“Disbanded” PAC strikes at commission candidates Sams and Zalak

“Disbanded” PAC sends out mailer.

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Posted July 23, 2022 | By Jennifer Hunt Murty

Note: This article has been updated to include PAC’s connection to candidate Keith Poole.

Local voters are receiving two direct mail hit pieces aimed at county commission candidates Carl Zalak and Rachel Sams.

Zalak and Sams are both running for District 4 county commission seat, and the other opponent on the ballot is Keith Poole. There are also two write-in candidates in this race.

Both mailers indicate they were paid for by a PAC named Citizens for Accountable Government. According to state records, the PAC notified the state it was disbanding on June 20, 2022, after a two year history reflecting multiple fines by the state for failing to comply with the state’s reporting rules.

The chairperson for the PAC was Lauren Pardo, who shares a business address with Groundswell Strategies. The website says Pardo is VP of the organization.

Financial contributions to the PAC have no obvious Ocala/Marion County connection. However, one candidate, Keith Poole, has reported $14,700 in expenditures to Groundswell Strategies for “mailers.”

All three candidates denied knowing who was behind the PAC mailers.

Sams attack

One mailer calls Sams a “fired cop.” A message that her opponent Keith Poole has recently taken to social media and political forums.

In a written statement to the Gazette, Sams said, “I was NOT terminated/fired from the Ocala Police Department. Resignation is not a synonym for termination no matter how many times its repeated. I voluntarily resigned on July 16, 2017. I was NOT forced to resign in lieu of termination, either. This decision was solely made by ME, Rachel Mangum (Sams). These Lies and False Statements only display the insecurities and inaccuracies of my opponent. I will never be bullied or degraded to the extent that would waiver from my tenure as a police officer. My opponent is truly ignorant to the meaning of “Brotherhood” and “Thin Blue Line”/ “Back the Blue”. Lies and defaming someone because of fear and ignorance is the driving force behind the anti-police sentiment running rampant across America. I refute the claims made by bitter, desperate pawns.”

The Gazette has asked Poole what public records he reviewed to conclude that Sams was fired. Poole would not identify specific documents and would only generally speak to circumstances “that didn’t smell right.”

The Gazette’s initial review of public records finds the statement inaccurate and will be publishing a longer article on its findings.

Zalak attack

Another mailer criticizes Zalak for three things: closing boat ramps during the covid-19 pandemic, being too friendly with developers and receiving financial gain from those relationships, and running for clerk of court during the last election cycle while still a county commissioner.

In a written statement to the Gazette, Zalak said, “I never voted to shut down boat ramps. The only time anything in Marion County would ever shut down with when the state mandated it during the beginning of Covid and as soon as the state lifted the mandate be opened back up. In fact in Marion County we always believe there’s a citizens medical freedom we never passed a mask mandate we never pass an ordinance for capacity and restaurants like other communities and when the Biden administration try to take away our additional monoclonal doses we said no and kept them here for our citizens.”

As to being too friendly with developers, Zalak wrote, “And I am definitely not a developer‘s best friend you can just ask them because when they need to come before the Board of County commissioners there have been plenty of times I voted against them and ask them for many more things then  they wanted to give to make our community better. And this flyer would make you seem to believe that I’ve taken personal money in for a vote and that is absolutely not true. And I would ask My opponent to bring those claims to the states attorney to investigate but of course my opponent won’t do that because they know it is untrue. The only time that I’ve had to raise money in the community from business people, family and friends is during my campaign.”

As to running for clerk of court while being a county commissioner, Zalak maintains he never abandoned his office or duties. Zalak eventually pulled out of the race for clerk of court, allowing Greg Harrell to take that seat unopposed.

Please send any tips on who might be initiating the PAC activity to tips@ocalagazette.com.