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Winter Park / Maitland Observer Sunday, Mar. 11, 2018 3 months ago

Winter Park mayoral candidates speak on city issues

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The Observer posed several questions to candidates Steve Leary and Jim Fitch.
by: Tim Freed Associate Editor

Winter Park voters next week will be tasked with choosing the city’s next mayor.

The 2018 race includes incumbent Steve Leary and his challenger, Jim Fitch. 

Leary, 51, who has served as mayor since 2015, previously served seven years as a city commissioner. He is a Winter Park business owner and resident for more than 13 years. 

Fitch, 81, is U.S. Navy veteran a relative newcomer to the area; he moved to Winter Park in late 2016.

Winter Park employs a commission/city manager form of government in which City Manager Randy Knight is charged with the operation of the city. The mayor is one of five members of the City Commission.

 

Steve Leary

Age: 51

Education: 

B.A. Washington College 1989

Experience: 

Seven years as Winter Park City Commissioner, three years as Winter Park Mayor

Years living in Winter Park: Winter Park Home and Business Owner for over 13 years

Winter Park is known for its charm and village character, but we know that progress marches forward. How do you intend to try and balance these two realities? Is there anything that needs to be changed or done differently?

The Winter Park population grew just under 5% (less than 1,500 residents) from 2010-2017. The Metro-Orlando population grew by 253,000 during the same time period. The traffic we see is from our neighbors driving through Winter Park. In 2017 we removed R-4 Zoning from our Land Plan. So unless grandfathered in, that large-scale, high density designation can no longer be applied for in Winter Park. Also in 2017 we approved funding for our own Fiber-Optic Network which will connect all of our traffic signals and allow for them to be tied into an Intelligent Traffic Signalization System to smooth traffic flow through Winter Park. We have taken steps to manage growth within the city and manage the impact of the growth around us, such as the Fairbanks lane extension, Lee Road extension, 17-92 PD&E Study and more. We will continue to mitigate the regional growth and maintain our character.

Winter Park has done a lot recently to preserve/add to green space, including the purchase of the Howell Branch Preserve and the renovation of the Winter Park Golf Course. What other ideas do you have in terms of continuing to make green space a priority?

From 2015-2017 we renovated Showalter Field, Winter Park Golf Course, Kraft Azalea Gardens, Mead Gardens, added 55 acres of parkland through the purchase of the Howell Branch Preserve, conducted a study to improve MLK Park and began work on a state funded, $2 million St Andrews Trail. This year we will be renovating the Azalea Lane Tennis Facility and others. We will continue to invest in and improve these and all of our active and passive parks in the future.

Winter Park recently celebrated Weekend of the Arts, which involved all of the city’s arts nonprofits. How much emphasis would you put on supporting these nonprofits if you’re elected?

In 2017 I seated a sub-committee (Arts & Culture Sub-Committee) of our Public Arts Advisory Board. This group recently launched an annual event, Weekend of the Arts and they will bring more programs forward to continue to promote this incredibly important aspect of our community. We also increased funding this year to both the Welbourne Day Nursery and Winter Park Day Nursery to help them provide needed services to families with young children.

Some would say there’s a perceived parking problem in Downtown Winter Park. What do you personally think is the best solution to fix this?

We recently conducted a parking study for downtown Winter Park and in the future we will be discussing and investigating ways in which to make parking more available. This also has the added benefit of reducing traffic as we have many people circling looking for parking spots.

Could you give some of your thoughts on some of the recent bills at the state level that would preempt cities in regards to CRAs, tree trimming and vacation rentals?

There are many bills that are/were brought before the state legislature that would pre-empt our ability to manage items such as tree-trimming, CRA’s, tax rates, daily vacation rentals of neighbor’s homes, utility poles, and many more. I worked with the Orange County Council of Mayors to draft Resolutions that were sent to our legislators, to share our objection to the state’s overreach. Also, Mayors and representatives of every municipality in Orange County, stood together on the steps of Orlando City Hall and held a press conference to inform our constituents of the issue just last month. I also sit on the Executive Board of the Florida League of Mayors and we have been working with our lobbyists in Tallahassee to fight these bills. Please contact your elected state officials to share concerns. 

