Incoming Alachua County commissioners pledge to fix roads, increase access to affordable housing

By

The newly elected Alachua County commissioners promised to improve the county’s infrastructure and make affordable housing more accessible as they were officially sworn in Tuesday.

Marihelen Wheeler, Ken Cornell, and Mary Alford swore their oaths in the Jack Durrance Auditorium with close to 50 friends, family members and county residents assembled. Each commissioner had family or friends stand next to them as they placed their hand on the Bible. 

Once the formalities were done, the commissioners were allowed to relay to the audience the goals they hope to accomplish while in office. 

Alford, who defeated Raemi Eagle-Glenn to reclaim her commissioner’s seat in District 1, said her top priorities are ensuring that people have access to affordable housing and quality roads. 

Mary Alford takes her seat after taking her oath to become the Alachua County commissioner for District 1. She held the same post in 2020 before resigning. (Aydian Ahmad/WUFT News)

“The past two years have given me a great feeling for people who are struggling to find housing,” said Alford. “If someone as privileged as I am struggled to find a place that I can afford, I can’t imagine what it must be like for other people.”

Alford also addressed the approach she plans to take to deal with roads. 

“To me, fixing the infrastructure of our county is fixing the things that we can while we can,” she said. “When things get worse, we need to focus on the people and keeping our services of the county available.” 

Cornell, the commissioner for District 4, defeated Van Elmore and Anthony Johnson after running unopposed in the previous election. He said his attention would also be directed toward investing in public services and housing. 

Cornell said he would like to see affordable housing relocated to the west side of Main Street. 

“We know we have housing east of Main Street,” Cornell said. “If we can’t move it, I’d like to purchase land [west of Main Street] and try to find other places where we can focus on affordable housing throughout the county.” 

Cornell echoed Alford’s sentiment about the quality of roads in Alachua County. 

“With an additional $10 million of road funding, we’re going to be building and maintaining infrastructure that, for decades, we haven’t been able to,” he said. 

 Wheeler, who served as the chair of the Board of County Commissioners last year, spoke last. She defeated Ed Braddy for the commissioner’s seat in District 2 amid controversy over whether she resided in the district she represented. 

She expressed appreciation toward the other commissioners for making her job as chair easier during a difficult time. 

Marihelen Wheeler hugs her family after being sworn in at a ceremony Tuesday, Nov. 15. She defeated Ed Braddy to hang on to the Alachua County commissioner’s seat in District 2 amid questions about her residency. (Aydian Ahmad/WUFT News)

“This group of folks that we have running Alachua County made this past year a wonderful year. I felt like I just got to be the hostess up here.”

Wheeler also outlined some of the goals she’d like to accomplish in her second term as county commissioner. She said her priority is ensuring that every member of the community she’s been elected to represent feels represented. 

“My goal is to make sure that the outlying municipalities realize we are part of a bigger community,” she said. “This board has been able to instill confidence in outlying communities that we do care. It’s not all about Gainesville. It’s about the community.”

With elections now in the past, Wheeler said she hopes that partisan ideals can be set aside so the board can work toward a better overall community.

“We need healing in our community. The focus of our county is on the people, the well-being of the county, and our policies. It’s not about party [affiliation].”

About Aydian Ahmad

Aydian is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.

Check Also

911 dispatchers overlooked, miss out on $1,000 bonuses from DeSantis

As Hurricane Ian swept across the beachfront towns of southwest Florida, when panicked callers to …