Voters in Newberry will head to the polls Tuesday to fill three open seats on the city commission.
Seven candidates are vying for the open slots. They include incumbent Ricky Coleman running against Jessica Baker for the Group 1 seat; Matt Hersom, Mark Clark and Walt Boyer running for the Group 2 seat; and incumbent Monty Farnsworth up against David Wallace for the Group 3 post.
To run for the five-member commission, each candidate must be a resident of Newberry for at least six months prior to the qualifying date and pay a $115 fee. Commissioners who are elected serve a two-year term. Commission seats are not term-limited.
Seat 1: Ricky Coleman and Jessica Baker
Ricky Coleman has held his commissioner position for four years and has received support from the community for his reelection campaign.
Throughout his four years, he said he has helped the current commission lower taxes and utilities, organize a franchise electrical agreement with Clay Electric that brought more money into the city. He also has helped to increase pay for city workers. If re-elected, Coleman plans to maintain the economic progress he has made during his previous terms.
“[I am] trying to keep taxes a bay, utilities in check and work hard trying to bring good, smart commercial business here to the City of Newberry,” he said.
Jessica Baker, who is seeking her first public office position, said it’s tougher when you run against an incumbent because of their history working within the community.
After moving to Florida from Indiana, Baker attended the University of Florida in 1990, receiving a bachelor’s degree in history and classics and a Juris Doctor degree from UF’s Levin College of Law. She works as an accountant for the UF Center for Latin American Studies, where she is responsible for grants and budget management.
Baker is a member of the Planning and Zoning Board in Newberry and said she remains politically active within the community, sharing her views with the city commission regularly. Baker said she’s thought about running for some time.
“I have a passion for serving my community and making it a better place,” she said.
Baker said her goal is to expand community amenities and bring more jobs to the city.
“We have a lot of housing developments that are coming in and a large amount of growth, and we don’t have anything to keep people in Newberry itself without them having to go to Gainesville or Alachua,” Baker said. “We’ve become more of a bedroom community. We really need to draw jobs, activities, into Newberry.”
Seat 2: Matt Hersom, Mark Clark and Walt Boyer
Matt Hersom is also active in the community, serving on the Planning and Zoning Board and Historical Architectural Review Board in Newberry.
He has lived in Newberry for 14 years, and works as an associate professor and Extension Beef Cattle Specialist in the UF Department of Animal Sciences.
He said his pragmatic, analytic process for decision-making, impartiality, professionalism and background in agriculture make him a qualified candidate.
Hersom said he could represent long-time residents who enjoy agriculture and young professionals who have recently moved to the area.
“What they can expect from me is a hard-working commissioner. A commissioner who is going to make decisions based on what is best for Newberry,” he said. “Not exactly what I feel is in my best interest but what is the best interest of the city.”
Mark Clark, who is also running for Seat 2, said he would bring openness, transparency and integrity to Newberry.
As a retired U.S. Marine, Clark said he would like to devote his free time to helping the community.
“Twenty-six years of Marine service — I have a loyalty and dedication to what I want to do and what I can do. I have many years of leadership and managerial skills,” he said.
Clark wants to increase the infrastructure in Newberry to attract businesses.
“I’m from here and I can work with the community leaders,” he said. “I know people so I think I have a better understanding of what people want and how to mediate if there is a problem.”
Walt Boyer, who is opposing both Hersom and Clark, is the owner of Space Walk of Gainesville and has lived in Newberry for four years. Boyer has worked with city commissioners on issues related to city spending.
Boyer said he wants Newberry to have its own police department so that the city can be independent.
“As the third fastest-growing city in Florida, I think it’s inevitable that we have one. I want to be part of putting the city on that path,” he said.
He said he considers himself a constitutionalist and a protector of individual rights.
“We have constitutional protections and I believe in enforcing that at all levels of government,” he said.
Seat 3: Monty Farnsworth and David Wallace
Monty Farnsworth is the incumbent commissioner in Seat 3 who was elected in 2014, serving two terms in office.
WUFT was unable to reach Farnsworth after repeated attempts to contact him.
David Wallace is opposing Farnsworth in the Seat 3 race. Wallace has worked for the city for 27 years as a water operator, and he coached youth baseball and basketball for 20 years in Newberry.
He said his focus in the campaign is not policy but rather community service. Wallace said he hopes to improve communication between the city and its residents.
“I want to be an open, honest ear for the citizens to come to,” he said. “I want to let the citizens know that they will be represented when they come to me about something.”
With his experience working for the city, Wallace said he believes he can bridge the gap in communication and bring both a forward-thinking and common sense attitude to the community.
“At the end of the day I love my town and I want to continue serving it in the best way I can,” he said.
While the candidates differed in background, experience and overall platform, each expressed a desire to promote business development in Newberry, especially those involving entertainment and leisure. They also focused on job creation, aimed at expanding the local economy and providing consumer options within city limits.
Polls in Newberry open Tuesday from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.