Standing in front of the Winter Park City Commission Chambers for the last time as a Commissioner, Beth Dillaha neared tears as she said goodbye to three years of service to the city.
Along with departing Commissioner Phil Anderson, she had served one term on the Commission before deciding not to run for re-election. Sarah Sprinkel stepped into her seat on Monday.
“I don’t want to pull a John Boehner up here,” Dillaha said at the start of Monday’s Commission meeting. “It’s hard to believe where three years go. It’s been an amazing experience.”
Known for her diligence in researching information before meetings, she often came to the dais armed with stacks of paperwork or multimedia presentations to back up her position on issues.
“They haven’t been easy,” Dillaha said of her years on the dais. She frequently entered the public spotlight on contentious issues, including modifications to Fleet Peeples dog park, the addition of fees to pay for pet registration for the park, plus a recent salary hike to pay the commissioners $10,000 per year.
But she had gained the most notoriety for her stance on the SunRail project, about which she had disagreed with fellow commissioners, the Orange County Commission and state lawmakers, arguing that it was too expensive, financially risky and “a giveaway” to rail company CSX.
“I’ve always thought that it’s too expensive,” Dillaha said about the project. “I think we could negotiate a much better deal. I wanted to save the taxpayers’ money.”
Through it all, she said her husband, Woody, had backed her decisions and long hours on the Commission.
“Woody has been so supportive of me,” she said. “Before we’d plan our weekends, he’d ask me how many pages were in the agenda packet.”
But despite the struggles and disputes she experienced, she said she’d met great people who she otherwise may not have had she not chosen to run for election in 2008.
“I’ve made a lot of great friends here,” she said, before giving a final thank you to the packed Commission crowd.
For Anderson, who entered the Commission after the same election that saw Dillaha elected, the experience had been decidedly less contentious, as the soft-spoken commissioner stayed out of the spotlight on controversial issues.
Mayor Ken Bradley said Anderson excelled in researching the numbers behind issues to help the city make smarter decisions.
“He’s lent a lot of skill in finance,” Bradley said.
Anderson chose not to run for a second term.
“It’s been a great experience,” he said. “I’d recommend it to anyone.”
For the trained civil engineer, CEO and financial advisor, the race for office more than three years ago may have been the hardest part of public service that he endured.
“The campaign wasn’t a great experience,” Anderson joked.
Despite the strain of dealing with contention on the Commission through tough issues over his freshman term, Anderson said he was glad for the opportunity, even though he didn’t run for re-election.
Bowing out moments before his successor, Steven Leary, was sworn in, he gave a final farewell from the podium.
“It’s been a privilege,” he said.