Ocoee residents had an opportunity to meet candidates vying for the city’s mayor and District 3 commission seat at the 2016 Ocoee Political Forum, held Feb. 24 at City Hall.
The forum, hosted by the Woman’s Club of Ocoee and the West Orange Times & Observer, featured debate questions created by the newspaper’s editorial staff and submitted by readers and audience members.
Participants included mayoral candidates Rusty Johnson and Jim Sills, and District 3 candidates Richard Firstner and Marc Price. A third District 3 candidate, Ronney Oliveira, did not attend because of a prior engagement.
University of Central Florida and Valencia College political science professor Mark Logas served as moderator for the evening.
Here, we present some of the candidates’ responses to our questions during the debate.
On term limits: “Citizens turned it down. It was put into the charter review, and the citizens of Ocoee turned it down. They said, no, they didn’t want term limits. … If they don’t want you in office, they’re going to take you out of office. We’ve done that. And over the years, we’ve had a variation of citizens serve on this board.”
On his legacy in Ocoee: “I think legacy is not just as mayor but as a person: to do what I’m supposed to do and do it righteously right and work for the town I call home. This is my home. It’s been my home since 1955. I don’t do this for anything except for the pleasure of knowing that I’m working to make this a better place for the people raising their families.”
On his time on the City Commission: “I’m going to do what I’m doing passionately for the city of Ocoee and for the citizens. … As long as I’m living in this town, my heart is for the city of Ocoee. You can ask citizens in my districts what I’m doing. … That’s what I want to do until the day I quit breathing.”
On downtown Ocoee: “The property I own is (in historical) downtown Ocoee … on McKey Street. It has nothing to do with Bluford and Oakland Avenue. And that’s the farce that’s coming around … a ‘new downtown.’ We have a historical downtown. (Why is) this commission and Mr. Johnson still talking about the ‘new downtown’? … When this first first started out, it was downtown, and then all of a sudden, they’re going to encompass Oakland Avenue and keep saying ‘new downtown.’ … They have not gone to those property owners on Oakland Avenue … to find out, ‘Do you want to sell your property? Do you want a new downtown here?’ They’ve just taken the assumption that they’re going to go down there and take that property and create a new downtown.”
On developing the State Road 429 corridor: “You’ve got to set some type of plan together and stick to it — and set a budget and a vision. … If you don’t set a course, when you get there, you’d have no idea. It’s like a ship in the ocean that’s moving back and forth, you have no direction.”
On requiring the city manager to live in Ocoee: “That would be one of my top priorities. I would say that within six months (of being hired), he should be a resident of the city of Ocoee. Now we’ve had city managers that, for one reason or the other, were not going to live in the city of Ocoee. But if they want to earn the salary from the city of Ocoee, I really think they should live in the city of Ocoee.”
DISTRICT 3 CANDIDATES
On public participation in local government: “There is little or no participation from the public. There has to be more involvement if they want to get things that they want. Their voices can’t be heard if they don’t speak. I would do everything that I possibly could to generate more interest in the district. I would have town meetings. I would try to get out to talk to people at different venues. But unless there is a reciprocation there, their voices are still not going to be heard. … It’s easy to sit back and criticize and comment about how bad everything is, but unless you voice your opinion … nothing is going to be changed.”
On downtown Ocoee: “The downtown area needs more than a facelift. It needs an infusion of new life, new business down there. They have to be upscale. They have to be the type of businesses that the people in Ocoee want to take the time to come there, get out of their cars, walk around and participate in. It can’t just be a coat of paint. It has to be a real revitalization effort.”
On public safety: “Public safety is at the heart of each and every city. If you don’t have a safe neighborhood; if you don’t have medical services that you can rely on when you’re having a heart attack; if you don’t have a fire department that can respond within minutes to save your property, all the rest is just eyewash.”
On term limits: “Term limits (are) something that need to be discussed. I don’t think we need people in here for 10, 15 and 20 years. I think that we need some excitement with the city by having an influx and ever-changing ideas. … You can look at our neighbors in Winter Garden at the change in leadership there is an example of that. Look what they have been able to do with new blood and new ideas and new philosophies.”
On improving communication: “When you’re trying to reach a different demographic, you have to use the very tools that that demographic seems to want to access. You go to our website, and it looks like a term paper for an eighth-grader. There are more grammatical errors on that website than you can count. I’ve suggested this to the city: Can we at least get our grammar correct? Can we at least get our messages a little updated? Can we reach other people with this technology? … We need to have a solid conduit. It needs to be examined. Most of this is free. Most of it is very easy, and most of it requires a simple tweaking of what we’re already doing.”
On marketing Ocoee: “We need people to go out and get the business and bring it in. … We have to market and sell our city as a viable option — as the best option. We have to sell our city, and we have to sell the benefits of doing business here.”
As a child, Editor and Publisher Michael Eng collected front pages of the Kansas City Star during Operation Desert Storm, so it was a foregone conclusion that he would pursue a career in journalism. He holds a journalism degree from the University of Missouri — Columbia School of Journalism. When he’s not working, you can find him spending time with his wife and three children, or playing drums around town. He’s also a sucker for dad jokes.