The Alachua County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) named Commissioner Marihelen Wheeler as chair and Commissioner Mary Alford as vice chair at Tuesday’s meeting.
Commissioner Ken Cornell served as chair for the past year replacing former board member Hutch Hutchinson during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Cornell said he benefited learning from former BOCC chairs Lee Pinkosen, Hutch Hutchinson, and Mike Byerly, and added in response to current board members who commented that they have learned from Cornell, “I have learned much, much more from each one of you.
“It’s been a really, really great year,” Cornell said, noting that the commission “moved a lot of major rocks” during the past year that will come to fruition in coming years.
Cornell praised county leadership for allowing commissioners to meet with subject matter experts on staff.
“They allow us to do that because of the level of trust,” Cornell said.
Wheeler told Cornell that he has been courageous while serving this past year.
“It’s been quite a year,” she said.
Alachua County Clerk of the Court Jess Irby oversaw the nomination and voting for the new chair and vice chair. Irby passed the gavel to Wheeler who took her new seat.
“I must admit,” Wheeler joked, “I thought once we passed the gavel we could all go out to lunch together.”
Wheeler said she first came onto the board three years ago when Charles Chestnut was chair, followed by Hutchinson and Cornell.
“If I haven’t learned about this job from working with these folks,” Wheeler said, adding that she is fortunate to join the BOCC at a time when historic characters were there.
Wheeler said to Cornell, “I have such a great deal of respect for how you do this job and how you care for this community, you’re a hard act to follow. My goal is to run as efficient a meeting as you have in the past.”
Wheeler pledged to make climate concerns and land conservation a priority and to continue to increase cooperation with municipalities to build trust.
“It’s going to be an exciting year,” Wheeler said, adding that she wants to promote a surtax, continue Wild Places and Public Spaces funding and to make sure infrastructure needs are addressed at the local level.
Alford said that Alachua County had a lot of wins in the past year including leading the state in COVID-19 statistics.
“We saved a lot of lives,” she said.
Alford’s priorities include energy efficient upgrade grants, expanding her plant of the month program, and working with the Alachua County sheriff to make changes to improve the safety of the county jail and address equity.
She also said that taking broadband across the county is a priority and she wants the county to double its in roads.
“This is the scariest, most humbling, coolest job I ever had,” Alford said, adding that she appreciates being able to serve the community.
Commissioner Anna Prizzia thanked Cornell for his leadership and for being a good mentor and added that she learned in the past year that “You can’t please everyone all of the time.”
Commissioner Charles Chestnut also thanked Cornell for his service as chair for a “job well done and leading through a difficult time.”
Chestnut said Wheeler is going to do an excellent and outstanding job as chair.
“I know you can do this,” he said, and promised to stand next to, beside, and behind her as she leads.