Q & A with the County Commission Candidates

File photo: People line up to vote at the Fellowship Baptist Church Voting Precinct on U.S. Highway 27 in Fellowship, Fla. on Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020. [Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette] 2020.

Home » Politics
Posted July 15, 2022 |

Editor’s Note: Leading up to the 2022 primary and general elections, we’ll be asking candidates to weigh in regularly on a question related to the office they seek. The candidates are given almost a week to respond to the questions in writing.  We ask that the candidates keep their answers under 250 words, and we do not edit them at all.

Question: What are the largest challenges facing Marion County and how do you think residents want those challenges addressed?

District 4

Brian Donnelly

  1. Over Development – Residents are upset about rampant development – they don’t understand why we are developing so fast without proper infrastructure, inadequate impact fees for developers, invading the FPA, overcrowded schools, a lack of teachers, a lack of affordable housing, over worked fire and police services and attracting the wrong kinds of businesses here. Marion Oaks and Sunny Oaks have sewer connection issues which need immediate attention. Residents want our Comprehensive plan upheld, they want developers to pay for the needs they create, and they want to see infrastructure installed prior to more development.
  2. Transportation – People are upset about any turnpike cutting through the FPA. They want I-75 expanded and improved and they want to see something done to decrease congestion. They want to see transportation alternatives developed to decrease traffic congestion – not adding more warehouses and truck traffic.
  3. Farmland Preservation – People are upset about the constant threats to the FPA. People are concerned by developer funded political candidates who have demonstrated they will not support the residents wishes. They are concerned about Spot Zoning and eminent domain issues. They are afraid the main economic driver of the county will be lost to pay to play leaders caving into special interests. They don’t want our Horse brand being driven over by the Mack truck bulldog in rural areas. People desperately want to see the Comprehensive plan upheld at every turn.

Keith Poole

In my opinion, the main challenges facing Marion County are infrastructure and affordable housing. The county has lagged behind and kicked the can down the road for many years in regards to these two issues.

In regards to infrastructure, we have made some serious mistakes with land purchases and decision making when it comes to our roads and future expansion. It is time for the commission to take responsibility for these failures and correct their short comings. The main project that has set our county back several years, not to mention $30 million dollars in the red is the I-75 interchange just north of Hwy 27 at the North Commerce Park. The county commission, in which only two current commissioners voted for, approved a land a purchase that was not a good decision. Many residents and business owners advised the commission that the property and proposed route of the road was not the best suited and would cost the citizens of Marion County a lot of money. The commission rather took the advice from a consultant, chastised the citizens that spoke against it, and purchased a defunct mine to try and connect the commerce park to the interstate. That decision cost the tax payers of Marion County millions of dollars and set the county back several years of having a completed interchange. That consultant was fired by the City of Ocala but our commission did not heed the warning signs and followed his advice any ways. Now, we the tax payers, will have to pay the bill for this mistake. The money wasted on this project could have funded five other desperately needed road projects in Marion County and completed the interchange with a different route.

The next issue is affordable housing. The commission dropped the ball several years ago, when they were presented a plan from the Marion County Affordable Housing Committee in how to address these issues before the housing boom hit Marion County. This committee is/was appointed by the county commission and represents the citizens of Marion County. This committee volunteered many hours of in-depth analysis to offer many solutions to this crisis. Again, the commission did not implement these recommendations, but rather shelved the study and kicked the can down the road for someone else to deal with these issues. It seems rather strange that no one is talking about these failures as the truth is always in the details. If you ask our most seasoned commissioners on the campaign trail, they are proud to profess all their successes but rarely, will they speak about these boondoggles. They like to paint the illusion that their decision making is always best for the tax payers, in reality they cost us a lot money. We need informed business minded people making the decision for this county. This is the reason we need term limits, complacency and stagnate behavior will lead to an increase in these kinds of mistakes.

I pledge to ask the tough questions and provide the oversight that is needed to move our county into the future. I am not saying that I am perfect, mistakes can and will be made, but by being prideful and not admitting to failure will only hurt the citizens of Marion County. It is time for a change, lets #pooletogether for Marion County, our future depends on it.

Rachel Sams

The largest challenges facing Marion County is the growth: Growth of citizens, businesses, and the traffic/infrastructure issues. The growth of the county at approximately 190 people a week is astounding. It’s no secret that we have a gem and the realm of possibilities to live and work in a safe area, along with having a prosperous future is at our fingertips. Citizens need to know that when they choose to live or work in an area, they will have safety and security through our Public Safety Services, and also to be able to travel in a safe manner. The issues with congestion did not happen overnight. Although the County appears to have some sort of plan in place, many of these problems seem “knee-jerk” reactions to an issue that’s been festering for years. Projects such as the commerce park will eventually have a cyclical positive impact on our community, but right now it appears as if the cart was put before the horse. Marion County has the resources to be a very successful county, even with economic uncertainty. The people want to know that they can move safely, to and from work, school, etc. without having an hour-long commute- after all, time is money. Marion County needs a leader who is proactive not reactive to the issues at hand.

Carl Zalak

The largest challenge facing our community is inflation, which is caused by the broken supply chains and bad policies of the Biden Administration.

Residents want someone who will fight for our way of life. They want us to be guided by faith, passionate about freedom, and able to provide opportunity today as well as for future generations. What they don’t want is rookie mistakes and excuses.

It is important to elect leaders who are smart enough to make the right choices in procurement. It takes experience to navigate inflation and supply chain obstacles. Being Flexible in how we purchase our materials and holding our vendors accountable for delivery are the key components of this strategy. Because I have run my own company for nearly two decades, I know how to make value-driven business decisions. For instance, if we need to expand a building we could choose a metal, block, or tilt wall construction. That decision should be made based on market pricing and availability. We need to place our priorities on sourcing the best values from within the shifting markets.

Teamwork, elbow grease, and knowhow are what matters in tough competitive markets. You can count on Carl Zalak to be proactive with our staff in tracking down the supplies we need to keep Marion County Strong and taxes low.

Seth Posner did not respond to the Gazette’s inquiry.


District 2

Gina Capone

Urban Sprawl is the greatest challenge Marion County must attempt to solve if the county is to stay true to its residents. Residents from Marion County are inundated with the development of horse farms and large tracts of land causing unsightly construction sites, neighborhoods with concrete homes six feet apart, and an influx of traffic. The decisions being made from our current representatives do not correspond with our comprehensive plan or the desires of our community.

The goal of my campaign platform is to follow the guidelines of our comprehensive plan by protecting the unique assets, character, and quality of life in the county through implementation and maintenance of land use policies and a land development code. I want to implement the responsibility commissioners have by filing legislation that will provide public participation in the plan amendment process by giving the people a referendum when development is up for a vote.

The goal of my campaign is to stop the County Commissioners from having the rule of law and power to make decisions for the public without their input.

In 2018, the Comprehensive Plan ordinance no. 19-11 was adopted. Section 125.01 empowers the Board of County Commissioners of Marion County “to prepare and enforce comprehensive plans to plan for and manage the development of Marion County.” (Ordinance of the Board of Marion County Commissioners 121/1)

I wish to overturn this comprehensive plan ordinance 19-11 by reverting this power back to the people of the county. The citizens of Marion County deserve to have a say in the development of their county. With this ordinance overturned and a referendum in place, citizens, our farming and agricultural land, our natural resources and wildlife may be protected.

Kathy Bryant who is also running for District 2 declined to participate in interview questions until after the primary election.