here, and it was really wonderful to welcome people into this board room and to have this group of people address the needs of the community in such a thoughtful and caring way; it’s a wonderful team to be a part of, so I’m really glad that we have this team back together again… My goal is to make sure that the outlying municipalities realize that we are part of a bigger community, and I think that under the watch of this board, we have been able to instill the confidence from the outlying communities that we do care at this board. It’s not all about Gainesville; it’s about the community.”

Wheeler said she would be focusing on criminal justice, substance abuse, and mental health issues: “That work is so important… The younger ones are a focus but also the older ones, the elders in the community, and that whole range of need in the community, from the children to the elders and to the workforce in the middle that really needs the support because they’re the ones who are taking care of the children and taking care of the old folks. So that sandwich group is going to need the mental health support that we can offer in this community, and a lot of that comes from the parks that we’re offering, and thank goodness that everybody realizes the importance of nature and healing, because right now, more than ever, we need healing as a community.”

Wheeler continued, “The focus of our County is on the people, the wellbeing of Alachua County and our policies; it’s not about party, and this is where I think we need to make sure that we are focusing on the people and the policies and trying to disregard the party at this point and making sure that we’re building community here.” 

Seeming to refer to the single-member district charter amendment that passed, she said, “I want to represent everybody in this county, and I’m hoping that we can get that message back out there, that we are a whole community and not divided up like pieces of a pie. We are the total pie. I’m so excited to be a part of this for another four years. You all are going to watch me age in place right here and I hope you will tell me when my petticoat’s showing, or if I’m not saying, you know… I’m counting on you younger ones and also the voices from the community to make sure that we hear the concerns of the community so that we no longer have to hear that the County is not listening, that we don’t care, because I know there are people out there who don’t believe that, and we just have to make sure that that other message doesn’t get out there as strong as the one that we do care, because the County now is in good hands.”

Commissioner Chuck Chestnut did not have any remarks, but Commissioner Anna Prizzia (as she started speaking, Wheeler interjected, “The next Chair!”) said she was “really happy to be serving with you all again, and it’s really, really a good day today, so thank you all for all the work you’ve done and all the amazing work we’re about to do this year. I’m very excited!”

  • Alford said, “Someone as privileged” as she is. Hopefully tomorrow she’ll look in the mirror and recognize the cause staring back at her.

    To further that sentiment, Cornell looks to purchase more land and take it off the tax rolls thereby adding to the tax burden on residents.

    Wheeler thinks a public park is the answer to mental illness?

    Gainesville once again voted for these misguided, misdirected people to represent them.

    Hope they’re happy.

    • Yeah, Alford is a regular Princess Diana. I’m sure she’s really glad to be back on the county payroll.

  • What total BS. It’s hard to take these rejects seriously when they suport and allow a fellow commsioner to accept and keep what appears to be tens of thousands of dollars in illegal salary and not pay it back. Until that happens should they have the right to be a commisoner and govern us ?

  • It’s a wonderful day in the GNV Neighborhoods, thanks Mr. Rogers, oops, I mean Granny Meri! Nothing changes! SSDD!! All the old AC BOCC gang back on the taxpayer gravy train!

  • I’m looking forward to seeing how our single member districts are confirmed and the influence the Gainesville population comes into play. Maybe I missed how they will be defined. Do we have a map to show the boundaries and registered voters within those?

    • There is no requirement to change the districts, although I believe the county commission CAN change them. However, you can assume for now that the districts will be the same as the ones in the 2022 election.

  • So does this mean the 1% tax for conservation is for afordable housing on the west side and a golf course on the east side

  • Dem voters are a diverse group, but all have one thing in common: battered spouse syndrome with their party.

  • Yep, they’re back like that recurring nightmare, the “Team” that has brought you sky high property taxes, extra sales taxes to cover their incompetence and wonderful roads.

  • I surely didn’t vote for that! This is just insane. Get yourselves and your children ready and educated for next election. Pay attention. Inform and encourage your coworkers and friends. Discuss politics openly with the facts to promote the vote!!!

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