Meet the Candidates of Ocoee City Commission District 1

Ocoee City Commission District 1 candidates address the issues of the city and talk about their priorities in this Q&A.

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  • | 3:22 p.m. March 6, 2019
  • West Orange Times & Observer
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As the March 12 election day quickly approaches, candidates for the Ocoee Commission District 1 seat are working to earn the votes of constituents. Incumbent John Grogan is facing off against challenger Larry B. Brinson Sr. Voting will take place from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. at the Jim Beech Recreation Center, 1820 A.D. Mims Road. Candidates’ answers have been edited for grammar.

Larry B. Brinson Sr.
Larry B. Brinson Sr.

Larry B. Brinson Sr.

Age: 54

Occupation: Mail services and inventory control at Orlando Police Department

Education: Some college, some schooling while serving in the U.S. Marines

Civic involvements: Veteran of U.S. Marines with more than 20 years of service, Ocoee Human Relations & Diversity Board, the Boys & Girls Clubs, YMCA, Urban League, Boy Scouts of America, Orlando Police Department’s Operation Positive Direction, NAACP

Years of residency: 13

Why do you want to serve as an Ocoee commissioner?

I live in northwest Ocoee, also known as District 1, and we pay taxes there. I live in the Westyn Bay community, and our property taxes are considerable. We think that because we pay those taxes and because we live in District 1, there’s certain things that we pay for and the city’s not giving us anything. I understand our community is a private community, but directly outside our community, it’s public. Our taxes pay for those public amenities, pay for the roads, pay for the street lights, pay for the safety of our children and when we ask why those things aren’t being taken care of in a manner which is acceptable to anybody, we get the, ‘Well, it doesn’t work that way’ response. We can’t keep doing that.

What makes you the most qualified candidate for the commission seat?

The hundreds of millions of dollars that I’ve helped manage while I was in service in the Marines. I’ve dealt with intergovernmental relationships — whether it’s military services or whether it’s other agencies, including government agencies and NGO (non-governmental organization) agencies — to ensure that the budgets and the monies that are being collected or being spent was done properly. 

What does being a commissioner mean to you?

That means taking care of your district. For me, I’m not running to be just a city commissioner. I’m running to be a city commissioner of District 1, and that means I need to go out and see what’s going on in District 1. I can’t have someone come to me and say, ‘Hey, what’s going on with this park,’ but I’ve never been down to that park. You have to get out and find out what your citizenry — what your constituency — is experiencing and what their wants are, whether it’s good or not. You’ve got to take the darts. If you want to take the praise, you’ve got to take the darts. For me, it’s about giving the citizenry, the taxpayers, the visitors and the business owners what they want and what they need within reason. 

What do you hope to accomplish as a commissioner?

One of the things I want to accomplish is address the growth. Responsible growth and smart growth is where any municipality should be moving toward. Saying yes to developments simply because they want to develop in Ocoee as a whole — in my case specifically, in District 1 — doesn’t make much sense to me unless it’s a holistic approach. If developments are coming out of the ground but schools are not being built, infrastructure is not being taken care of and parks are not being taken care of, it’s not very attractive to businesses to bring their business to Ocoee. We need to make sure that we make Ocoee attractive to businesses. 

What issues or regulations, if any, do you think need to be readdressed to improve the city?

Again, I’m going to say infrastructure, I’m going to say schools, I’m going to say safety, and I’m also going to add to that the recycling program. Our recycling program is costing the city money, and it shouldn’t be. The city should not have to pay additional money because the recycling loads that are being picked up by the recycling companies are being rejected at the recycling center. I think part of that is the public needs to be re-educated on what goes in the recycling bins and what does not go in the recycling bins. The other thing is the ZIP codes in more than one of our communities. We have way too many ZIP codes in Ocoee, but part of that reason is when we annex land into the city, the ZIP code is not changing to the city’s 34761.

