The newest member of the Ocala City Council took the oath of office Tuesday night and immediately led the effort to appoint a new city manager.
Ire Bethea Sr. was surrounded by family members as he was sworn in shortly after 6 p.m. following a hard-fought battle to serve District 2. Bethea was elected on May 19 after defeating Lonnie Hooks III in a runoff election. It took eight months and four elections to fill the seat that was vacated by longtime Councilwoman Mary Sue Rich because the original winner, Tyrone Oliver, was disqualified because he is a convicted felon.
Shortly after taking his seat on the dais, Bethea said he had interviewed all three city manager candidates – Interim City Manager Sandra Wilson, Assistant City Manager Bill Kauffman and Ocala Fire Rescue Chief Shane Alexander – and believed that Wilson was the best choice to fill the seat vacated in December by John Zobler. His comments followed those made by Rich, who was in the audience and praised Wilson’s extensive background in government service. She also offered positive comments about the way Wilson has led the city since Zobler suddenly retired five months ago.
Council President Jay Musleh also spoke in favor of hiring Wilson, citing her many accomplishments and the way she had managed the city during the COVID-19 crisis. He was joined in that support by Council members Matthew Wardell and Brent Malever.
“I think she’s done an excellent job,” Musleh said of Wilson’s performance.
Major Kent Guinn, who didn’t have a vote in the decision, also supported hiring Wilson. He praised her for the work she’d done during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“She did an amazing job keeping things together,” he said. “
Council President Pro-Tem Justin Grabelle casts the only vote against hiring Wilson, saying his support for Alexander was well known.
“I think Shane is the type of leader that we need to go into the next decade to continue to advance the progress we’ve made in Ocala,” Grabelle said. “I think he has a track record of taking difficult decisions and tough situations and turning them around for the better – and quickly.”
Grabelle originally had made a motion during a heated meeting in February that was seconded by Wardell to enter into negotiations with Alexander for the city’s top job. The final decision ultimately was delayed for several meetings until Bethea filled the District 2 seat. When the item was heard Tuesday night, Wardell withdrew his second of the motion and it was opened back up for public comment and the eventual vote to remove the interim tag from in front of Wilson’s name.
Wilson said she was honored to be selected.
“I’d like to say thank you for the confidence that you have shown in me with your vote tonight,” she said. “I’m always here to serve.”