County public relations director resigns

The Marion County Commission is shown during meeting in Ocala, Fla. on Tuesday, March 16, 2021. [Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette] 2021.

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Posted March 23, 2021 | By Carlos Medina, Ocala Gazette

The Marion County Commission is shown during meeting in Ocala on March 16. [Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette]

The director of public relations for Marion County resigned on Monday nearly a week after her office issued a policy some interpreted as restrictive to the media.

Kelli Fuqua Hart took the position in September 2019.

On March 16, the office issued media protocols that called for all media to coordinate with the public relations office prior to attendance of or coverage of any meetings; all media would have to check in at the front desk of the administration building, and a representative of public relations would escort media members to their desired location; and no interviews of county commissioners or staff would be allowed prior to or following any meetings without prior coordination with the public relations office.

Freedom of information groups balked at the protocols calling them laughably unconstitutional, improper and unenforceable.

The county subsequently apologized, rescinded most of the protocols and softened the tone of others.

On Monday, Hart emailed her letter of resignation to the county’s human resources department.

“I have truly appreciated the opportunity to serve the county through my role as director but find I am no longer a good fit for the current climate and need to utilize my talents and value elsewhere,” she wrote.

Prior to her resignation, county administration officials said they had not reviewed the final draft of the protocols and were not aware they were being released. County commissioners said they did not know about the protocols before their release.

In an email, Hart pushed back on the characterization that the protocols came as a surprise to county administration.

“I believe, when an employee is presented with a directive, discusses that directive in depth with senior leadership and then carries out the directive, that employee should receive support from leadership when that directive fails or is met with resistance,” Hart wrote.

The protocols grew out of an incident in early February with a television news crew out of Orlando. At the time, the commission was debating whether to ban internet cafes.

The television crew moved their equipment behind the commission dais during the meeting. Commission Chairman Jeff Gold said he mentioned the incident to the public relations department but said he did not know it had morphed into the protocols.

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