OAKLAND — Two of the next elects to public office in Orange County could be from a town of barely more than 2 square miles, Oakland.
Both Orange County District 1 Commissioner Scott Boyd and Betsy VanderLey, District 1 Planning and Zoning commissioner and chairwoman, live in Oakland and will be on the 2016 ballot for Orange County elections.
As of press time, VanderLey is the only candidate who has filed for Orange County District 1 commissioner, from which Boyd plans to move on to become Orange County property appraiser. Current Property Appraiser Rick Singh has filed for re-election.
VanderLey has worked on Boyd’s past campaigns, and the two will have the same treasurer for the 2016 campaigns, Teresa Precourt Watkins.
Counting the local committees Boyd is not part of might be easier than listing the positions he holds in addition to being a county commissioner since 2009: vice mayor of Orange County, vice chair of the Central Florida Expressway Authority, vice chairman of MetroPlan Orlando, chair of the Value Adjustment Board, vice chair of Central Florida MPO Alliance, vice chair of the West Orange South Lake Transportation and Economic Development Task Force, board member of the Four Corners Area Council, board member of the West Orange Chamber of Commerce and member of the East Central Florida Regional Planning Council.
Rather than disrupt his involvement in these bodies, Boyd said his campaign would help him see residents and know their struggles.
“I deal with communities throughout the entire network,” he said. “It’s all part of my daily duties now, and I put in probably 50-plus hours a week doing that. It’s all just time management.”
That kind of direct communication is what Boyd wants to use as property appraiser, he said.
“One of the keys is communicating with residents,” he said. “Partnering with cities, towns and the county on that, as well as being a valuable resource, is very important and customer service in having a property appraiser engaged in the community. If you call in the previous week, we’ll try to make it happen to meet together.”
The recession and recovery during his time as county commissioner and his experience as a real-estate broker have made Boyd familiar with many issues of property management and growth, Boyd said.
“That includes parks, roads, trails, the municipalities within the district and, of course, countywide issues that affect everyone,” Boyd said. “It is an extension to me of duties as county commissioner.”
Keeping people informed and identifying areas needing improvement are crucial to appraising property, Boyd said.
“What we’ve done here with our communications is keeping people apprised of what is happening in their area,” he said. “We have tourism, agriculture, a big development industry and commercial here, the east side around UCF, there’s a lot of that I’d like to see tied in, not to get too specific so far out. My years on this commission and working in the community, I’ve strived to be an open door and find balance on the issues out there. Unfortunately, some are neighbor on neighbor, such as environmental protection issues.”
Neighbors, past supporters and others will attend Boyd’s campaign kickoff fundraiser, starting at 5:30 p.m. Feb. 25, at Pilars, 146 W. Plant St., No. 120, in Winter Garden.
“With the filing of the current appraiser over a month ago, I’ve got to get out there and start moving on it,” Boyd said. “I need donations — obviously the campaign will be expensive. Also, I need volunteers, supporters and to let everyone know I’m running and really gear up for the next 12 months.”
VanderLey has played roles such as volunteer in politics and not-for-profits because of the everyday effects, from roads and schools to garbage collection, she said.
“I didn’t anticipate ever running for office,” she said. “It was always that I’d help other people I believed in, like Commissioner Boyd and Marco Rubio, people like that I had a lot of confidence in.”
But with an empty nest and Boyd’s encouragement, VanderLey decided after two years of contemplation she had something to offer, including the experience of a transplant accepted into the community, seeing growth and how political decisions affect others, especially many years later, she said.
“I’ve served on Planning and Zoning now for three years, and I realized through that about 80% of what goes to the board of county commissioners comes to Planning and Zoning first, because it’s land use,” she said. “I realized that I was able to make some very effective decisions there and some strong recommendations that I think serve the community well, and I actually liked it more than I anticipated and felt like I had something to offer.”
VanderLey’s father, Jon, was mayor of Oakland; her mother, Kay, was president of Bloom & Grow Garden Society; and her daughter is a Blackhawk pilot, all indicative of a family that strives to achieve.
