Alachua County Clerk of Court Jess Irby presided over the Nov. 17th swearing in ceremony for the Alachua County Board of County Commissioners by introducing three newly elected commissioners – Charles Chestnut IV, Anna Prizzia, and Mary Alford.
The commissioners took turns promising to support, protect and defend the constitution and the government of the United States and the State of Florida.
And then they all got down to business.
Commissioner Ken Cornell was nominated and voted for unanimously to become the next Chair of the BOCC and Commissioner Marihelen Wheeler accepted the nomination and was voted to become the next BOCC vice chair.
As former commissioners Robert “Hutch” Hutchinson and Mike Byerly now sat in the audience, Chestnut, Prizzia and Alford spoke about their priorities coming into their new positions.
Commissioner Alford said there would have been a party after the election and noted how different running for the position and celebrating her new appointment has been because of the pandemic.
She thanked Hutchinson and Byerly for being examples of stewardship and dedication to Alachua County, her campaign team and her “kitchen cabinet” (the group of friends and family she relied on for support) and her family. She thanked her supporters for giving her the room to put family first and then outlined what her focus will be as a new commissioner.
“I would like to get road maintenance up to date,” she said. And added that she wanted to create a public dashboard where citizens could report and monitor road maintenance problems in order to “make the process transparent. “What it is costing us financially, environmentally and a safety concern,” she said.
She said there was a lot of work to be done rebuilding animal control facilities, fixing leaky roofs, etc. and in a bigger picture, policy issues to address,
Her focus is on sustainability by balancing the environment, the economy and equity altogether.
“Resiliency in the face of uncertainty,” she said. “That Alachua County residents can have food, shelter and feel safe in emergencies.
“This year has revealed some gaps in our systems,” Alford said. And she pledged to address concerns of outlying communities and to extend an invite to those conversations in order for residents to share needs, concerns, and ideas.
“Support small businesses,” she said and emphasized the importance of the community to continue to wear masks, wash their hands and to keep socially distant.
Commissioner Prizzia sent a huge “thank you” out to her family, and her campaign team for the advice, ideas and support she received.
“I have had the most amazing ride in this community already,” she said. Her priority is creating policy that ensures, “We have justice and everyone has the opportunity to live a great quality of life.”
Prizzia said the other commissioners are her inspiration and she pledged to protect resources, provide mental health support, to create a safety net, and also emphasised the importance of citizens to mitigate the pandemic by wearing face masks.
Her message to the Alachua County community is that she is, “Here to listen to you, and will do my best to represent everyone’s voice in my votes.”
Re-elected Commissioner Chestnut gave honor to God first. He then thanked voters for another four years to serve and outlined his priorities.
At the top of his list, “Economic development recovery post COVID-19.
He talked about protecting public health and promised to continue to focus on providing affordable housing for citizens.
“It is dire that we continue to address (affordable housing) because wages lag behind the cost of living.
Housing for Veterans, the homeless and those on disability and workforce affordable housing fall short in Alachua County, he said and added that he wants to address the misconception and to “Educate the public that affordable housing does not promote high crime and affect property values.
Chestnut will also continue to make truth and reconciliation a top priority and hopes more communities will go through the process to recall the history of racial injustice. He is proud of what the Alachua County Community Remembrance Project committee has accomplished so far and commend the City of Newberry for taking the lead on reconciliation as they face a past that included lynchings.
Newly appointed Vice Chair Wheeler thanked the newly sworn in commissioners for the work they put in during “a bizarre” election season.
“You bring a lot of talent and skill required for the work” Wheeler said. “Hope you enjoy it and let’s get going.”
Chair Cornell then commended former Chair Hutchinson for his leadership especially during the pandemic. “I can’t think of a better person to be a chair during a pandemic,” Cornell said. “In 2021 I hope and pray we start to see the end of it,” he added and said he was looking forward to a vaccine.
He, too, said this is not a time to let our guard down against the virus with more 11,854 cases and 88 fatalities reported in Alachua County as of Nov. 17th.
“We are in for an environment of wearing masks, keeping 6 feet away, and not congregating,” he said. “It’s a new year, but we need to be vigilant and continue the work Mike and Hutch started.
Cornell reminded the Board that they are to act as one and they should all be “supporting the person to your left and right.
“It takes three of us to make policy,” Cornell said. “We won’t agree on everything, but we will support each other and speak as one Board.