The Alachua County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) has three of its five seats up for grabs on Tuesday, and incumbents are on the ballot in each race.
The District 1 races features former Commissioner Mary Alford, a Democrat, who won the seat in 2020 taking on Commissioner Raemi Eagle-Glenn, a Republican, who is currently serving in the District 1 slot. The two candidates are facing off again to fill the remaining two years of Alford’s original term.
Commissioner and current BOCC chair Marihelen Wheeler, a Democrat, is being challenged by former Gainesville Mayor Ed Braddy for a regular four-year term in District 2. Wheeler beat former Alachua County facilities director Charlie Jackson in the August primary with 72.66% of the vote. Braddy, a Republican, did not have opposition in the primary.
Commissioner Ken Cornell, a Democrat, has two opponents on the ballot in the District 4 race: Van Elmore, a Republican, and Anthony Johnson, who has no party affiliation. The trio are running for a regular four-year term on the BOCC.
The District 1 race features two women who have both served in the post at separate points since the last election. Alford beat Eagle-Glenn in 2020 by collecting more than 62% of the vote, but Alford resigned in May citing family issues and amid questions about her residency in District 1, and Gov. Ron DeSantis appointed Eagle-Glenn to fill the seat.
Eagle-Glenn, at an October candidate forum sponsored by the League of Women Voters and UF’s Bob Graham Center, said that she “most times” agrees with her Democratic colleagues on the BOCC.
“I have discovered that serving on the county commission is very practical,” Eagle-Glenn, an attorney, said. “We’re dealing budgets. We’re with roads. We’re dealing with development projects and making decisions on how to grow smart.”
Eagle-Glenn said providing more money for law enforcement, fire rescue, and essential government services such as roads were some of her main priorities if she’s elected to the position.
“If we can’t take care of these essential services of government, then we need to take a step back from what I call wasteful spending,” Eagle-Glenn said. “We’re a cash-strapped county because the university owns half the land, and we don’t reap the property tax benefits from that.”
At the same candidate forum, Alford, an environmental engineer who lives in Archer, said she also thought the BOCC needed to focus on the “core responsibilities of our county,” but also said that protecting the environment and preparing the county for climate change impacts was part of those core responsibilities.
“I am very concerned about climate disruption… and I have the background to help plan for the changes that are coming to Alachua County in a way that doesn’t compromise this wonderful place that we have,” Alford said.
Wheeler, a retired teacher who won her first term four years ago, said helping ensure her former students, who are now adults in their 20s and 30s, have the kinds of support programs they need to succeed has been part of her focus of her initial term.
She identified career resource programs, affordable housing, criminal justice and mental health and substance abuse programs as being important areas she has worked on and will continue to work on if re-elected.
“Another four years is what I need to be able to … do the work that we need to get done here,” Wheeler said during her closing statement at the October forum.
Braddy, who chairs the Alachua County Republican Party and is a former Gainesville mayor and city commissioner, said he was prompted to run for the BOCC seat to introduce another perspective into a commission that has been dominated in recent years by Democrats.
“Pretty much we’ve had one dominant ideology in power and local government to try and solve our problems,” Braddy said at the October candidate forum. “Yet we have a laundry list of the same localized problems, not much has changed.”
Braddy, who works in testing and assessment at Santa Fe College, told Mainstreet earlier that the county’s two biggest issues were a “need to improve infrastructure… and the need to lower our tax and regulatory burdens.”
He said he hopes to bring more fiscal responsibility to the county.
Cornell, a real estate broker, is running for his third term on the BOCC.
“What is important to me is that we continue to invest in our kids and our neighborhoods, and we protect our water and our environment and continue to invest in public safety and our roads,” Cornell said at the October candidate forum.
Cornell also said managing growth in Alachua, giving the number of people projected to move to the area, is the kind of issue that “keeps me up at night.”
“I try to think about how can we prepare our community for the growth that’s coming – whether we want it or not – while still protecting what we know is important,” Cornell said.
For Elmore, a retired lieutenant with Emergency Management Services, his top issue in the campaign has been responsible county budgeting.
In an earlier email interview with Mainstreet, Elmore said, “Our taxes continue to rise, and our roads are terrible. I feel that the commission sees a blank check and not people working to put food on the table.”
A Hawthorne resident Elmore said on his website that his priorities, if elected, would be including more crosswalks and lighting on county roadways, business development initiatives, funding for roads, fire, EMS and law enforcement. He also said he wants better use of the money raised by the half cent Wild Spaces Public Places tax.
Money management also is a central issue for Johnson, a software developer and a self-described “budget hawk.” He told Mainstreet earlier this year that revenue management issues in Alachua County prompted him to run for office.
“Without better revenue management, the current zero sum game budget management practices will continue to divide this county,” Johnson said in a candidate statement posted to the Alachua County elections website.
Johnson’s other priority is to beef up the technology side of county government.
“Technology is supposed to lead to a culture of greater efficiency,” Johnson said in his statement. “Alachua County government has not achieved the proper level of efficiency, and the county’s budget choices reflect that.”