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West Orange Times & Observer Thursday, Feb. 19, 2015 5 years ago

2015 ELECTION Q&A: Ocoee City Commission

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by: Amy Quesinberry Community Editor

 As the March 10 municipal election draws closer, the West Orange Times & Observer will be publishing profiles and Q&As from each of the candidates who are running for office in Ocoee, Winter Garden and Windermere.

In this edition, we introduce the candidates for the Ocoee City Commission: District 2, Rosemary Wilsen and Michael Hopper; and District 4, Joel Keller and George Oliver III.

ROSEMARY WILSEN, DISTRICT 2

OCCUPATION: Program coordinator for the Christian Service Center, Family and Emergency Services Program, located in Ocoee. She has been employed for the last 22 years with this agency.

FAMILY: Husband of 35 years, Fred; two children

RESIDENCY: Ocoee resident for more than 17 years; West Orange County for 33 years

AFFILIATIONS: District 2 city commissioner six years; West Orange Healthcare District, governor-appointed trustee; Tri-County League of Cities board member (current); Woman’s Club of Ocoee board member (current); Lions Club of Ocoee member (current); Ocoee boards (Education Commission, Park and Recreation Advisory Board, Child Protection and Recommendation Committee); 2002 Volunteer of the Year in Ocoee ; nine-year member of the Spring Fling Organizers for the city of Ocoee (current); former member of the Founders’ Day Committee; 2012 Non-Rotarian of the Year, Ocoee Rotary Club

Why do you want to serve in the office you have qualified for?

I have a genuine interest in the well-being of others, with no allegiance to any special interest groups except that of my residents. I have a sense for the greater good, and that is my core mission as a city commissioner.

Why do you feel you are the best-qualified candidate for this office?

Having spent 10 years as a resident advocate prior to being first elected in 2009, I devoted my time and efforts to make Ocoee a wonderful place we call home, I have walked the neighborhoods, attended HOA meetings and responded timely to citizen concerns. I have been prepared and actively involved in Ocoee for more than 15 years and a vocal member of the commission for six years — all in the best interest of our residents. I have a genuine interest in Ocoee to foster steady commercial growth. As a community, we need to collectively invest in Ocoee’s future.

What do you feel are the most important issues now that need to be addressed?

• After having received a $100,000 grant from the state in collaboration with the city of Winter Garden to study the State Road 429 corridor, we need to implement the plans that are developed.

• Capitalize on Health Central’s $120 million hospital expansion; this is good for our community and a huge asset.

• Promote local business in connection to our new Lakeshore Center and the recently renovated Withers Maguire House.

• Increase the capacity and expansion of our reclaimed water system with no rate increases.

• Finish the long-overdue neighborhood park on Montgomery Avenue.

• When State Road 50 is completed, the city will benefit from $120,000 in upgrades to the lighting on S.R. 50 from DOT.

• We need to maintain an open mind to possibilities that will improve Ocoee with responsible steady growth. 

• After benefiting from a state grant, the city needs to improve the corridor leading from S.R. 429 into downtown Ocoee, allowing Ocoee to create its own identity and business district. Another area of great importance that is to begin this year is the Orlando Avenue/Bluford Avenue intersection, which will eliminate the pool of water that gathers after a rain. This will only be the start to upgrading the failing infrastructure within the city we need to invest in Ocoee’s future. 

• Water conservation is a very important topic, and we, as a community, need to aggressively learn to protect and conserve our water supply and use reclaimed water. 

What are your goals if elected?

• We need to foster thriving businesses in Ocoee. Updating the infrastructure will support commercial and residential growth and best serve our residents while expanding our tax base.

• We need to revisit the red-light camera program with independent studies to ensure the safety of our motorists and pedestrians is the primary purpose and not to generate revenue.

• Continue to make the permitting process a consumer-friendly and timely program with the E-permitting program.

• To be ever-alert to reducing city expenses without sacrificing services to our residents.

MICHAEL HOPPER, DISTRICT 2

OCCUPATION: Retired

FAMILY: Wife of 11-and-one-half years, Ann; two children, three stepchildren, nine grandchildren

RESIDENCY: District 2 resident for about 40 years

AFFILIATIONS: Currently serves on the Ocoee Code Enforcement Board; one of the original coaches of the Ocoee Bulldogs for the first 10 years; Ocoee Little League baseball coach; First Baptist Church of Ocoee

Why do you want to serve in the office you have qualified for?

As a lifelong native of Ocoee, I would like to serve in the capacity as District 2 City Commissioner for Ocoee. I have the vision, knowledge and level of professionalism the city needs at this point in time. I have raised two children here and would like to help in leading Ocoee in the direction of better economic growth not only in District 2 but (also) the entire city.

Why do you feel you are the best-qualified candidate for this office?

My qualifications consist of currently serving on the city of Ocoee Code Enforcement Board, where I have served for eight years. I retired from what is now CenturyLink with 36 years of service. The majority of my career was in engineering and construction.  I have managed and been in charge of million-dollar budgets, supervised company and contract employees and made tough decisions when necessary. I’m not one who rides the fence.

What do you feel are the most important issues now that need to be addressed?

Important issues at hand consist of the following: 1. Why are businesses and restaurants jumping over Ocoee? 2. Why is it so difficult to conduct business or open a new business in the city of Ocoee? (This is a recurring theme I hear from contractors.) 3. Why is our beautiful mall dying a slow death? 4. Why is there no commercial growth along the south end of Clarke Road?

