MEET THE CANDIDATE: Betsy VanderLey

Betsy VanderLey is one of four candidates for Orange County Commission District 1.


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Editor's note: These are the complete, unedited answers from Orange County Commission District 1 candidate Betsy VanderLey.

AGE: 57
CITY OF RESIDENCE: Oakland
FAMILY: Husband, Todd; three grown children; two grandchildren
EDUCATIONValencia College
EXPERIENCE
I am a small business owner, an entrepreneur, and a business developer. I am the president of The Continuum Collaborative LLC, a business development and strategic planning firm.  My background in construction, development and government has provided her a unique perspective of Orange County’s growth. I served as the Chairman of Orange County Planning and Zoning and on the Affordable Housing Board.  I also holds a LEED Green Associate certification.  I was selected by Commissioner Boyd for his Citizen of the Year for District one for 2013 and by the Greater Orlando Builder’s Association for their Eagle Award for “exceptional contribution to government affairs…” to the organization. Organizations include: Commercial Real Estate Women (CREW); Society of American Military Engineers (SAME); Greater Orlando Builders Association (former Board Member); past Orange County District One Planning and Zoning Commissioner and Chair; Orange County Affordable Housing (former Board Member); OCPS Superintendent’s Search Advisory Committee member; Membership and Mission Review Board (former Board Member); 2014 Orange County District 1 citizen of the year; Orange County Teach in participant 2013 and 2014; Winter Garden Rotary (Board Member); Urban Land Institute Women’s Leadership Initiative board; West Orange Chamber of Commerce; West Orange Chamber of Commerce 2014 Chairman’s Award; Chairman of West Orange Chamber Economic and Government Affairs Committee; West Orange Chamber of Commerce member of the month, October 2013; Leadership West Orange graduate 2013/2014; Orlando Health’s Women of Influence Advisory Board; Public relations and marketing for Home at Last (providing handicap accessible, mortgage free homes for combat disabled vets); Organized large fundraiser for Matthew’s Hope with Leadership West Orange Class (serving the homeless in West Orange County); 2012 sponsorship chair for Winter Garden Relay for Life; Young Fathers of Central Florida past board member; HapCo past board member (HapCo provides scholarships for local music students); organized inaugural Oakland Heritage Days Festival
ENDORSEMENTS: Central Florida Hotel and Lodging Association PAC (CFHLA-PAC); West Orange Chamber of Commerce’s Political Alliance (W.O.P.A); Orange County Fire Fighters; Florida Police Benevolent Association; Orlando Regional Realtor Association; Greater Orlando Builder Association; Oakland Mayor Kathy Stark; Oakland Vice Mayor Michael Satterfield (Seat 2); Oakland Commissioner Rick Polland (Seat 1); Oakland Commissioner Sal Ramos (Seat 3); Winter Garden Commissioner Bob Buchanan; Winter Garden Commissioner Kent Makin; Ocoee Mayor Rusty Johnson; Ocoee Commissioner Richard Firstner; Orange County Commissioner Scott Boyd; Orange County Commissioner Jennifer Thompson; Orange County Commissioner Pete Clarke; Lake County Commissioner Leslie Campione;Lake County Commissioner Sean Parks; Lake County Commissioner Tim Sullivan; Lake County Commissioner Jimmer Conner; Osceola County Commissioner Fred Hawkins; Former Orange County Commissioner Fred Brummer; Former Orange County Commissioner Lee Chira; Former Windermere Councilman Bob Sprick; Former Windermere Councilman John Briggs; Former Windermere Councilman Richard Lee Gonzales; Former Orange County Property Appraiser Bill Donegan; Hunter’s Creek Community Association Past President Joe Overberger

This race is one of the most competitive in Orange County, and it also happens to be one of the most important to West Orange residents. There have been several negative advertising pieces sent to District 1 residents by more than one candidate. Evaluate yours — and the other candidates’ — campaigning processes. 
My campaign has been based on voter contact: knocking on doors, phone banking and attending events, forums and debates in order to speak with voters directly.  We also have a mail program aimed at letting voters know who I am.  My campaign has not published any negative advertising pieces; however, I am aware that a third party has published my opponent’s absentee record highlighting his lack of attendance on committees he references as experience for the office.

