Family: Wife, Kallin; daughter, Ozelle
Education: UCF graduate with bachelor’s degrees in criminal justice (2008) and legal studies (2015); master’s degree in criminal justice (2018); J.D. candidate at Barry University School of Law, 2023
Related experience: Eleven years in law enforcement as a Florida Highway Patrol state trooper; Maitland Police Department patrol officer; task force agent on Federal Task Force; detective and then retired as a public information officer/patrol officer
Why do you want to serve as District 2 commissioner?
Upon moving to Ocoee, I immediately felt at home. My neighbors and neighborhood are fantastic, our city services are amazing and I love being on the ground floor of something special. But I feel that there are areas in which we can improve on as a city that are not being focused on, such as communication, firefighter retention, and quality of life. Ocoee is in such a “go go go” phase for growth that we’re not actively considering the ramifications of what all this rampant growth means for Ocoee in five or ten years. I’m not against growth but we should be doing more to temper the rapid expansion we’re currently experiencing. As District 2 Commissioner, I hope to bring a fresh approach to the current growth at all costs attitude that seems to have infused our city council. I want to use the lessons I’ve learned as a Public Information Officer to better engage Ocoee residents in dialogue about how they want to see Ocoee in five or ten years. We need to make sure we’re communicating with them on platforms they use versus using the ones we’re comfortable with. We need to do a better job with outreach to our residents, find the ways in which they are comfortable engaging with elected officials and using those methods. It’s great that we have a website and Facebook that are constantly being updated, but those shouldn’t be the only tools we have in our tool belt to reach residents. With COVID, we’re limited in what we can and can’t do with public events, we should be exploring more ways of reaching our residents.
If elected, what do you hope to accomplish as a commissioner?
I want to find new ways to have residents to become involved in Ocoee. Local elections, such as City Commissioner, can have the most impact on residents versus State or National elections. In order to foster more engagement, we have to engage in dialogue with our residents at all levels and not be passive about the way we communicate with them. We have to get out in their neighborhoods, find out the ways they can communicate, and then use those avenues to open lines of communication.
My goal would be to engage more with the residents who are not currently active to show them that their voice counts. I believe if individuals are shown that their involvement directly impacts their community, their neighborhood and lives, and that simply by participating just a tiny bit more will help them out, people will jump at the chance to do so. But in order to do that, we have to increase communication with the voters in order to pull back the curtain on what actually happens in politics. A large part of that is learning how to communicate more effectively with the residents and learning what issues they want to see fixed.
The idea of being passive about communication bothers me. We should be active in this area and focused on engagement with residents. Ocoee’s website and Facebook do a good job of promoting events but those shouldn’t be the only ways in which we communicate. I would love to see the Ocoee Connection make a comeback.
Ocoee has a multitude of areas in which individuals can get their voices heard and we should be pushing those boards more aggressively to residents. We currently have five boards that have open vacancies at the moment. If elected and at the end of my first term in four years, we had backlog of applications to those boards of people wanting to serving, I would consider that an amazing accomplishment as a Commissioner.
Why should District 2 residents vote for you?
One of my key platform issues revolves around communication and how we can better communicate. I think Ocoee does not do a good enough job of getting information out to the residents. We have all these different methods of communication at our fingertips but we are not utilizing them to their fullest extent. My generation, Millennials, receives most of their news through Twitter, which the City of Ocoee does not have one set up. (Note: There is a @cityofocoeefl Twitter handle, but it’s not an official handle. Most of the tweets through the handle are retweets of other accounts. Even the Ocoee website doesn’t list this handle as an official one. https://www.ocoee.org/241/Twitter)
I would like to see the City be more transparent in generally, especially on issues that come before City Council. Currently, there is not a searchable option to find votes by Commissioner or to find specific topics. In order to find a specific vote, one generally has to know the date on which the Commission voted on the issue. Why can’t residents find out how their Commissioner voted as an option? I would love to see a feature implemented that tracks these votes.
What are the top challenges the city of Ocoee faces? What are some potential ways to address them?
I think the top challenge Ocoee is facing is our rapid growth. Per the U.S. Census, Ocoee gained a little over 13k of residents from 2010 to 2019. We’re adding almost 1,500 people per year to our city and those people need places to live, work and play. We’re certainly building new residential developments to accommodate those individuals, but at what cost? We can’t stop growth, but we can make sure that the growth we are having is sustainable. I want to have developers include green spaces or parks within their plans that are open for all residents to enjoy. If Ocoee is such an in-demand place, then we certainly have leverage to incorporate some of our requests into their plans.
Ocoee’s current residents are feeling left in the dark regarding issues and that’s a big issue to solve. There’s a lot of change occurring in Ocoee and not a lot of this information is being presented to the public outside of passive methods. This leads to a lot of bad feelings and the feeling of being left behind.