What are the biggest challenges facing the city? What are some potential solutions to address those challenges?

I’m going to go back to infrastructure. I know I keep saying that, but it’s one of the biggest things. One of the ways to address that is going back to the developer. If there’s a way for us to go back to the developers and talk about the infrastructure now and say, ‘I know we agreed that this road will be put in or (widened) in a later phase of your development, how can we get that in now? How can we get that road improved now?’ That may be a little challenging, because the terms of that agreement would be in place. And for them to come back to the negotiation table — they don’t have to. 

What makes the city great? What are some things that would make it greater?

Diversity (makes Ocoee great). In the last 15 years, the city has become very diverse. In the last six years, it’s become incredibly diverse. When we look at the population and demographics of the city as a whole, it’s become diverse. When I look at District 1, it’s become diverse. That makes it great. The city is a gem that sits right between Apopka, Winter Garden and Orlando, and people are taking note of what we’re doing in Ocoee. That’s a wonderful, wonderful thing. We’re a progressive town; however, if we want to continue to be as attractive as we can, we’ve got to address some of the (infrastructure problems) now and not let it catch up to us. 

How can the commission attract businesses — particularly sit-down restaurants — to the city?

Business development — that’s how you attract businesses. It’s the same, age-old thing — it’s about sales. We must go out and sell the city of Ocoee to businesses. Period. Some business may come and knock on our door and say, ‘Listen, I see you got a lot of land. I’d like to build a development over there.’ But the reality is, you have to go out and seek business. You have to go out there and knock on the door. You have to have conversations. You have to have conferences. You must go out there and conduct business development — have conversations with surrounding municipalities, have public-private partnerships, make sure that the amenities of the city are attractive to companies, and one of the most important things for companies is infrastructure.  

Although the West Oaks Mall is a private entity, what can the city do to help improve and/or attract business there?

We need to understand what the owners of the mall are looking for and then assist them in bringing in the business. As far as the businesses within the mall, we can court those businesses. We can call up their corporate headquarters. We can go down there and say, ‘Hey listen, have you thought about the West Oaks Mall?’ Because the West Oaks Mall is close enough to all of Ocoee and all these homes coming out the ground in Ocoee will support the West Oaks Mall again. 

John Grogan
John Grogan

John Grogan

Age: 57

Occupation: Foreman in the manufacturing division at Walt Disney World

Education: Associate’s degree from Valencia College

Civic involvements: Citizen Advisory Council for the Ocoee Police Department, Ocoee Parks and Recreation Committee, Ocoee Education Committee, Ocoee Neighborhood Restorative Justice Program, Ocoee Community Merits Awards Board, Central Florida Law Enforcement Emerald Society, Walt Disney’s VoluntEARS Program, Trustee for the Wounded Officers Initiative

Years of residency: 21

Why do you want to continue to serve as an Ocoee commissioner?

I have a lot vested in it, and I’d like to continue working with the commission to finalize the current infrastructure improvements and address the needs of the district while it grows during this accelerated period. Look around you. This is so exciting and so incredible. I was the one who got them together to have them do a strategic plan. The city never had one. They tried a couple of times in the past, but they were never able to complete it. They did not have the cohesiveness of the commission. It’s a vision for what you’re going to do. When you have that plan and when you’re making decisions up here (on the dais), you’re making decisions toward that goal — toward that vision, but we’re not done.

What makes you the most qualified candidate for the commission seat?

I’ve been associated with the city for 16 years — six years as a commissioner; 10 years prior, I was on boards. I’ve been on four or five or six boards with the city of Ocoee volunteering my time. They were all appointed boards all appointed by the commission, and I learned a lot. I learned an awful lot. I learned how the city works. I learned about the budgeting. I was able to get so much knowledge of how it does work that I was at a big advantage to anybody coming in that, out of the blue, wanted to run for the city. (A large percentage) of people running in (local) elections, they’ve never held an office before or anything like that. Well, the closest thing to running for office is actually being on the boards and working with all the people and, absolutely, being involved.

