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Thursday, June 17, 2021

Ocala eyes special election after City Councilman Wardell announces resignation

Matthew and Pamela Wardell
Matthew and Pamela Wardell

A special election will be held in Ocala on Sept. 21 to fill the City Council vacancy being left behind by Matthew Wardell.

The District 4 representative on the City Council, who also serves as chief executive officer and artistic director of the Reilly Arts Center, the artistic director of The Marion Theatre and the music director of the Ocala Symphony Orchestra, will step down from his seat on Aug. 18. He cited multiple reasons for the resignation, which was made through an announcement on his Facebook page late last month and in letters sent to Supervisor of Elections Wesley Wilcox, his fellow Councilmembers and city staff members.

“In addition to spending time with a host of community causes that Pamela (his wife) and I care deeply about, the Reilly Arts Center and Ocala Symphony Orchestra’s growth, the added management of the Marion Theatre, and entering my final year of doctoral school at the University of Florida all culminate this fall,” his resignation letter states.

Wardell, who took office on the City Council in December 2015, said the city faces challenges like any other municipality and he looks forward to supporting government leaders and staff members after he steps down from his seat.

“Ocala is an incredibly blessed city with natural resources, innovative thinkers, and generous, community-minded residents,” he wrote. “It is a gem that should be admired and held up to the light, not afraid of the occasional polish and refinement.”

Ocala City Council member Matthew Wardell, second from right, shares a laugh with, from left, fellow Councilmember Justin Grabelle, Marion County Sheriff Billy Woods and late Ocala Police Chief Greg Graham before the December 2019 groundbreaking ceremony for the new MLK First Responder Campus.

Wardell said he’s also extremely grateful for the opportunity to serve on the City Council and to everyone who works so hard to make the city and Marion County a special place.

“I mean every word of it and am incredibly thankful for the opportunity to serve Ocala as an elected official for almost six years,” he said. “The harsh reality of there only being 24 hours in a day is inescapable.”

The special election was called by Mayor Kent Guinn, who has tangled with Wardell in the past over his opposition to Ocala’s controversial mask ordinance and the ability for the mayor to veto an emergency ordinance.

After the election, the new City Council member will take office on Tuesday, Sept. 28. If a runoff election is needed, it would be held Tuesday, Nov. 16.

The qualifying period for candidates will be from noon, July 12 through noon, July 16. Qualifying papers can be picked up at the City Clerk’s office at Ocala City Hall, 110 S.E. Watula Ave. Call (352) 629-8266 for more information.