ORANGE COUNTY A campaign mailer sent to Orange County District 1 residents criticizing candidate Robert “Bobby” Olszewski’s attendance record at the MetroPlan Municipal Advisory Committee was paid for and distributed by an electioneering and communications organization owned by the same man who acts as candidate Betsy VanderLey’s hired political consultant.
John Dowless is founder and CEO of Millennium Consulting, an Orlando-based political consulting firm to which VanderLey has paid more than $88,000 during her campaign. Dowless also is chairman and treasurer of Progress and Prosperity for Orange County, the ECO that created and sent the piece regarding Olszewski’s MAC attendance record.
Dowless also is vice chairman of the MAC and council president for the city of Edgewood.
In last week’s candidate Q&A for the West Orange Times & Observer and Windermere Observer, VanderLey said she was aware of the ad but that it was not sent by her campaign.
“My campaign has not published any negative advertising pieces,” VanderLey said in her Q&A. “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,” she said.
VanderLey said the money she paid to Millennium Consulting was used to fund mailers that championed her campaign. She said she was aware of the negative ad prior to its release.
“I had heard it was going to happen,” she said. “I had a heads up, but I didn’t approve it or have any control over it.”
Dowless confirmed the negative mailer sent from his ECO was independent from the work he performed for VanderLey as Millennium Consulting. He also confirmed the $88,000 he received from VanderLey's campaign was not used for the negative ad. Those monies — totaling $6,000 — came from ECO funds.
“It’s separate because they (Millennium clients) are not part of the creative process (in creating the ECO mailers),” he said.
Dowless also said he obtained the information regarding Olzsewski’s record through a public-records request and not through his position on the MAC board.
“I believe we did do a public-records request, but that information is also available on the website,” he said.
CHARGES IN THE AD
The negative ad states Olszewski did not attend a MetroPlan MAC meeting in more than a year.
“Call Bobby Olszewski and ask why he left Winter Garden without a voice on transportation,” the ad reads.
According to a timeline created by MetroPlan Orlando, Olszewski was appointed to the MAC in June 2012 and was elected as its second vice chairman in June 2014. It is customary for the second vice chairman to be elected as first vice chairman the following year.
However, in May 2015, then-MAC Chairman Charles Lacey, mayor of Winter Springs, appointed a Nominating Committee to select leadership position for the following year. That committee included St. Cloud Mayor Rebecca Borders, Maitland Mayor Dale McDonald, Lake Mary Commissioner Sid Miller and Dowless.
At the nominating meeting May 7, 2015, Olszewski was motioned and seconded as first vice chairman, as was Windermere Mayor Gary Bruhn. Ultimately, Bruhn was selected. The committee then discussed the idea of keeping Olszewski in the second vice chairman position, but the committee selected St. Cloud Mayor Rebecca Borders instead.
“Staff was surprised to learn that the Second Vice Chairman Olszewski was not being recommended to move up into the first vice chairman’s position,” MetroPlan officials said in a prepared statement. “As a courtesy, staff informed Commissioner Olszewski so he would not be surprised when the agenda package went out for the next committee meeting that included the Nominating Committee’s recommendation. When he was told about this, he was angry (because), in his opinion, the outcome from the Nominating Committee was politically motivated by its members.”
In his response in last week’s Q&A, Olszewski said he decided he could not attend because he questioned the motivations of one MAC member — Dowless.
“When I learned that an elected official and fellow MAC member was using (his) vote on this committee to benefit (his) personal paycheck and benefit (his) clients, I was appalled,” he said. “I brought this to the attention of MetroPlan employee and MAC staff liaison Virginia Whittington, and next, I had a discussion with MetroPlan Executive Director Harry Barley. … Since the ethical voting concerns I had with the MAC fell on deaf ears, I contacted our Winter Garden Mayor John Rees and City Manager Mike Bollhoefer and informed them that I could no longer attend MAC because of this breaching the public’s trust, and they agreed.”
Bollhoefer confirmed he had spoken with Olszewski.
“It was quite some time back, but he did call me and tell me about his issues," he said. "He had some ethical issues that had to do with how they voted or picked somebody.”
However, Dowless said Olszewski’s statement is inaccurate and misleading.
“(At the time of that meeting) I was not employed by Betsy VanderLey,” he said. “We did not have a contract until February 2016, I believe.”
The first documented payment from VanderLey’s campaign to Dowless’ Millennium Consulting was in Nov. 17, 2015 — $1,150 for consulting/software, according to the Orange County Supervisor of Elections.