What are your thoughts on how City Commission meetings are conducted? Is there room for improvement? What changes would you make, if any?

Our Commission is very inclusive and a resident even took time to write a column in the Orlando Sentinel thanking the City Commission for our process (April 13th, When residents talked, Winter Park listened). We will continue to provide an open forum where all input is welcomed. When residents or groups of residents need extra time than is traditionally allotted, we have and will continue to provide this opportunity. 

What will be your biggest priority if you’re elected mayor?

I will continue to work with other elected and appointed officials across the region/state to manage the impending growth of the region. I will also be promoting additional efforts to restore and revitalize our passive and active parks, maintain sound fiscal policy and encourage more and new input from the public. It is critical that we represent every person and group in Winter Park.

I know I’ve asked you both this before, but could you sum up what makes you the best person for the job?

Experience: 

As Mayor I have led a commission that has significantly increased green space, made major renovations to Showalter Field and the Golf Course (which now no longer loses money), renovated other parks and playing fields, worked with professionals to see us through Hurricane Irma, increased our electric utility undergrounding program, kept our finances in excellent shape, developed plans and programs to lessen the impact of the regional growth and many other improvements.

Commitment: 

I’m a long-time Winter Park resident who is raising my family and building a business here, and have been Serving on the Commission for seven (7) years. It has been my personal commitments to Winter Park that assures stakeholders that their Mayor understands the role. I do not represent one Winter Park special interest group. I work with all parties for the best interest of Winter Park now and for the future. 

As Mayor of Winter Park I will continue to work with the citizens of Winter Park, listen to their concerns, ideas and issues as well as continue the good work we have already begun and develop new plans to keep Winter Park special.

 

Jim Fitch

Age: 81

Education:

Bachelor Science Mechanical Engineering - LSU, Masters Business Administration - Stanford

Experience:

O'Fallon, Missouri (city of 75,000, 4th largest in Missouri)

 Treasurer for Mayor campaign

 St Charles County Board of Adjustment

 O'Fallon Police Advisory Board

 Comprehensive Plan Development Board (2 years work)

Haines City, Florida (city of 21,000 with Commission/City Manager and $50 million budget - no electric utility)

 Chairman, Finance Advisory Board (all recommendations implemented by Commission - mileage rate, fire rescue fee, etc.)

 Board of Adjustment

 Planning and Zoning Board

Also, as a Navy Civil Engineer Officer serving in the Philippines (2 tours ). I managed construction projects ($100 million) and public works facilities in 30,000 employee Public Works Center (Winter Park is a piece of cake).

Years living in Winter Park: Resident since Nov. 4, 2016

Winter Park is known for its charm and village character, but we know that progress marches forward. How do you intend to try and balance these two realities? Is there anything that needs to be changed or done differently?

Winter Park's character can be maintained by honoring the Comprehensive Plan and not overbuilding and densifying. (A current 18 townhome project on Aloma to replace 4 single family homes and an office is a prime example. Mayor Leary said publicly at a town hall Q&A meeting at the Mayflower on February 13, 2018 that he 'would deny any such project.’) 

Editor’s Note: The forum held at the Mayflower was not open to the public – only Mayflower residents.

Winter Park has done a lot recently to preserve/add to green space, including the purchase of the Howell Branch Preserve and the renovation of the Winter Park Golf Course. What other ideas do you have in terms of continuing to make green space a priority?

Green space and tree canopy is essential to keeping our character. I would try to acquire the property south of the post office to add to Central Park. I would reconsider the location of the library and listen to the recommendations of the Library Committee. I would replace mature trees with several saplings – not just one. I would make sure tree maintenance is on schedule according to our arborist. The golf course is a crown jewel for the city and a revenue producer and should be maintained and enhanced.

Winter Park recently celebrated Weekend of the Arts, which involved all of the city’s arts nonprofits. How much emphasis would you put on supporting these nonprofits if you’re elected?

