Meet the candidates for Winter Garden City Commission District 1

Winter Garden City Commission District 1 candidates talk about their priorities in this Q&A.

  • By
  • | 3:18 p.m. March 11, 2020
  • West Orange Times & Observer
  • News
  • Share

As the March 17 election day approaches, two candidates for the Winter Garden Commission District 1 seat hope to earn the votes of constituents. Incumbent Lisa Bennett faces challenger Joseph Richardson. Voting will take place from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. at Tanner Hall, 29 W. Garden Ave., Winter Garden. Candidates’ answers have been edited for grammar.

Winter Garden voters also will have the opportunity to vote for or against nine proposed charter amendments. To read the proposed amendments and what they mean, click here.

Lisa Bennett 

Courtesy Lisa Bennett
Courtesy Lisa Bennett

Age: 56

Education: Some college

Occupation: Real-estate broker

Related experience: City of Winter Garden Architectural Review Board; three years experience as District 1 commissioner

Why do you want to continue serving as a Winter Garden commissioner? 

I love our town. I believe the city has improved during my three years in office and can continue to be the cultural and commercial center of West Orange County.

What makes you the most qualified candidate for the District 1 seat?

I believe my opponent is running for a specific agenda — to remove prayer before commission meetings and do away with our tradition of Light Up Winter Garden. There is so much more to this job — budgets, taxes, land use, etc. To be clear, I want to preserve these important traditions. This is really a service position — not one to further an agenda — and I have many years of experience in service to our community through Winter Garden Rotary, West Orange Habitat for Humanity and our local charter school, Hope Charter, as well as serving on a city board and now three years as commissioner.

If you are re-elected, what do you hope to accomplish as a commissioner?

Preservation of our town’s charm and quality of life to include our traditions; promotion of safe streets, schools and neighborhoods by supporting our first responders; and I’d also like to see more city parks and recreation.

Why should District 1 residents vote for you?

District 1 has had three years to experience my work ethic and commitment to Winter Garden.

What are some of the challenges you believe the city of Winter Garden faces? What are some potential ways to address them?

I believe transportation and road congestions are some of the biggest issues we face. Although we are building several intersection improvements currently, I believe we can do a better job with transportation. Also, affordable housing. Over the next three years, I’d like to focus on ensuring we have more affordable housing. Potential ways to address them include traffic studies, and I’d like to bring in more citizen participation in the process. On affordable housing, by ensuring that our policies and codes are written to accommodate affordable housing.

What is Winter Garden already doing well that you’d like to see continue? What could the city do better? 

Encouraging active lifestyles through family-friendly events and traditions, promoting downtown walkability, and preservation of city parks and green spaces (such as) Tucker Ranch. (We should) continue to develop more green spaces and recreation areas.

What are your thoughts on Winter Garden’s approach to managing or accommodating growth within the city?

Winter Garden does a good job in balancing personal property rights while ensuring any new growth complements our existing architectural standards and quality of construction.


Joseph Richardson 

Courtesy Joseph Richardson
Courtesy Joseph Richardson

Age: 57

Education: Bachelor’s and master’s degrees in computer science from The State University of New York

Occupation: Software engineer

Related experience: Central Florida Freethought Community board member, active with the city for six years

Why do you want to serve as a Winter Garden commissioner?

In the last six years that I’ve been actively involved with city government, I’ve realized there are some areas in which the city is lacking, and I believe I can improve them, specifically in the areas of transparency, responsiveness and inclusion.

Transparency: I will seek to put the audio of the commission meetings online, along with the minutes and agenda. Lots of municipalities do this. This information should be available by default, making it easier for the residents of Winter Garden to stay informed on the workings of our government.

Responsiveness: I will hold “office hours” at regularly scheduled times — perhaps once a week — where anyone can come talk to me face to face about any problem. Any email or phone call will get a response from me, even if it's only to say I'm looking into it, and then I will find an answer.

Inclusion: Our Planning and Zoning Board currently comprises 100% white males. The population of Winter Garden is only 50% white. I will seek out qualified women, Latinos and Latinas, blacks and other minorities to nominate to the board to help make sure all of Winter Garden is represented as part of our future planning and growth. In fact, I already have some potential nominees.

