Winter Garden Commission Candidate Q&A: Ron Mueller, District 2

Ron Mueller is one of two candidates running for Winter Garden Commission District 2.

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  • | 12:09 a.m. February 11, 2021
Courtesy Ron Mueller
Courtesy Ron Mueller
  • West Orange Times & Observer
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Age: 56

Family: Single (but lots of cats)

Education: Degree in business management from Florida State College

Related Experience: Worked in financial sector for more than 20 years; two-term city commissioner in Pacific Missouri; veteran of the U.S. Navy; served on Winter Garden Charter Review Committee; attended every City Commission meeting over the past four years; regularly attends Planning & Zoning, Development Review Committee and Code Enforcement meetings; recently created 2-acre nature preserve and restored a stormwater system; served as director of Lake Cove Pointe homeowners’ association 

Why do you want to serve as District 2 commissioner?

I love Winter Garden. When I moved here four years ago, I felt this place was home and I have been so warmly welcomed. Winter Garden has accomplished a lot, and I am proud of it. As such, I want to preserve our way of life here. This is one of the top 12 cities to live in, and I want to make sure it stays that way, never losing its charm. As we go forward, we need to be more prudent and manage our growth. The explosive growth that is occurring in Oakland and Clermont is not a completion; we need to focus on single-family homes, not more apartments and condos. I want to serve to protect this community and keep it special.

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

Balancing our growth with nature. We keep slapping up buildings, putting them closer together and letting developers get away with more. If elected, I will enforce our standards and not be swayed by special interests. There are some solid plans out there, but these should not be rubber-stamp projects. As commissioner, I will take a deeper look into some of the proposed ideas and challenge them to see how they stand up. Our millage rate is 4.5% — ranking in the 36th percentile — in Orange County, yet we offer more services than nearly every other community. This is smart fiscal management and something we need to remain focused on, and I want to do so without increasing taxes. I will expand our events, complete long-talked-about projects, and continue to attract higher-end privately owned restaurants and retail, especially as we expand along Dillard Street. I also look forward to working with Police Chief Graham on expanding our golf cart area while addressing the concerns about how some are being operated.

Why should District 2 residents vote for you?

Because I love this community and care about it. I am not running on the bequest of special interest, like my opponent. I am not a developer, like my opponent. I know how city government works, unlike my opponent. I understand the commitment and work it takes to be a good, caring commissioner. I am just like the rest of the people in Winter Garden — a hardworking person that believes your word and handshake still means something. I’ve had a long record of doing what’s right, listening to voters and rolling up my sleeves to get things done. You have to look no further than my own neighborhood. In the past 15 months, I have created a 2-acre nature preserve; opened a lake view while protecting our wildlife and native trees; fixed our streets; cleaned our storm drains; addressed speeding; and made the neighborhood safer by fixing our street lights, signs and emergency-access systems for first responders. I did all those things while my opponent, who lives in the same neighborhood, never once rolled down her window as she drove past to offer words of encouragement to her own neighbors who volunteered  to restore value to our community.

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

We have made some amazing progress. We have turned a dying downtown into a thriving community that is cherished. I want to see us continue down that path and will seek to do so smartly. While some projects are impressive, I have concerns regarding some of the specifics and the recent decisions on such items as the condos and office building at Plant and Park streets, the overall size of the building at the farmers market, and the “luxury apartments” on Smith Street that are terribly undersized at 700 square feet with inadequate parking but rent prices in the $1,500 to $2,000 range. Parking garages are great: I am a huge supporter, but not every solution is “have them park in the garage.” I feel that is an easy answer today with a lot of problems tomorrow. As someone with years of experiences in agile project management, my approach is to take smaller steps, deliver them sooner, and then adjust to customer needs and market conditions. Do we need another coffee shop? Not likely. Do we need a seafood restaurant … well, it is Florida.

What are some potential solutions for managing traffic conditions in conjunction with the city's growth?

Certainly adding more garage parking is one solution, something I am in favor of. While not popular, traffic circles do relieve congestion that traffic lights can create. The restructuring of the road along Plant and Park will be a benefit, as will the Dillard Street project. Also, making changes to large commercial vehicles along Marsh Road will not only improve conditions but make it much safer for residents. I want to look at better solutions for child pickup at private schools. I will be meeting with Police Chief Graham on ideas of how to expand the golf cart area.

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

Managed growth is our biggest issue. Developers are lobbying relentlessly to get their hands on the remaining space, tearing down old buildings, and then crying they can’t make money unless the build them closer. We must stand united against those that will sell us out for a quick buck and years of pain. We will grow — and that is a good thing — but we have seen what is happening in our neighboring communities when developers get on city boards (my opponent’s brother sits on the Oakland city board). As voters, you have the power to say “No” and take a stand to preserve Winter Garden. My opponent is a 25-year developer; that’s a conflict of interests and has no place on our city board.

For the new City Commission, which I hope to be part of, we will need to replace our city manager. Mike Bollhoefer has been an amazing leader with a clear vision who has talked about retirement before COVID. He has been generous with his time and stayed on through this terrible pandemic so we have big shoes to fill. Bringing together community and business leaders to define the objectives we hope to accomplish — and then beginning a national search for someone with the right vision and personality to continue our historic charm — is going to be a tall order.

Crime and code enforcement are an issue. One way of addressing this is to annex all property within Winter Garden’s city limits. Many residents are unaware that we do have gang violence and drug problems here (thanks our brave officers for keeping us safe). One element that these criminals use is knowing which houses are in the city and which are still part of the county. Knowing the time it takes for a sheriff’s deputy to respond gives the bad guys an edge. This is also true of some properties around Winter Garden. Steve Pash and his team do an excellent job of keeping Winter Garden beautiful but if you ever wondered (why) one yard is filled with trash and the other is clean, it is because that house is in the county and outside of our  jurisdiction.

If you had a magic wand, what three issues for Winter Garden would you change immediately?

As city commissioner, I would have never approved those 250-unit apartments at Plant and the Expressway. I also would have firmly said “no” to the Smith Street apartments. To that end, it will be a solid “no” on any future apartments, retirement centers, and I will closely monitor condo development. As city commissioner, I would immediately start work on Plant and Dillard streets. In starting that work, I would also work with the hotel developers to relocate the boutique hotel closer to Plant and Dillard, replacing the old medical building. The current location is not a good long-term strategy for the city. As city commissioner, I would expand the golf cart driving area, continue our extended outside-dining plan, and work closely with our local businesses on how we can work together to the benefit of all.

If elected, how will you ensure transparency and open communication with residents?

I have always been a big believer that, working together, we build things better. While my opponent is currently under investigation for failing to report the sources of campaign donations, where the money was spent, and the source of her advertising, it is imperative that we always operate with absolute transparency. I will always be available by phone, regularly attend community HOA meetings, host meet-and-greets, and will continue to randomly visit residents going door-to-door. Once elected, I will transition my website so that residents can see what projects we are working on, how to get involved, and be able to easily reach me. I welcome an opportunity to hear your views and how I can help. Serving is a privilege, and I am humbled by the opportunity to represent my district.


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