Winter Park has an active arts community and the celebrations of that and enhancement to it should be emphasized. Being known as a City of The Arts is a great asset. Public funding of more public art, statuary, gardens and sculpture should be emphasized. (The Electric Christmas Tree does not fall in that category – it does fall in the Waste of Money category, however.)

Some would say there’s a perceived parking problem in Downtown Winter Park. What do you personally think is the best solution to fix this?

Traffic is mostly pass through and that can wear on the people that live here. Why should we have to endure that? There are technical (adaptive traffic signal control) methods and practical methods to reduce traffic to tolerable levels. Parking is a challenge in the downtown area now and a remote lot with a free shuttle bus may be part of an answer. Enforcing handicap parking areas will also help. An underground or elevated concrete parking structure is not a solution I would first seek.

Could you give some of your thoughts on some of the recent bills at the state level that would preempt cities in regards to CRAs, tree trimming and vacation rentals?

I am for Home Rule and Tallahassee should not micromanage our towns and solve some of the more real problems – school shootings, i.e.

What are your thoughts on how City Commission meetings are conducted? Is there room for improvement? What changes would you make, if any?

Commission meetings are an embarrassment to a city of Winter Park's stature. Some board meetings could also be improved. Here is what I would do:

 1. Change time to 5:30 p.m. so that working people can attend. I would recommend a workshop prior to the Commission meeting in order to prepare the Commissioners for the meeting. The workshop would be open to the public and transparent.

 2. General citizen comments would begin right after the opening. I would listen.

 3. Uni-directional microphones would be replaced by omni-directional microphones so attendees can hear what is being said – transparent.

 4. A staff listener would be in the back of the room to monitor the hearing level of the Mayor, Commissioners, City Manager, Clerk and Attorney. They would be prompted to speak up and not mumble if they can't be heard – transparent.

 5. Presenters would have a laser pointer to direct attention to the item under discussion – transparent.

 6. Documents would be seized to be clearly visible to attendees – transparent.

 7. Comments from attendees would be welcome and given sufficient time to make their point – listen.

 8. Robert’s Rules of Order would be used – transparent.

 9. A uniformed/armed police officer would be standing in the back of the room – safety.

 10. All department heads would be present at all Commission meetings – listen.

Editor’s Note: All of these changes would only be possible with approval from the entire City Commission. The Winter Park Police Chief is present at every meeting, as are each of the city’s department heads. If a department heads isn’t present, a representative of the department is there to answer questions.

That would be a good start – see what needs to be done after some experience with the new format.…

What will be your biggest priority if you’re elected mayor?

My priorities would be:

1. Complete the undergrounding of electric service much sooner than present projections

2. Start an overall traffic study to find answers to the present situation

3. Enforce the Comprehensive Plan

4. Make sure our police and fire departments have what they need to keep us safe

5. Maintain our water quality

6. Maintain our streets

7. Better prepare for the next hurricane

8. Plant more trees

9. Prepare for SunRail loss of funding by May 2021

10. Stop wasting our tax money and spend it locally – not in Orange County

I know I’ve asked you both this before, but could you sum up what makes you the best person for the job?

I am what Winter Park needs now because:

 I have the knowledge – engineering, financial and management education.

 I have the experience – relevant work history.

 I have the time to spend on city matters – retired, not working two jobs and raising a family.

 I will listen – that is my nature and my experience. I will be respectful.

 I will be transparent – no hidden agendas and outside influences. I don't owe anybody anything. No favors.

 I will be fair – no past alliances

 I don't have any development interests in Winter Park.

 I will manage our money conservatively– no more rebates to developers, no more adventures outside of Winter Park, no more questionable projects ($4.5 million for underground fiber optic intranet that might be technologically obsolete and replaced with a Low Earth Orbit satellite system – LEO, starting in 2019), no more electric Christmas trees….

I want the job, so we don’t go over the “tipping point,” not like the last six plus years. I will donate my salary to a Winter Park charity each year.

Tim Freed as an Associate Editor with the Winter Park/Maitland Observer. He is a graduate of the University of Central Florida.

See All Articles by Tim

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