“I looked at this and thought I could roll up my sleeves and do it,” VanderLey said. “It’s not some big epiphany, just I felt like this is the next step in community service, in a way. I think the West Orange community is extraordinary in how they put their arms around people from the outside and say, ‘Let me help you find a place in Rotary; let me help you find a place in the chamber; let me help you find a place in the downtown merchants’ board.’ They did that for my family.”
As a result, VanderLey wants to share that embrace with Horizon West, in particular.
“It could be sprawl, or it could be West Orange,” she said. “I want to make sure it becomes part of that West Orange vibe. When you ask people in Bithlo where they’re from, they say Orlando. When you ask people out here where they’re from, they say West Orange or Winter Garden or Windermere. They identify very strongly with it, and I want to make sure that happens as we grow.”
Bike trails, cozy downtowns, community events and agriculture roots are what VanderLey wants Horizon West to adopt as West Orange adopts it, so that its people feel immersed in and part of West Orange culture. But development processes in the county are difficult.
“Right now, it takes almost 11 months to a year to get a plat approved in Orange County,” VanderLey said. “That is a period of time with developers having to hold that house and pay payments on that property before it can go to market. On the surface of it, it seems like I’m advocating for the developers, but if you think about it, the developers aren’t coming out of pocket to cover that cost. It’s getting passed off. So pretty soon, the price of a house goes up, because the holding cost was longer than anticipated, and Orange County becomes a market driver in a negative way on whether a house is affordable.”
As a business developer and contractor who has worked for Disney, VanderLey knows the Orange County economic staples of tourism and development and how recession and recovery affected them, she said.
“There’s a lot of other fledging pieces to that — the simulation industry, the medical — and those are great; I’m so glad those are here,” she said. “But they don’t rival the economic impact yet of development and tourism. I understand the business out there and what that brings to the table, and I’m grateful for it.”
Other ventures include Home at Last, Habitat for Humanity and planning the first Oakland Heritage Day Festival when her father was mayor, VanderLey said.
“A lot of different not-for-profits out here, and I’ve built a lot of great relationships with people who invest in the community, and so, I think that all those relationships and understanding how people want to see their community helps a lot, too,” she said. “I just felt like I could connect people, having been here such a long time. I think that’s a lot of what a commissioner does: they facilitate opportunity in the community, to make sure the infrastructure’s in place for that and to make sure you’re connecting the right people so they can make something remarkable happen.”
A commissioner is also a cheerleader, a watchdog, an advocate and a proponent of a proportionate budget for the growth in West Orange, VanderLey said. Part of the growing pains for West Orange is the conversation on two relief schools for West Orange High School, which VanderLey wants to refocus.
“I’d really like to work with the school board to revamp how we site schools, because I think that’s gotten off the rails in some places — not just Orange County,” she said. “There was one that came through East Orange County that was in an entirely inappropriate place for a school of that size. I don’t think we can continue to eat up large amounts of property for schools. I think we need to look at, in particular cases, vertical types of applications, rather than being horizontal with a one-size-fits-all. I just don’t think there’s a community in this area that is exactly like another community in this area, so why is the school exactly like the school elsewhere?”
Healing rifts between the school board and county commission would allow citizens to be heard and get the schools they need, VanderLey said.
“My concern is when the school board comes in and says, ‘This is what we build, period.’ I think that’s a problem. You need to be creative with the size of property and to meet the needs of students.”
Although VanderLey has had small fundraisers, her kickoff will come in warmer weather in Oakland.
“I’m excited about the process and what the voters want to say,” she said. “There’s a lot of really engaged people in West Orange County. When they went through redistricting … nobody wanted to leave District 1, and District 1 was one of the areas that had to shrink because of population growth and will need to again next census because again we’re growing. Not only did no one want to leave District 1, people wanted to opt into District 1. It’s really neat — we hear so much about voter apathy and people not being engaged — it’s cool to live in an area where people are that engaged, and that’s … unique to District 1.”