I have never believed in, nor will I engage in, personal attacks that have no bearing on holding public office.  I have worked hard to stay on the high road.   I will let my opponent speak for himself about the negative mail pieces that have been sent out about me and why he has chosen to campaign on half-truths, innuendo and misinformation.  I can tell you that the negative pieces used against me were deliberately inaccurate and misleading.

Editor's note: For more about these negative ad pieces, see our story here.

Advertisments sent to District 1 residents have called into question your tax history. Please respond to this. 
As I have stated in numerous public forums and in my mail pieces, almost 25 years ago I owned a small construction company that provided pollution cleanup services on contaminated sites.  When the DEP pulled the funding on the program to revamp it, we were unable to react quickly enough to keep our doors open.  As we worked through paying off all of our vendors, the State Department of Revenue placed liens on my property for sales tax.  One of those liens, one was based on just $0.01 of principal with over $1000 in penalties and fees.  Another was for $30 with over $5000 in penalties and fees.  I fought those for two years.  Ultimately, I paid the tax owed but the penalties and fees were waived.  This experience taught me a few valuable lessons, not the least of which was that government does not create jobs, but it sure can kill them.  

West Orange County is one of the fastest-growing communities in the country. How do you balance that growth? What is smart growth?  
In order to grow responsibly, we have to anticipate capacity on the roads, schools, parks and infrastructure.  That may sound easy, but it takes coordination with OCPS, the County staff, the State of Florida as well as Water Management Districts and local municipalities.  It will take a person with experience good working relationships with all of those entities to help us navigate our way forward.  Smart growth is taking into consideration the essential elements that give Orange County it’s unique character.  That means we need to protect our rural areas, our lakes, our green spaces and we need to make sure we develop in a way that enhances our property values and our way of life.  Unless we are willing to place a sign at the Florida/Georgia line saying “sorry, we’re full,” we are going to have to find a way to welcome our new neighbors in a way with which we can all live.  Let’s not forget that most of us moved here from somewhere else too, and we brought our wealth, our creativity and our commitment to this community and the community has benefitted from that investment of resources.  

What would you do to maintain safety in West Orange as it continues to grow? Public safety is increasingly on everyone’s mind as we grow.  
As a community, we need to ensure that our first responders are compensated with a competitive salary/benefits package.  We must ensure that they have the tools that they need to do their jobs well.  We need to work with our Sheriff to make sure he has what he needs to hire the staff needed to do the job.  We need to look not only at our historical crime stats when making personnel allocation decisions, but we must also look forward, using residential permits pulled as well so we can make a quality decision as to staffing requirements.  

What would you do to increase jobs in West Orange? 
District 1 is fortunate to have a several major economic drivers in our area for tourism.  I am grateful for that, but we must also diversify our economy so we can better withstand future economic storms.  As a business development consultant, I am tasked with identifying growth opportunities for my clients.  I often work with economic developers to look for trends, companies that may be looking at relocating and more.  I would work with the local EDC to help identify opportunities and use my experience and skills to meet with potential businesses we can recruit, encouraging them to relocate to District 1.  

After tourism, what should be the second-largest economic driver in West Orange? 
We have an opportunity to use the working studios we have here locally as a springboard to bring more support services for the film industry here.  We certainly have a better tax structure in Florida for businesses, so now we need to formulate a workable plan to bring firms that support the film industry here.  

What is the greatest problem facing District 1, and what are your solutions to that problem? 
Ensuring that as we grow we don’t lose our strong sense of community and belonging.  When you ask people from other parts of the County where they are from they often say “Orlando,” whether they are in the city limits proper or in surrounding communities.  When you ask residents in District 1 they are frequently more specific, saying “Winter Garden” or “Windermere” or “Oakland” or “Ocoee”.  That strong sense of belonging translates into better schools, higher property values and lower crime.  We have to make sure that as new people move here, we welcome them by helping them find their place in our community and getting them involved.  

