Newberry voters are heading to the polls to elect a new mayor and two city commissioners.
Residents began casting their votes this morning for city commissioner groups four and five. Jordan Marlowe is running unopposed for mayor.
Current Newberry City Commissioner Tim Marden is running for re-election, despite calls to resign earlier in the year over his defense of co-commissioner Ricky Coleman’s controversial social media posts.
Marden, who has served as commissioner for group four since 2013, was caught in a wave of scrutiny in late January because of his email and Facebook response to public criticism over Coleman’s post of a meme mocking the Women’s March.
“I was really defending his constitutional right to freedom of speech,” Marden said. “It kind of got taken in a little bit different direction, but in the end, it was really about freedom of speech which I think we all agree upon.”
While Marden has apologized for the way he approached the situation, he stands behind his defense of his friend and colleague’s right to free speech.
“I’ve already apologized for possibly the tactics I took,” Marden said, “but I’m not going to apologize for defending his constitutional right.”
For one of his opponents, David Amerio, Marden’s apologies were not enough.
“From my perspective, I was appalled by it,” Amerio said. “Regardless of what your feelings might be about a situation or what your political views are, you don’t talk to people like that.”
Marden’s comments were the motivation behind Amerio’s decision to run in group four.
“What I heard from the community was that it was completely unacceptable. Some of the language that was used and some of the tones that were taken were just completely out of line for somebody in public office and for just normal discourse between people,” Amerio said. “I think he probably should have resigned or been a little more apologetic, and that’s one of the reasons I decided to really make a serious push.”
Although Amerio says many Newberry residents were upset by the comments, current mayor Bill Conrad said much of the disapproval came from beyond city borders.
“I would say that 98 percent of them were from outside of Newberry, but I put a lot more weight on the ladies from Newberry,” Conrad said. “Most of them said, ‘We know Ricky; he’s a knucklehead. He says things that he shouldn’t, but we also know that he’s a good husband, a good father, a good coach and a great guy.’”
Conrad said that he and many Newberry residents were willing to forgive Coleman for his social media blunder and were in support of Marden, too.
“If I were under fire, Tim would stand up for me and I respect that,” Conrad said. “Doesn’t make it right what was put up there, but again, this is a small town, and I think the friendship is more important to Tim than the political ramifications.”
Conrad who has served as mayor for four years is not running for re-election. He is expected to be unseated by, Marlowe, who teaches social studies at Newberry High School.
“Newberry is the third fastest growing city in the entire state of Florida. What we now need to do is look at how we are going to handle that growth: how we are going to support our infrastructure needs, grow our school system,” Marlowe said. “It’s going to be a challenge, but I look forward to working with the commission to do that in a responsible way.”
Newberry voters have until 7 p.m. when polls close to cast their votes.