Junior League of Ocala hosts candidate forum

OCALA, Fla. (WCJB) - The city of Ocala is set to vote on two city council seats in September, so the Junior League of Ocala hosted a candidate forum on Wednesday, August 28.

The forum started with the three candidates running for the District 2 seat - retired Ocala Recreation and Parks Division Head Ire Bethea, vice president of the Ocala Housing Authority Reginald Landers, and co-founder of Deliverance Outreach Ministries Tyrone Oliver.

Some the topics discussed were sexual harassment in the workplace, working wages in Ocala, and what can be done to improve school safety.

“Periodically you have to search cars, you have to search lockers, you have to search book bags, and those are just a sign of the times we live in,” said Landers.

“Educating the youth to make sure that they pay attention to their surroundings," said Bethea. "If you see it, report it. If you think it, report it."

The candidates for District 2 were also asked about the penny sales tax in Ocala, and all three agreed they would vote to extend it.

"We’ve got schools that need fences, we’ve got roads that need to be repaired," said Oliver. "It’s a good tax because it’s helping to offset some of the other costs that the city and the county has to pay."

The forum continued with the candidates for city mayor - incumbent Kent Guinn and challenger Barbara Fitos.

Right away, the candidates were asked to address rumors that have been circulating about them - one accusing Mayor Guinn of being associated with the KKK, and another claiming that Fitos is associated with anti-israeli sentiments.

“I was accused back in 2015 of being in the KKK along with four United States senators and four other mayors. Most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard of in my life," said Mayor Guinn. "But anybody that knows me knows that that’s the most absurd thing in the world. That’s all I’ve got to say about that."

“I was intimately involved as a member of the Interfaith Alliance for many, many years, served as its president," said Fitos. "The diversity of the Interfaith Alliance and celebrating all faiths and all faith beliefs is the hallmark of the Interfaith Alliance. We want to celebrate the diversity, and my entire career has been based on celebrating that diversity."

The Ocala Police Department was also a hot topic between the mayoral candidates.

Fitos brought up some changes she thinks could help lower crime rates in the Ocala, while Mayor Guinn said law enforcement in the city is already on the right track.

“Proactively going in and having community meetings that bring the local police officer for that sector with us to talk about community concerns," said Fitos, "to look internally to the Ocala Police Department’s structure and promotional rates, etc."

“I don’t think a lot of changes need to be made," said Mayor Guinn. "We’re doing the community policing, we’re doing the broken windows. We’ve done that. We’re hiring eight new officers for a violent crime task force to address those issues, so a lot of that’s being done. A lot what you see downtown here with crime has disappeared.”

The election will be held on Tuesday, September 17, 2019.