The Newberry City Commission meeting Monday night drew audience members from all over Alachua County. After recent issues over social media, Commissioner Tim Marden was expected to make a formal apology at the meeting for a Facebook post and subsequent emails sent that upset concerned citizens.
The Facebook post was in defense of a post by Commissioner Rick Coleman, which included an internet meme that locals found offensive.
“My intent is always to defend somebody’s right to speak,” Marden said. “That’s what I was doing for Commissioner Coleman. Every time when we step into office, we take an oath to that.”
The floor was opened to comments from the public at the meeting, which prompted individuals from Gainesville, Hawthorne and Newberry to share their feelings about the incident.
Carrie Webb, the public relations director for the Indivisible Chapter in Gainesville, a national movement that gives tips for living in America under President Trump’s administration, spoke on the issue. She said a handful of women in the organization who live in Newberry are afraid to speak up at city meetings because of things like Facebook posts by the commissioners.
Webb requested Commissioner Mardens’ resignation, saying she didn’t believe he was fit to lead.
City Commissioner Jason McGehee said that with an election coming up in about a month, having either commissioner resign would be unnecessary.
“We have an image problem outside of the city,” McGehee said. “The people that are here, they might not be happy with it, but they accept the apologies.”
Doug Folkerth, of Gainesville, addressed both Commissioners Coleman and Marden directly.
“You are the face of this community,” Folkerth said. “What we don’t want is somebody out there shaming other people.”
Folkerth acknowledged Marden’s apology, but said his Facebook post “came off a little strong.”
“You guys should be encouraging people and setting your sights high,” Folkerth said. “You failed in that respect.”
Coleman said his comments were within his First Amendment right to freedom of speech and did not apologize.
Despite the negativity that has come from the whole issue, McGehee remained optimistic.
“I hope the youth take this as a lesson,” McGeehee said, mentioning that he employs many teenagers and encourages them to be careful with what they post online.
“I think that a lot of positives can be drawn from this,” McGehee said. “I hope we can use this as a learning experience.”