Outgoing Orange County District 1 Commissioner S. Scott Boyd, who has endorsed VanderLey, said Olszewski’s statement is inaccurate.
“As the current board chairman of MetroPlan Orlando, I was surprised to read some of what Mr. Olszewski had to say about the Municipal Advisory Committee,” he said. “This committee comprises elected officials from cities and towns throughout our three-county area. … In an effort to shed some light on a recent campaign advertisement having to do with Mr. Olszewski’s involvement with the Municipal Advisory Committee and inferences made in his profile piece, I asked MetroPlan Orlando’s staff for background information. As a result, I learned that Mr. Olszewski was disappointed that he was not elected to serve in a leadership position with the Municipal Advisory Committee back in July 2015. Since then, he has not attended any committee meetings.
“MetroPlan Orlando neither gets involved in political campaigns nor controls political advertisements,” he said. “The content of the piece submitted by Mr. Olszewski suggested otherwise, and I felt this needed to be corrected.”
“There’s no cronyism with 17 separately elected officials,” he said.
Staff Writer Jennifer Nesslar contributed to this report.
Contact Michael Eng at [email protected].
To read County Commissioner S. Scott Boyd's opinion on this subject, please click here.
CHRONOLOGY OF EVENTS
Source: MetroPlan Orlando
• Commissioner Olszewski was appointed to represent the City of Winter Garden on the Municipal Advisory Committee in June 2012.
• He was very active member in 2012, 2013 and 2014.
• Commissioner Olszewski was elected to be the MAC’s second vice chairman in June 2014.
• At the MAC meeting on May 7, 2015, the MAC Chairman, Mayor Charles Lacey, appointed a Nominating Committee to recommend people for committee leadership positions starting in July 2015. Members were: Mayor Rebecca Borders (city of St. Cloud), Mayor Dale McDonald (city of Maitland), Commissioner Sid Miller (city of Lake Mary) and Council President John Dowless (city of Edgewood).
• The members of the Nominating Committee met immediately following the MAC meeting on May 7, 2015. Mayor Lacey also attended as the meeting was open to the public. The slate of officers recommended by the Committee were: Mayor Charles Lacey (city of Winter Springs) to serve as chairman; Mayor Gary Bruhn (town of Windermere) to serve as first vice chairman; and Mayor Rebecca Borders (city of St. Cloud) to serve as Second Vice Chairman effective July 1, 2015.
• Staff was surprised to learn that the Second Vice Chairman Olszewski was not being recommended to move up into the First Vice Chairman’s position. As a courtesy, staff informed Commissioner Olszewski so he would not be surprised when the agenda package went out for the next committee meeting that included the Nominating Committee’s recommendation. When he was told about this, he was angry (because), in his opinion, the outcome from the Nominating Committee was politically motivated by its members. Commissioner Olszewski felt that staff should do something about this. It was explained to him that other nominations — even self-nominations — could be made from the floor at the next full committee meeting so these could be considered along with the Nominating Committee’s slate.
• At the next meeting in July 2015, Commissioner Olszewski indicated his interest in serving as first vice chairman, but there was no support. Therefore, the Nominating Committee’s recommended slate was unanimously approved.
• Following the July 2015 meeting, staff spoke with Commissioner Olszewski on several occasions about his absences from MAC meetings. Each time, he indicated he would be attending future meetings. Therefore, Commissioner Olszewski’s absences were recorded for the record but not treated as a vacancy.
• Staff spoke with Commissioner Olszewski on June 16, 2016, at which time he informed us that he would not be returning to the MAC, thus creating a vacancy. Again, as a courtesy, staff informed Commissioner Olszewski that a letter needed to be sent to Winter Garden Mayor John Rees notifying him. A letter was sent to Mayor Rees dated July 20, 2016 noting the vacancy. To date, there has been no response to that letter.
VanderLey Payments to Millennium Consulting
DATE PURPOSE AMOUNT
Nov. 17, 2015 Consulting/software $1,150
March 25 Consulting/printing expenses $3,800
May 3 Consulting fees/advertisements $1,675
May 3 Signs/campaign advertising $6,300
June 11 Consulting/retainer fees $1,000
July 1 Consulting/mailing/signs $6,599.54
July 18 Consulting/mailers/postage/printing $17,830
July 25 Printing/postage/voter mail $5,830
July 27 Printing/mail to voters $19,723
Aug. 8 Consulting/mailers/postage/printing $13,000
Aug. 17 Voter mailers/polling $11,400.82
Source: Orange County Supervisor of Elections