Rival candidates for Orange County Commission debate issues

Orange County Commission District 1 candidates Robert “Bobby” Olszewski and Betsy VanderLey participated in their first debate following the August primary. The runoff will take place Tuesday, Nov. 8

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  • | 3:00 p.m. September 21, 2016
Betsy VanderLey and Robert “Bobby” Olszewski hope to succeed Orange County District 1 Commissioner S. Scott Boyd.
Betsy VanderLey and Robert “Bobby” Olszewski hope to succeed Orange County District 1 Commissioner S. Scott Boyd.
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Orange County Commission District 1 candidates Robert “Bobby” Olszewski and Betsy VanderLey tackled a variety of issues in their first post-primary debate, held Sept. 14 at the Tiger Bay Club of Central Florida.

Olszewski and VanderLey were the two front-runners following the August primary. They both seek to replace S. Scott Boyd, who has termed out of the position.

The moderator for the hourlong debate was former Fox 35 news reporter Mike Synan, who asked questions concerning how to improve the relationship between Orange County and Orange County Public Schools, along with funding proposals for SunRail and development of the Dr. Phillips Performing Arts Center.

District 5 candidates Emily Bonilla and Ted Edwards also participated in the debate.


Synan posed a question catered to District 1 rival candidates pertaining to the location of the football stadium for the West Orange relief high school. The stadium will be built a mile away off campus, instead of on campus, and the decision has prompted safety concerns from parents.

Olsewski said he believes they should listen to constituents’ worries and that he would encourage a discussion to get public input. 

VanderLey believes a compromise was firmly struck, and she would rather not drag a vote back up again because it would “only delay a school that is desperately needed.”


Both candidates agreed a financial plan should have been devised before SunRail was built. 

“If you’re going to use the system, then you should bear some of the cost,” VanderLey said. 

However, that is not currently feasible because SunRail does not have enough ridership. VanderLey suggested the best option would be to evaluate land usage in the areas surrounding SunRail stations to determine what they can do to increase ridership.

Olszewski’s argument paralleled VanderLey’s.

“There’s no doubt we need to do everything we can (to encourage ridership),” he said. 

He proposed Orange County work with various transportation groups and neighboring municipalities to do so, but emphasized Orange County should shoulder most of the responsibility and costs.


Candidates also offered suggestions for funding for phase 2 of the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts, another hot topic. Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs has suggested paying for it with $45 million from the Tourism Development Tax. 

Both VanderLey and Olszewski had reservations but said they likely would vote in favor of using TDT to fund the remainder of the project. 


In response to negative mailers used during the campaign, VanderLey stressed her family does not own any land in the district that needs to be developed and that she does not have any employer — she is self-employed. After a criticism uttered by Olszewski regarding a fundraiser she had at a gun range, she retorted that was hosted by the Police Benevolent Association, which she trusts with weapons considering they are police.

Meanwhile, Olszewski spoke about his lack of appearance at multiple MetroPlan committee meetings, defending his poor attendance record by explaining his disgust with elected officials who used votes to “benefit their own paychecks.” He said he informed Winter Garden Mayor John Rees of his decision to stop attending the MetroPlan meetings, to which Rees approved.


Contact Gabby Baquero at [email protected].


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