Communication between the Orange County Commission and the Orange County School Board will continue to be important as West Orange continues to grow. As District 1 commissioner, how would you work to ensure the two entities cooperate and communicate? 
I will work with our school board to make sure they get the tools they need to get the necessary schools built.  Right now, the school siting ordinances don’t necessarily allow schools to locate at the best locations,  I will work with them to make the changes needed.  As evidence that I plan to work closely with our School Board, I will share with you that while on the campaign trail I have already worked with School Board Member Pam Gould to get a bus stop moved to a safer location for one community.  I am not waiting to be elected to office to begin making a difference in our community, I have been doing that for years. 

Evaluate the work of outgoing District 1 Commissioner S. Scott Boyd. If you had to assign Boyd a letter grade (A to F), how would you grade him? Why?  
I believe Commissioner Boyd has done a great job under challenging circumstances.  When he was first elected, our economy was in a recession.  Homes were being taken back by financial institutions and then sitting empty.  They were not always secured and were not being maintained.  Commissioner Boyd worked hard to turn that around and help neighborhoods and HOAs respond to those issues. Since that time, we have seen a development boom in District 1.  He has worked tirelessly to hold far more public meetings than the law requires so that as we grow, we have a voice in what that growth looks like.  He has also assembled thousands of email addresses so he can push out all of the information about what is happening in District 1 to interested citizens giving everyone a chance to have a voice in the process.  The Commmissioner worked hard to set aside over 200 acres of parkland.  Further, he addressed serious traffic issues on 535 that weren’t on the radar and he has held so many community and town hall meetings that  I have lost track of the number.  He has invested his own money to get backpacks for school children in underserved communities.  He has invested his energy, his creativity and his own money in our community.  (Keep in mind, being a commissioner is supposed to be a part-time job.)  No one is perfect and I imagine that, like anyone, I would do some things differently but he has been a wonderful, dedicated public servant and I would give him an A-.  

If you were elected, what would stay the same under your leadership? 
I would continue the practice of multiple public meetings to ensure that the community has a voice in our growth.  I would continue to make sure we use email to regularly communicate with citizens.  I would continue to help with providing backpacks for school kids.  I would also continue to push for traffic solutions, particularly on Sand Lake Road.  

If you were elected, what would change under your leadership?
I want to make sure we address school siting issues to allow OCPS to have more options for school locations.

What differentiates you from the other candidates for this position? 
Having lived in Orange County for over 45 years I have the long view needed to fully understand what makes us unique.  I have been a small business owner and have had to make payroll.  

What qualities or skills do you bring to this position?  
First and foremost is my commitment to service.  I have never run for public office before.  I am not running for this office as a stepping stone to fulfill any future political ambitions.  I am running so that when my grandchildren graduate college, they can find jobs here and a desirable quality of life.  I grew up in a family that believes in rolling up our sleeves and contributing to our community.  My Dad was the Mayor of Oakland, Mom has a jail ministry, my husband is a Scoutmaster, my daughter is a Blackhawk pilot in the U.S. Army and my grandson is an Eagle Scout.  Community service is the backbone of our family.  

As a small business owner, I know first-hand the difficulties inherent in startups and making payroll.  

My deep history in the area, coupled with my professional background, has given me a unique perspective.  I am running to ensure that as we continue to see intense growth in District 1, that growth will be managed in a way that it is an asset to the community, something we can all be proud of in future years to come.  I want to ensure we tackle important issues like school overcrowding, making sure we protect our places to recreate and recharge, providing for infrastructure and traffic improvements and creating an environment that fosters new industry and job creation. 

Why are you the best candidate? 
Having lived in Orange County for over 45 years I have seen much growth.  I have seen firsthand how the decisions made by our local elected officials have a life that lives well beyond their term of service.  Some of those decisions have benefited us greatly while others have not.  Given that we are in a very high growth area, much of what I wish to accomplish will have to do with that growth.  I want to see us develop responsibly.   We need to plan for capacity on our roads and in our schools.  We have to plan for parks and green spaces to recreate and we need to be mindful not to lose the very character of our community that is attracting much of our growth.  We cannot erect a sign at the Florida/Georgia line saying we are full, so we must make sure that as folks move here, we can welcome them as neighbors while ensuring the impact of their arrival is handled efficiently. Based on my experience and background, I am the most qualified to ensure the growth our community will continue to experience is handled thoughtfully and responsibly.

 

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