What makes you the most qualified candidate for the District 1 seat?

I'm qualified for this job for many reasons. I’ve lived in Winter Garden for 14 years. I’ve been a board member of a local nonprofit for six years. I’ve been attending and participating in commission meetings and many other city meetings for six years. I’ve gained an understanding of issues facing our residents through talks with many Winter Garden citizens about real issues facing them. I’ve taken all that information and identified problems and come up with solutions.

I am the most qualified candidate because I’m highly passionate about making sure every resident is treated fairly, and more than anything else, because I will represent and fight for every single resident of District 1 and of Winter Garden — even the ones who don’t agree with me.

If you are elected, what do you hope to accomplish as a commissioner?

In addition to the items I mentioned above, I have a long list of plans, large and small, that I would like to accomplish. Some are my own ideas, some are issues from citizens I've talked to. The biggest thing I would like to see realized is a municipal internet service. This has been looked into, but it appears to have been tabled. A municipal internet service could be central to Winter Garden’s continued growth and popularity. Whatever difficulties exist, we should work to overcome them.

In the end, what I most hope to accomplish is to make Winter Garden a more transparent, responsive and inclusive city.

Why should District 1 residents vote for you?

District 1 residents should vote for me because I have a passion for this city, because I’ve identified areas that need work and because I have specific plans to improve them.

They should also vote for me because I will make every effort to understand the issues before tackling them. In contrast, Commissioner Lisa Bennett has shown that there are certain complaints she doesn’t understand. For example, when responding to complaints about discriminatory invocation practices, she responds that the Supreme Court has upheld invocations at municipal meetings. The complaint is not that we have them. The complaint is that they are discriminatory, which the Court said is not allowed.

Finally, District 1 should vote for me because I am free of any potential conflicts of interest. As a software engineer working for an out-of-state company, I don’t have local customers to keep happy. I can make decisions by focusing entirely on the issue and not worrying, consciously or unconsciously, about angering customers and potentially losing business.

What are some of the challenges you believe the city of Winter Garden faces? What are some potential ways to address them?

Affordable housing has become a huge challenge. I am already looking into ways this could be addressed — for example, with tax credits to developers to build such housing. This is a complex issue, so I will seek out input from experts and affected parties to help guide my decision-making.

Certainly, the planned Plant Street expansion through east Winter Garden is a big challenge in many ways. Continued communication with the residents is absolutely necessary. Perhaps some additional representation from east Winter Garden on boards like Planning and Zoning will be needed.

What is Winter Garden already doing well that you’d like to see continue? What could the city do better?

Winter Garden has done a superb job managing the city’s finances. They seem to be using our taxes efficiently. We have an appropriate cushion should any problems arise. Staff is well-taken care of. All indications are that fiscal responsibility is not a problem. Similarly, the management of the downtown area and the general business of the city appears to be well in hand. I don't see any major problems there that require attention.

The things the city could do better are the things that form the core of my campaign — the areas of transparency, responsiveness and inclusion. Winter Garden city government is ultimately responsible to the people, and it needs to be transparent, responsive and inclusive to the greatest extent possible. This means anything from having easy access to meeting recordings to diversifying the Planning and Zoning Board and to making sure that I provide substantive responses to citizen inquiries.

What are your thoughts on Winter Garden’s approach to managing or accommodating growth within the city?

First, we need to be aware that growth will not and cannot continue indefinitely. We should be careful about giving into the pressures of growth too eagerly.

Second, the growth and popularity of the area gives us the opportunity to enhance our building requirements and be more responsible about what we allow.

Third, we need to be intentional about a responsible plan for protecting our green spaces and the environment. As a cyclist, I've seen much of the wooded areas around the West Orange Trail disappear as development pushes right up to the edge.

We simply need to make sure that growth and development doesn’t adversely impact the environment as well as quality of life. We all want green space to enjoy and make sure our water is clean and not overused. There are many, many facets to environmental protection. It's going to take a lot of thought and work to make sure we continue to do the right thing.


Latest News