Three people are running for the position of Alachua County Commissioner to represent District 2, which covers the northwest areas of the county.
Incumbent Lee Pinkoson chose not to run for reelection after serving since 2002.
In his place, voters will choose from either Gregory Caudill, Scott Costello or Marihelen Wheeler. Above, you can hear each detail their experiences and perspectives that they would bring to the job. Below, here’s a summary of their positions on key issues that emerged from WUFT’s questions.
This district includes the cities of Alachua, High Springs, and half of Newberry. What’s one problem in each community that you intend to help solve?
Caudill: High Springs has fallen behind in economic development and he wants to help catch them up, as well as deal with water quality issues that have arisen in recent years. He also plans to address road problems in Alachua and Newberry.
Costello: They want better relations with the county commission. They don’t want to be condescended to. He plans to attend a commission meeting or town hall each month to stay connected with issues in each municipality.
Wheeler: Newberry and Alachua are “kind of on a roll.” She touts the work of women on each city commission that she would work closely with if elected. Also concerned about road problems in each area.
How would you reduce Alachua County taxpayers’ burden?
Caudill: Notes the land off the tax rolls due to the University of Florida’s holdings and conservation areas. Recommends more sales taxes instead of property taxes.
Costello: Didn’t agree with the county’s $4 million purchase of the Weiss property, which would have otherwise been designated for development. Also took issue with the county’s killing of Plum Creek’s 2016 planned development. Both, he says, would have helped reverse the economic development problem.
Wheeler: Doesn’t mind that some of her tax money goes toward conservation to help protect water quality, but says that development that would bring more tax revenue and limit the burden on homeowners should be done with concern for the environment.
Plum Creek split the community in two. What concerns guide your vote on similar planned development proposals?
Caudill: Maintain the natural look of the community, serve the local area and address transportation challenges.
Costello: Alachua County’s comprehensive plan doesn’t allow large companies to enter the area, buy up land and build something of Plum Creek’s magnitude. Plum Creek would have been a positive because it conserved land, addressed affordable housing and offered manufacturing employment opportunities. The key is who is trying to do the development.
Wheeler: “My grandmother had a saying: A drought will scare you to death, but a flood will starve you death.” Believes that’s what the county may be seeing now with flooding in areas like the Hills of Santa Fe and Robin Lane, and that future development should consider similar water issues. She likes the Plum Creek/Weyerhaeuser development potential for Hawthorne that is ongoing.
If elected, what role would you advocate the county take in helping the homeless? And is it a realistic goal to ever end homelessness in Alachua County?
Caudill: Probably not. Cites his veteran’s experience as a means of connecting with the homeless community because of how many veterans experience homelessness at some point.
Costello: “I think it’s unrealistic.” Some people choose to be homeless. The county should work more with Meridian or Vista to reach more people on the edge of homelessness due to mental health or substance abuse issues.
Wheeler: Big apartment complexes seem to come up overnight, but are they all occupied? Advocates for multifamily housing that “normal people” could live in instead.
The new fairgrounds. There was attention over the summer to the idea of redeveloping the toxic Cabot-Koppers site. What is your opinion of that proposal, as well as shifting its agriculture purpose toward the county’s western boundary in Newberry?
Caudill: He supports the Newberry move and understands the reservations that some have toward the idea of Cabot-Koppers as a redeveloped fairground space: “It doesn’t make sense to build something somewhere that people are afraid to use it.”
Costello: Likewise supports the Newberry move. Prefers the county’s event center space be moved to the Citizens Field area along the Waldo Road corridor.
Wheeler: Also likes the idea of moving the agriculture purpose to Newberry. Wants to see Cabot-Koppers become a solar farm.
Each candidate’s closing statements:
Caudill: “How am I different? I mentioned it in my first answer. I am proud of what I don’t know. I do not know how to live your life better than you do. I don’t know how to run your business better than you do. I do not know how to build a home better than you do. I’m not going to try to. I think the role of government is not to command us, it is to empower us. I want to empower you to make the best decisions you can for your life and those that you know will make your community better. In the end, I live my life by the principles I honed in my military service. I know that everyone is due the respect to live their life as they see fit. I believe that personal courage is doing what is right and not what is easy. I think that honor is about choosing your battles wisely and fighting to the end. That’s what I’m going to do for Alachua County. I’m going to choose where I think it’s important, and then I’m going to fight for you as hard as I can.”
Costello: “I think it’s time for a change in our structure with county commission and that we need to focus on the people of Alachua County more so than the party. We have lost sight of the wants and needs of our rural community and they’re desperate for having a voice. That’s what we need is a voice for all needs of Alachua County. Someone who’s going to rebuild the relationships with the municipalities, someone who’s going to create jobs in all four corners of the county. Prioritizing essential services — our fire rescue, law enforcement, emergency management — over some of the pet projects. Connecting business and the environment for smart economic development throughout the county. We need to fix our roads, focus on people as opposed to partisan politics. I think endorsements matter because it shows the type of person who you are. I have 35 elected and formerly elected people endorsing me: 18 Republicans, 16 Democrats, and a Libertarian. It’s a balance. It’s a diversity. I think I’m the right choice for Alachua County and I look forward to serving you.
Wheeler: Gainesville and Alachua County has identified a lot of areas of inequities that need to be addressed: academic and economic. As a teacher, I feel that I bring the skillset to the county that’s required right now to address some of these issues. I have campaigned over several years with people that are on the school board, the city commission, and county commission. I know these people well and feel like I can work very well with them. I would bring the skills I have in terms of teambuilding in addressing some of these issues we’ve seen in the public school system for a long time. The inequities. As an educator and as an activist working on water issues in north Florida, I have contacts across county lines where I can work with environmental groups that I can call on to make sure we get these issues addressed. As a woman, I offer a unique perspective to the board.