Also, several roads need attention in the area of Ocoee Hills Road and Ridgefield Avenue, just to name a few.

What are your goals if elected?

My goals are to address these issues through a partnership with developers and land and business owners. Taking an active role in working with the West Oaks Mall’s advertising personnel and its management firm. I will work with staff to ensure all roads are in good condition, then formulate a plan to make necessary improvements where needed most.

Also, I plan to research bond monies for city improvements.

JOEL KELLER, DISTRICT 4

OCCUPATION: Business system analyst, Rotech Healthcare

FAMILY: Wife, Laura; two children

RESIDENCY: Resident of the district since May 1990

AFFILIATIONS: Commissioner District 4 (2006 to present), MetroPlan Advisory Council (2010 to present), Ocoee EAR Committee (1998), Citizens Advisory Council Ocoee Police Department (2000-2006), Planning and Zoning Board (2003-2006) and Sawmill Homeowners Association Board (1991-2006)

Why do you want to serve in the office you have qualified for?

I would like to continue moving Ocoee forward. With the visioning plan in place, I would like to see us start to implement it. By moving forward with the plans for the growth of the State Road 429 corridor and the downtown area, as well as the CRA, we can improve the city. By growing these areas we can get more businesses, including restaurants, into the Ocoee area. This will strengthen our overall tax base keeping residential rates lower, as well as bringing new jobs for our residents. We are the fastest-growing city in a three-county area, according to the 2014 population estimates released by the University of Florida’s Bureau of Economic and Business Research. It is time to grow the business side of our city, as well. This way we can keep improving Ocoee and keep it “The Center of Good Living.”

Why do you feel you are the best-qualified candidate for this office?

Proven record of fighting for the citizens and getting things done. Fought to keep Evans High School from moving, fought to keep the garbage transfer station off McCormack Road and fought to keep the Ocoee Fire Department.

Since I have been on the commission, the CRA was put in place, fire department went to Advanced Life Support, new police headquarters, implosion of the Colony Hotel at 50 and Maguire, traffic light at Ocoee Hills, building of the Lakeshore Center and city visioning plan for downtown and the State Road 429 corridor.

What do you feel are the most important issues now that need to be addressed?

• Moving forward with the visioning plan. Now that we have a plan in place, we need to start working it. First by getting the infrastructure in place. We need to have sewer in the downtown area to attract businesses. Then by actively pursuing the businesses to make Ocoee their home.

• Hiring an economic development director. We need a certified economic development director to pursue businesses for the S.R. 429 Corridor, the downtown area and the CRA. 

• Keep the Ocoee Fire and Police departments in Ocoee. One of the most important things a city can do is keep its citizens safe. By having our own fire and police departments, they can be more proactive. They have a feeling of attachment to the city and take a more active role on their free time, as well as their on-duty time in promoting the city. 

What are your goals if elected?

Moving forward with growth of our S.R. 429 corridor and downtown areas. Keeping our fire and police departments as part of the city of Ocoee.

GEORGE OLIVER III, DISTRICT 4

OCCUPATION: Senior vice president, GPS-Sports Inc. dba GPS-Solutions Inc.

FAMILY: Wife of more than 21 years, Deborah A. Oliver; five sons

RESIDENCY: Resident of the district since 2002

CIVIC ORGANIZATIONS: U.S. Navy; American Legion service officer, assisting veterans with service-related disabilities to receive medical and educational benefits (2014 to present); Washington Shores Community Development Board (1998); deacon and church leader of New Covenant Baptist Church of Orlando (2000 to present); founder of the New Covenant Baptist Church Adopt-a-Precinct Program (2005 to present); LBS Foundation Board of Directors, (2001 to present); substitute educator (2014 to present); Orlando Junior Magic (2009-2011); Ocoee Bulldogs (2002-2008)

Why do you want to serve in the office you have qualified for?

The citizens of Ocoee and I feel that it is time for a change; we need positive forward economic progress. The citizens of District 4 have not had an effective voice in more than 10 years. I would like to be the eye, ears and, most importantly, the voice for the citizens in my district. I consider myself a community servant, not a politician. Therefore, I would like to serve my community by giving them the voice they so richly deserve.

Why do you feel you are the best-qualified candidate for this office?

As I stated before, I don’t consider myself a politician but a community servant with the passion to serve the citizens in my community. I have spent most of my adult liFe in service to others, I have worked most of my adult life in service to our nation (U.S. Navy), Central Florida and Ocoee as an organizer, volunteer and public servant. I have also given over 10 years of service helping disabled veterans achieve a better quality of life.

What do you feel are the most important issues now that need to be addressed?

Retail economic development, effective leadership, education and diversity.

What are your goals if elected?

• Retail economic development. Introduce a plan for more retail economic growth within and around the West Oaks Mall. My plan is a simple one: Partner with experienced developers and financial institutions with the ability to write and support municipal bonds for building projects.

• Education. Building an educational facility by using the more than 300 acres in the northern section of the city. Invite institutions such as Valencia, UCF, UF, etc. to partner with the city to develop a facility that would feed into their programs of higher education.

• Diversity. Bring about more diversity in city government and the city workforce. Introduce a plan that will create management opportunities for our citizens.

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