Two new Alachua County commissioners and one incumbent were sworn into office in person Tuesday afternoon.
The commissioners were sworn in by Judges Meshon Rawls and Denise Ferrero in front of a masked, socially distanced audience of at least two dozen residents and county officials. The commissioners remained distanced, but less than 6 feet, from the judges during their oath. After each oath, the judges gave congratulatory elbow bumps instead of the usual handshake.
Mary Alford and Anna Prizzia were both elected to the commission Nov. 3. Both Democrats, Alford and Prizzia received more than 60% of votes for the District 1 and District 3 seats, respectively. The newly elected commissioners and District 2 Commissioner Marihelen Wheeler will make up the commission’s first female majority since the 1990s.
Democrat incumbent Charles Chestnut IV ran unopposed for reelection for the District 5 seat. This will be his third term.
After they were sworn in, all three commissioners addressed the crowd.
Prizzia, who wore an N-95 mask, said she wants to target food insecurity and affordable housing during her time in office. More than 63% of voters approved the county’s charter amendment to create an affordable housing trust fund. Prizzia said she wants to use her role to ensure the trust runs properly.
“I want everyone to have the opportunity to live a great quality of life, to support their families and enjoy the beautiful place we have here,” Prizzia said.
Alford, sporting a Florida-shaped rainbow lapel pin, said she sees aspects of the national political divide in the county. An environmental engineer, she said she believes the commission needs to cooperate to make residents’ lives better.
“Positive change begins in our own backyards,” Alford said. “It's in the conversations we have with our coworkers, the dinners we have with our neighbors, and the songs we sing in our churches.”
Chestnut, who adorned a bright purple tie, said he wants the county to continue its truth and reconciliation process, which focuses on the history of racial injustice in the county. The program works to educate residents and students about the history of racism and identify inequities that exist.
“From the late 1800s to the late 1950s, Florida had the highest per capita lynching rate in the United States, and Alachua County ranked near the top of the list,” Chestnut said, adding that there are 48 recorded lynchings.
After they finished their remarks, District 4 Commissioner Ken Cornell was appointed as the new chair. Wheeler was appointed the new vice chair.
Before the new county commissioners were sworn in, two outgoing commissioners, Mike Byerly and Robert Hutchinson, were honored with short speeches and artwork featuring a map of Alachua County.
Former District 1 County Commissioner Byerly served 20 years on the commission until losing the August primary to Alford. Former County Commission Chair Hutchinson, who didn’t seek reelection, served 12 non-concurrent years on the commission, first serving from 1998 to 2002 and again from 2012 to 2020.
More than a dozen county employees, City of Gainesville officials and residents congratulated both men for the time they spent on the commission.
Wheeler told both men she admired how they dealt with conflict during their years on the commission.
“Y’all have been able to talk, cuss and discuss, but when you walk through that door it’s not personal and you’re still friends,” Wheeler said.
Alachua County’s Poet Laureate Stanely Richardson shared a poem he wrote about Byerly and Hutchinson.
“To be or not to be; To Hutch or not to Hutch; To Byerly or not to Byerly,” Richardson read. “That is the questions we have been pondering.”