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Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Mary Alford, Ken Cornell and Marihelen Wheeler return to Alachua County Commission

Commissioners welcomed by loved ones

With family and political supporters in attendance, District 1 Commissioner Mary Alford rejoined her fellow commissioners for the first time in half a year.

Alford, as well as Ken Cornell and Marihelen Wheeler, were sworn-in Tuesday morning at the Alachua County Administration Building after winning the general election Nov. 8. This will mark another consecutive term as county commissioners, giving them each another four years.

District 1 will be represented by Alford, Wheeler will represent District 2 and Cornell will represent District 4.

For Alford, the ceremony represents a big return, as she prematurely vacated her office six months prior for being in violation of residency requirements. She was replaced by Gov. Ron DeSantis-appointed Raemi Eagle-Glenn, whom she beat in the election.

Alford said she hopes to enact energy-efficient programs to reduce utility rates. After struggling to find a place in her district to live, she wants to focus on affordable housing more than ever, she said.“I feel like I’m in a privileged situation,” Alford said. “And if I can’t find something [for housing] how could the average person?”

She promised continued environmental and road infrastructure efforts in her campaign, making use of her master’s degree in environmental engineering. Alford was surprised by her three sisters, niece and nephew who attended in support of her, she said.

Cornell started his third consecutive term in office at the ceremony, first elected in 2014. Cornell wants to focus on providing more funding for youth programs and public safety in the coming term, he said.

“When I think about children and our neighborhoods,” Cornell said, “I think about the investments we will continue to make.”

He also expressed support for Gainesville Neighborhood Voices, a nonprofit organization which looks to protect local neighborhood communities.

Cornell was joined by his wife, mother and extended family during the service.

For Wheeler, the swearing-in marks the beginning of her final four years in office.

Wheeler also ran on a campaign of infrastructure and environmental concerns, and hoped to help the county across district lines.

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“My goal is to help the outlying municipalities realize that we are part of a bigger community,” Wheeler said.

Wheeler was joined by her husband as well as her “local sisters” — two members of the community she felt were integral to her campaign. Beyond family, members of the Stonewall Democrats and Alachua County Labor Coalition were in attendance, among others.

District 3 County Commissioner Anna Prizzia is expected to serve as chair of the commission, though the position’s appointment among commissioners will officially be held Dec. 6. The office of chair, which leads the rest of the County Commission, rotates annually.

With the swearing-in completed, so also are public elections for Alachua County offices. The next elections, for Districts 3 and 5, will be held in 2024.

“It’s been quite a trial, ”Wheeler said. “We can get back to work now.”

Contact Aidan at Follow him on Twitter @aidandisto.

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Aidan Bush

Aidan Bush is a third-year journalism major and the Spring 2024 Engagement Managing Editor of The Alligator. In his free time, he likes to listen to music and go kayaking.

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