Can you hear that?
That’s the collective sigh of relief from Ocala residents as the tumultuous city elections season finally draws to a close.
After eight weeks of intense battle for the District 3 and District 4 seats due to the the initial election resulting in the need for a special run-off race, the winners have been crowned.
Jay Musleh will keep his District 3 seat, which he has held since 2012. Meanwhile, newcomer Kristen Dreyer assumes the District 4 seat vacated by Matthew Wardell.
The end of this election means our mailboxes will now be crowded with holiday greeting cards, not slick attack ads. Our neighborhood streets will be dotted with Christmas decor, not campaign signs. It’s the perfect time to shake off the ugly of election season and move on to the holiday season.
The holidays provide a special time for reflection. With the races blessedly behind us, we must ask ourselves: What’s next for City Council? How does this group of five very different individuals plan to work together to do what is best for our fair city? How will they make good on their campaign promises?
The old adage of “To whom much has been given, much is expected” seems appropriate for these Council members. They have been given the opportunity to represent the needs and concerns of the residents of their districts. Much is expected of them to follow through on the campaign promises they made and continue moving Ocala forward.
Though each candidate campaigned on individual platforms, it is important that they address these issues collectively now that they have reached their respective offices.
For example, Dreyer asserted she would encourage greater governmental transparency in regards to how money is spent and how decisions are made by Council. She also noted the need to funnel important resources to West Ocala with the hopes of one day having no divisions in our city just “One Ocala.”
Mansfield promised to bring better paying jobs to Ocala and improve city services for residents. He also plans to use his background in construction to ensure smart, managed growth in our city.
Hilty, having previously held his City Council seat from 2013-2017, intends to put his time and resources toward alleviating the homeless issue in downtown Ocala.
Musleh, frequently hammered on the campaign trail by the issue of the fire assessment fee and the resulting $80 million judgment, remains committed to growing Ocala’s downtown and bringing more industry to the area.
I believe this City Council has enormous potential and will move Ocala in a positive direction. Three of its members (Bethea, Hilty, and Musleh) have the benefit of their years of council experience from which to grow. Mansfield and Dreyer provide a fresh, new perspective as first-time council members.
Though there is much excitement about this new crop of City Council members, there is a lot of hard work ahead.
Morale at City Hall seems to be at an all-time low as a result of personnel drama (lest we forget the city manager and fire chief debacle of this summer), plummeting retention rates among our city linemen, and the massive $80 million payout expected of the city because of the unconstitutionality of the fire assessment fee. These are just a few of the issues Council faces as they begin a new term.
We cannot let the end of election season mean the end of our engagement with these candidates. We must remain vigilant in ensuring that they are doing what is best for Ocala and its residents. They sit behind the dais, but it is their job to listen to us.
So, candidates, enjoy your victories, but know it will soon be time to get to work.
We’re counting on you.