We can’t stop growth and I’ve tried to be as upfront with that as possible. But we can make sure that how we’re building is sustainable. This means more questions being asked of developers wanting to build within Ocoee and publishing those answers to the community. Growth can bring amazing opportunities and allow us to become a better city in the end, but we need to do so in a responsible manner. We also need to focus on communicating with the current residents in a better manner. We have to be more active in how we publish information. Just by publishing information on two pages doesn’t mean that this information is distributed to the public in a better manner. People feel disengaged from the political system when they feel that their voices aren’t heard. I want to change that and show people that every voice counts in Ocoee.
Another issue facing Ocoee is our Firefighter retention. This is something that we do need to look at and figure out how to solve. You don’t take a car into a mechanic and throw a wad of money at the mechanic to fix the issue. Sure, the issue might be fixed in the short term, but you’ll most likely be back for the same problem. We need to understand the entire issue before committing the resources to solve it. I think we need to have a true salary survey conducted that directly compares the Ocoee Fire Department to similar agencies, this means comparing our ISO Class 1 rating with other agencies with the same rating. Just selecting several other agencies in the area and using that as a basis doesn’t work. We can’t compare ourselves to a county agency or to agencies that aren’t an ISO Class 1 Rating, that’s comparing apples to bananas.
If you had a magic wand, what three issues for Ocoee would you change immediately?
1. Finally connect the West Orange Trail to Downtown Ocoee. This has been an ongoing point since the Downtown Project was finalized in 2016 and five years later, we still don’t have a connection to the West Orange Trail.
2. Fix the intersection at Plant/Maguire. Turn Bowness Ave into a bypass in order to provide a straight shot onto Silver Star.
3. Increase the funding to our Fire Department. We have such a world class department, ISO Class 1 status, which is an impressive feat, a great internal culture, and a fantastic community that supports them, but we’re currently losing people at a high rate. In today’s hiring climate for first responders, the job market is incredibly tight for new recruits. We should be doing everything we can to retain our employees instead of constantly being in the recruit, hire and train phase only to endlessly repeat this stage.
What are some potential solutions for managing traffic conditions in conjunction with the city’s growth?
Ocoee is lucky that we are bordered by major roadways that handle a lot of the daily traffic. But we still need to examine where developments are occurring and making sure those areas have the proper infrastructure in place to deal with the occurring increase in traffic volume. We need to look at where we can expand roadways to alleviate current high volume traffic areas. Not every roadway can be expanded to accommodate a higher volume of traffic, but we need to identify roadways that we can do so.
The area of Plant St / Maguire Rd is one such example. Due to SR 429, this is a high-volume traffic area. We should look at turning Bowness Avenue into a larger roadway in order in order to alleviate traffic at the Maguire intersection.
Expand Clark Road north of Ocoee Vista Pkwy to Clarcona Ocoee Road. We’re looking at some massive commercial and residential developments occurring in the area of Clarcona Ocoee Road, between Clarke Rd and Ingram Rd, and that’s going to further strain Clarke Road in that area.
Last November, the city held events in remembrance of the 100th anniversary of the 1920 Ocoee Massacre. How does the city continue to foster positive relationships throughout the community?
By having open dialogue with our residents and families of the Ocoee Massacre about what changes they would like to see and then incorporate those ideas. Dialogue is a two street and if we go up to people and ask their opinion on an issue, then immediately turn around and do something completely different, all that work is essentially thrown out the window. Not only that, but this makes individuals more cynical in dealing with creating those positive relationships as they will just believe that we’re just using them for photo opportunities instead of creating relationships.
After such a horrific event, we shouldn’t believe that everything is solved with one event. There’s still a lot of bad feelings associated with Ocoee due to the Ocoee Massacre and we have to keep in mind, that this event occurred within living memory. This event is still a fresh wound to a lot of people who had relatives who lived through it.
All journeys start with a single step, and I think Ocoee has started the journey to learn from and heal from the events that took place in 1920. But this isn’t something that can simply be fixed by holding one event. To learn, to grown and to understand what happened in 1920, this takes active work, active dialogue in the community and then following through on those ideas or commitments. All the work and effort that led us to this point can easily be undone by not continuing to promote active dialogue and actively working to include all points of view.
Some have raised concerns regarding the city’s ability to retain firefighters. What steps should the city take to ensure quality first responders and other civil servants stay in Ocoee?
The first step is to implement a true salary survey, comparing our agency’s salary against other comparable agencies. This means that we look at other ISO Class 1 agencies that have a similar city size along with department size. We can’t afford to pay what the larger agencies in Central Florida are paying, but we need to make sure that the salaries we offer are competitive in order to encourage people to stay. This survey should also look to see if we’re suffering from a pay compression within the ranks as well.
On top of that, we need to examine the mandatory paramedic certification. I agree that this certification should be a mandatory part of continued employment, but Ocoee does not currently reimburse for this mandatory training. As an immediate first step, we should implement a reimbursement program for those Firefighters seeking their paramedic certification. If you’re a certified paramedic, you receive an $8k bump in pay. I would explore ways in which we fund each position at the Paramedic/FF level but withhold the $8k in additional salary in order to use that money for reimbursement. If we’re worried about individuals being reimbursed and immediately leaving, we can implement an employment contract. These are pretty standard in areas in which the hiring agency spends a large sum of money in training and won’t see results from the individual for a few years.