ALACHUA ‒ On Tuesday, April 13, 2021 residents of the city of Alachua will have an opportunity to elect two candidates for seats on the Alachua City Commission. Incumbent Shirley Green Brown faces challenger Gregory Pelham Sr. in the Seat 4 race. Vying for Seat 5 in a three-way race are candidates Jennifer Blalock, Malcom Dixon, and Gary Kocher, each hoping to replace Gary Hardacre who is not running for reelection.
In an effort to reach voters, each candidate provided information about themselves and their views on what they hope to accomplish if elected next Tuesday.
Shirley Green Brown – Seat 4
Incumbent Shirley Green Brown is running for reelection for seat 4. Brown has lived in Alachua since the 1970s and has been on the Alachua City Commission since 2012. She was employed by Alachua County Public Schools for 31 years and worked at both Alachua and Irby elementary schools. Prior to that, she worked for the state of Florida as a speech and language pathologist. Brown also is an at-large member on the board of directors for Elder Options, mentor for the Take Stock in Children program, member and officer of the Alachua Friends of the Library, member of the Alachua Woman’s Club, Strategic Planning Committee Co-Chair and member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc. She’s married to Rev. John E. Brown, and has a son, daughter-in-law and two grandchildren.
Brown says she wants the commission to continue to support the economic growth that’s been taking place in Alachua in recent years. She says the current Commission is doing a good job in coordinating growth while maintaining and improving the City's infrastructure and service. “Alachua is really a trailblazer that has set the standard for a lot of municipalities in the area,” Brown said.
Her list of priorities includes the continual upgrading of roads and seeking out grants, collaborating with the School Board to improve school performance and revitalizing downtown and Main Street. “It’s all about working toward maintaining Alachua as the good life community in which we live,” she said.
Gregory Pelham Sr. – Seat 4
Seat 4 challenger Gregory Pelham Sr. lost a runoff election for mayor two years ago. Pelham has lived in Alachua for 25 years. For the past 12 years, he’s been employed in the juvenile bureau with the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office. He’s also a pastor who oversees 18 churches in the area.
Pelham said that opening lines of communication between the city and residents is the most important issue to him. “I want to be that voice for our community,” he said. “It should be a commission where any citizen can come to if there’s a question or a concern.”
Pelham is chairman of the county’s juvenile justice council and has worked with local schools since 1998. He believes communication is important to maintain a dialogue with students and young adults to educate them about the importance of city government, voting and getting their voices heard. “It’s important to hear what they have to say because they are our future,” Pelham said. “It we don’t ... It's going to be more difficult to make the changes in the future that we need to keep Alachua beautiful.”
Jennifer Blalock – Seat 5
The only woman in the Seat 5 race, Blalock has lived in Alachua for 20 years. She’s currently the regional manager for O2B Kids, an early childhood learning center. She opened and ran the Alachua O2B Kids location for 14 years. Blalock has been involved in a number of community organizations, especially those involving children. She worked with the Boys & Girls Club in Gainesville, the United Way and the Gainesville Job Corps Center. She coaches basketball at Santa Fe High School and volunteers at the Hal Brady Recreation Center.
Blalock recently was promoted to coordinate operations at O2B Kids, covering a larger geographic area rather than focusing only on the Alachua location. She emphasizes that despite the promotion she will remain involved in her local community. “I want to be part of everything that’s going on,” she said. “Our city has a great foundation, and I want to help grow that foundation.”
Blalock says the Good Life Community has a special place in her heart. “It has been the place where I have raised my children, built lifelong friendships, and spent the last 18 years as a leader in early childhood education.” Blalock says she likes the direction of the current commission and is particularly interested in maintaining quality recreation and education, adding jobs and repaving and maintaining roads.
Malcom Dixon – Seat 5
Malcom Dixon, at the age of 23, is the youngest of the candidates running for Alachua’s City Commission. He’s a lifelong resident who attended Santa Fe High and participated in a student advisory council. Dixon currently works in the correctional office at the Florida Department of Corrections’ Reception and Medical Center in Lake Butler and is preparing to soon open a mortuary business. Dixon has twice run unsuccessfully for a seat on the Alachua City Commission.
He also is an NAACP member, an organizer for Faith in Public Life, is involved in the county’s Truth and Reconciliation initiative and an elder in the Church of God in Christ. Dixon says he has experience working with representatives and senators to help lobby on issues. On issues, Dixon says that investing in the youth of the community is his biggest priority. “Our youth is our future,” he said. Creating programs to help keep them active in the community and keep them out of trouble is one thing he hopes to bring to the city, in partnership with the police department.
He also said technology should be updated to allow residents to easily listen to commission meetings by phone or online to keep them informed on the issues facing the city. “I want to make sure I represent all the constituents of Alachua,” Dixon said. “I believe that representing all people no matter their gender or race is important. The citizens must feel confident that they have open lines of communication with their elected leaders.”
Gary Kocher – Seat 5
Gary Kocher owns an entertainment company that offers DJ services and lighting for weddings and other events and has lived in Alachua for seven years. Prior to that, he lived in Atlanta and Orlando, where he worked at a law firm. He is married with a young daughter, and their family fosters children as well.
Kocher ran for the Alachua City Commission three years ago but lost to current City Commissioner Gary Hardacre. Kocher has been involved with the Alachua Business League and the North Central Florida Apartment Association. He is also the former chair of the City’s parks and recreation advisory board and former vice-chair of the Wild Spaces Public Places advisory board.
As a city commissioner, he wants to work to help keep Alachua progressing forward, with a focus on ensuring that parks and neighborhoods stand as examples of environmentally maintained recreation destinations for residents and tourists. One important issue Kocher hopes to address, if elected, is to make sure the public is better kept up to date with the commission’s agendas and progress. “There's so much the City offers, but if people don’t know about that, it kind of goes by the wayside.” Additionally, he said balancing the city’s growth and conservation is a priority.
On Tuesday April 13, the polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. at the Legacy Park Multipurpose Center, 15400 Peggy Road; the Cleather Hathcock, Sr. Community Center, 15818 N.W. 140th Street; and the Clubhouse at Turkey Creek, 11400 Turkey Creek Blvd.
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