Winter Garden City Commission may reconsider moment of silence

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  • | 5:38 p.m. September 17, 2014
Winter Garden commission opens with first non-religious invocation
Winter Garden commission opens with first non-religious invocation
  • West Orange Times & Observer
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WINTER GARDEN — Less than one week after the Winter Garden City Commission replaced its invocation with a moment of silence, commissioners say they aren’t comfortable with that decision.

The Winter Garden city commission convened on September 11, 2014 for their first regularly scheduled meeting since voting to start each assemblage with a moment of silence. 

Nearly everyone in the crowd of about 40 people stood during the moment of silence and the Pledge of Allegiance. One attendee, T.J. Travis, did not stand or take his hat off and left after the pledge. 

Joseph Richardson, whose refusal to stand during the Aug. 28 meeting led Mayor John Rees to ask Police Chief  George Brennan to remove him, did not attend this meeting. Richardson’s removal became national news and launched a storm of protests that ultimately led to commissioners officially changing their method of starting each meeting and officially recognizing spectators’ rights not to stand.

Later in the meeting, Rees addressed the change.

“We just went through a moment of silence for the first time since 1986,” he said. “It didn’t feel right. I would like to take time and ask our city attorney to get more alternatives.”

Commissioner Kent Makin agreed.

“I’m glad you brought this up,” he said. “I’ve had time to think about things. I think and feel we were kind of in a rush to pass a policy and we haven’t had time to look at this.”

City Attorney Kurt Ardaman agreed to research other possibilities and provide more alternatives for the commission to consider in the future. Commissioner Bobby Olszewski, who voted against the moment of silence option, asked Ardaman to confirm that all the options he presented the commission during the special session were legal and constitutional. Ardaman said they were.

During the remarks section near the end of the meeting, Commissioner Bob Buchanan said: “I don’t think I’ve wrestled with anything more in the last seven years than what’s come before us. We were given three choices, and I made the best choice I could.”

Buchanan voted for the moment of silence. 

“I didn’t want to sit through prayers I didn’t believe in any more than I wanted to make others sit through them,” he said. “The moment of silence covers everything. I made the best decision I could with the information I had.” 

Commissioner Colin Sharman said, “I’d be interested in seeing if Kurt can come up with additional options.”

Theo Graham, a former city commissioner and member of the General Employee’s Pension Board, asked the commission to reconsider their decision and restore the invocation. He read sections of the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution and Supreme Court decisions supporting his position that prayer had been part of government meetings since the founding of our nation.

During the days following the Aug. 25 meeting, commissioners, City Manager Mike Bollhoefer and city staff received numerous emails, calls and other comments on both sides of the issue from around the United States. 


The business portion of the meeting began with a presentation from Orange County Property Appraiser Rick Singh. He said, in general, property values in the county increased in value year over year, but that “Winter Garden leads the pack.”

City property increased about 10.1% — the largest percentage increase of any municipality in the county. Orange County’s total property value is greater than $125 billion, with $90 billion of that value taxable. 

Singh launched a paperless initiative in his office that included creating a mobile app, so property appraisers could provide information to property owners on the spot. His department also recaptured $72.8 million of revenue through catching tax cheats and more stringent audits.

After Singh’s presentation, the commission voted to adopt four ordinances to authorize the millage rate and fiscal year 2014/15 budget. The city’s millage rate will remain flat for the fifth consecutive year at 4.25 mills, the third-lowest rate for any municipality in Orange County. The 2014/15 budget was projected to be $28,040,890. The budget ordinances and millage rate will receive a second reading on Sept. 25.


Commissioners passed the first reading of an ordinance to rezone about 33.79 acres at 562 Beard Road south of the Florida Turnpike and east of Daniels Road from R-1, single family residential, to PUD, planned unit development.

Community Development Director Ed Williams said the Planning and Zoning Commission and city staff recommended the current plan. Under current zoning, the developer could build 89 units on the property, but the plan calls for 77. The developer also will build a rec center and create some open space for residents. The developer would widen Daniels Road from 22 to 24 feet, build sidewalks and work with an adjacent development to get better access to local roadways and alleviate additional traffic on Beard Road. 

Beard Road has a sharp curve near one end of the proposed development that can be difficult for drivers to navigate. 

Williams said once these improvements are made, “we’ve exhausted Beard Road.” 

Wetlands on one side of the road and the turnpike on the other make it difficult to improve Beard Road beyond their current plans. 

“I am extremely concerned about the traffic,” Olszewski said. “This is in the heart of my district, and I take Beard Road regularly. I understand about the property rights, but I don’t feel this is something I can support.” 

Rees said, “I agree with Commissioner Olszewski, but this may be the best alternative.” 

The ordinance passed 4-1, with Olszewski dissenting. The second reading is scheduled for Sept. 25.


• The commission welcomed Sadrac Remy as the newest member of the city fire department. Fire Chief Matt McGrew said, “I can’t think of a better way to honor the memory of 9/11 than to swear in our latest firefighter.” Remy is a graduated from the University of South Florida with a degree in criminal justice. He played running back for the USF Bulls. He worked with youthful offenders in the Miami area before deciding to change careers. Remy graduated from the Coral Springs Fire Academy.

• The commission passed unanimously the second reading of an ordinance to allow for additional uses of undeveloped units on about 14.14 acres of land in the West Orange Business Center. The new ordinance permits several different commercial uses of the property, including retail, restaurants, bars and storage units, to make the parcels more marketable.

• Commissioners approved unanimously entering a developer’s agreement with West Orange Outparcels LLC, for the West Orange Business Center to enable the developer to pay their fair share of turn lanes and road improvements.

• The commission reappointed Theo Graham to a two-year term on the General Employee’s Pension Board. Commissioners tabled until the next meeting the other appointment to an open position on the Pension Board due to a lack of applicants. The next meeting is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Sept. 25, at Winter Garden City Hall, 300 W. Plant St., Winter Garden.


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