What does being a commissioner mean to you?

Enjoyment, fulfillment and an extension of volunteerism and the self-gratification involved in it. I love helping people. There’s no better, instant way on our level of helping people (than) by me going to a resident’s house. Their wheel might be broken on their garbage can, but you know what? To them right then in that period of time, it could be the most important thing. I don’t know whether someone is ill in their home. I don’t know what their mindset is. I don’t know what their feelings are, but if someone is going to go and call me for something, then I’m going to take that call as the most important thing in this guy’s life. I have to do what I have to do to make that right, and I will do anything I can do to make that right. 

What do you hope to accomplish as a commissioner?

The biggest goal I have, I would say, is personal: It’s to finish what I started. I have a big vision of making Ocoee a destination place and of making it the best place in the world — the safest place in the world for my daughter, for my son, for my wife. I want beautiful parks. When I say, ‘I live in Ocoee,’ I want someone to know that they know Ocoee. ‘I’ve heard of Ocoee. I’ve heard of that place. It’s awesome.’ I want other people to want to move here because of that — because of what we’ve done and what we’ve built here. 

What issues or regulations, if any, do you think need to be re-addressed to improve the city?

I think we need to ensure growth is self-supporting and the impact fees pay for needed roads and public facilities. I’d like to see our zoning regulations to be more amiable to attract quality restaurants and upscale retail. That’s something we have to work on, and that’s something we have been working on. We’ve been working with developers. We’ve been working with everybody. We’ve been making it comfortable for developers to come in here. 

What are the biggest challenges facing the city? What are some potential solutions to address those challenges?

My personal opinion is that the West Oaks Mall is the biggest issue that we have that is, in some ways, misunderstood among a lot of people, but what’s revolving around all of that is what’s happening (to malls) nationwide. … What (other cities) are doing is they’re turning (malls) into a mixed-use place and utilizing the spaces the best they could. This has momentum that’s happening throughout the country.

What makes the city great? What are some things that would make it greater?

I think what makes the city great is what’s been happening. First of all, the people — our diversity is incredible here. We have a lot of city events that we do for people. Our services as a city, to the people, I think, are exceptional. I think they’re extremely streamlined in cost. We give a great product for less of a cost. Our water is the cheapest water in the state of Florida. You’re not going to find anywhere where you can buy water cheaper. For our services, we have trash collection twice a week. We have not raised trash-collection prices in 10 years. In 10 years, this place went from probably 12,000 residents to 44,000. That’s a big jump, and we still manage to do it without raising the cost of it.

How can the commission attract businesses — particularly sit-down restaurants — to the city?

There is no magical answer to that. If we had a road out there and there was 75,000 cars driving on it every day, we would be fighting the restaurants away. We would pick and choose what we wanted. We don’t have that. We haven’t met the threshold of cars driving on (our roads) for a restaurant to come in — at least one of the national chains, one that everybody knows. We got Texas Roadhouse. I love that place. I love their steaks. I go there a lot. I would like more. What is the answer? We would like to know. We’re paying professionals here. We have people here that are trying to recruit the restaurants. We’re doing everything we can.

Although the West Oaks Mall is a private entity, what can the city do to help improve and/or attract businesses there?

We partner with the mall. We actually spend funds. We’re actually investing. We’re investing in our neighbors. We’re investing in our business. You can call it a private-public partnership — everybody likes to use that phrase. This is actually it in action. We will go with them to their conventions when they’re trying to get the high-end stores and other things to the mall and even their food court. We will go with our professionals. We’ve done surveys. We’ve had professionals come in and go over the whole thing of what would work best and what’s the best business plan. … Our revenues from the mall are getting better every year. … As a city, we’re getting a return from the mall, but not as a mall anymore. Like I said, it’s morphing into something else.


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