OCOEE — At the end of July, for the first time in more than two decades, it became official: S. Scott Vandergrift was no longer the mayor of Ocoee.
His successor as Ocoee City Commission’s appointed mayor pro-tem is District 1 Commissioner John Grogan, who said he has learned a lot from Vandergrift since first arriving in February 1998.
“The mayor’s done quite a bit for the city — he was an icon here,” Grogan said. “I think he knows when it’s his time, and he feels that time is now. … When I came to the city … he goes, ‘Come on — let’s go for a ride.’ Four hours later, I got back. We went all over the city and spoke about a lot … that stuck with me.”
Because Vandergrift’s resignation was not within six months of the general election for his term — which will be March 15, 2016 — Grogan must serve as mayor until Ocoee holds a special election Oct. 27, per the Ocoee City Charter.
In his interim reign of just 88 days, what is this new mayor’s agenda?
“I don’t have any tricks up my sleeve,” Grogan said with a laugh. “I’m not trying to do anything different.”
Grogan wants to keep the commission moving in the direction it has gone, especially in the last six months or so, with a focus on developing Ocoee at state roads 50 and 429 and particularly downtown, he said. With budget time approaching and the commission looking hard at getting businesses in fields such as technology into the city, now is an important time of opportunities for the city.
“Once we can get more tax income and revenue from businesses, that will help us out a lot,” Grogan said.
As for the special election, Grogan is not interested in becoming an elected mayor — yet.
“I hope to be around for a while and do this for a while,” he said. “I hope I do well enough to be mayor someday — that the people will want me to be mayor. Now, I feel like I still got a lot more to learn.”
ARRIVING IN OCOEE
Grogan’s first stay in Ocoee was brief but actually in his district. For six months, he lived with a friend, at first just for a job interview. He came for that interview all the way from Randolph, Massachusetts, just south of his hometown of Boston.
“I received a phone call from Disney to come down when they were doing a big hiring, looking for welders and fabricators,” he said. “They called me on a Sunday; I flew down Monday and went for an interview. I had to wait a week for the results to come back, and as I did, I stayed here in Ocoee at my friend’s house. They said, ‘Let’s go — you start Monday.’”
After working as a certified welder, mechanic, foreman and scuba diver, Grogan became a quality auditor for Walt Disney World, a position he holds today.
“It’s a safety auditor, not auditing for money,” he said. “We do everything but money: safety documents, qualifying maintenance guys to do their jobs … attractions and all transportation. I really like that. We find out what’s wrong, what’s right.”
His wife, Michelle, also works in safety — public safety, as a detective with the Ocoee Police Department. They bought their current home around the time of marriage and had a daughter, Isabella, who will start high school this month.
“We really fell in love with everything here,” Grogan said. “(Ocoee) is absolutely gorgeous. It’s a great place to have our daughter grow up.”
To serve his new city, Grogan began joining as many Ocoee boards as he was allowed to in 2002, thinking like many that his position with the city would not go beyond a passion for volunteering, he said.
But Gary Hood, a former Ocoee commissioner, asked Grogan to run for commissioner in 2013.
“I had an idea of what it was going to be like when I came in — I was wrong,” Grogan said, laughing. “One thing I did not anticipate was a lot of emotion put into the mix. Me as a commissioner — background as auditing — I weigh both sides; I research both sides, black and white, right and wrong — there is no in-between.”
Grogan also has taken many classes in areas such as budgeting and ethics, which he believes should be mandatory for the commission. He also recognizes meeting with constituents to discuss their issues is a paramount piece of his role, he said.
“I’ve learned to talk to the people more about what they want,” Grogan said.
Grogan’s primary motivation to continue as commissioner is finding solutions to people’s problems, much like his career. He enjoys challenges, including public speaking, which is difficult for someone who enjoys working behind the scenes. The biggest challenge — and change — Grogan has embraced is growth.
“When I moved here, there was 8,000 people,” Grogan said. “Just in that short period of time, we’re up to, I think, 42,000. … I think we tap out at about 75,000 — we have the room for that. … We’re definitely growing; we’re going to continue to grow; and I would say what the commission is doing now, that is different than before … is we see the urgency to focus on the infrastructure of the city.”
A lack of investment in infrastructure — including roads, water and sewers — has slowed development despite growth around the city, Grogan said.
“The first step is to get infrastructure in, and then the companies will follow,” he said.
This includes projects such as private redevelopment of West Oaks Mall, the expansion of State Road 50 and City Center West Orange, he said.
“We want to make downtown walkable, very urban,” he said. “It’s going to be gorgeous.”
For the future, Grogan hopes the commission will continue getting fresh ideas from new members and continue a positive trajectory.
“I think we’re doing pretty well,” he said. “We’re not kicking the can down the road anymore.”
Grogan’s local service and achievements include:
• Citizen Advisory Council for the Ocoee Police Department: 2002-2009
• Ocoee Neighborhood Restorative Justice Program (NRJP): 2002-Present
• Ocoee Community Merits Awards Board: 2002-2008
• Central Florida Law Enforcement Emerald Society: 2003-2006