FORECAST 2024: Meet the candidates running for Orange County Commission District 1

Incumbent Nicole Wilson will face challengers Austin Arthur and Pam Gould for the District 1 Orange County Commission seat.

Nicole Wilson, Austin Arthur and Pam Gould are the candidates running for Orange County Commission District 1.
Nicole Wilson, Austin Arthur and Pam Gould are the candidates running for Orange County Commission District 1.
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This August, residents living in Orange County’s District 1 will have a big decision to make.

They will be tasked with choosing to re-elect current District 1 Commissioner Nicole Wilson or vote in a new candidate to office in Austin Arthur or Pam Gould. 

Wilson, who has held office since August 2020, beat out former incumbent Betsy VanderLey, as well as former candidate Hannah Burns. 

Although all three candidates share a mutual love and passion for District 1, each brings his or her own ideas and visions to the role.


Nicole Wilson moved in 1998 to Orange County when her husband graduated from medical school and matched with a family medicine residency program in Orlando. 

The couple made the move to the west side of Orange County after their oldest child was born in 2000. They have lived here ever since.

Wilson said the best decision they made was raising all their children in the Windermere/Winter Garden area and building their lives here.

Wilson’s undergraduate degree is in human services and psychology, and she worked in community health when she first graduated from college. 

She returned to law school later and said she has been fortunate to be able to be active in her community throughout the years.

When her children were young, she taught at their preschool and was a substitute teacher at their elementary school. 

Wilson said she has had the honor of working with many passionate individuals along the way who helped form entities such as the Dolphin Education Fund, the Ultimate Warrior Scholarship and the Florida Rights of Nature Network. 

She has served and continues to serve on the Water Cooperative of Central Florida, Orange County Children and Family Services Board, the Community Action Board, Metroplan Orlando Board and the Florida Association of Counties Environmental Policy Committee. Her experiences also include leading a Girl Scout troop, serving as PTO president and practicing environmental law.

“I believe my experience as a Girl Scout troop leader and PTO president were as meaningful as my professional experiences in preparing me for my role as Orange County District 1 commissioner,” she said. “My experience in environmental law gave me unique qualifications that I’ve employed over the last three years to be a capable and effective county commissioner.”

Working as an environmental attorney in Orange County, Wilson saw firsthand the detrimental impact unprecedented growth can have on quality of life. 

“The county’s plans to make a road wider and faster in front of my children’s elementary school got me even more interested in growth management and creating walkable, bike-able communities,” she said. “Through my work with other local advocates, we were able to get a safer outcome for that intersection. I was involved in crafting environmental protection charter amendments that were balloted and passed by historic margins and really understood that Orange County residents were unified in their desire to protect our environment and grow in a responsible way. I saw a fundamental disconnect between our existing elected officials’ actions and the wishes of the constituents they represented.”

Wilson wants to represent District 1 because she hopes to continue working to improve the place she loves the most. 

“This is my home,” she said. “This is where I started my family and raised all three of my children. My feeling is that local government should not be as confusing and mysterious as it often seems to residents. I believe that unnecessary bureaucracy and lack of communication leave residents feeling voiceless. Over the past three years, we’ve made real progress in removing barriers that separate residents from this process. We’re shifting the conversation back to our residents, and that was a long-overdue change.” 

Wilson said transparency remains her top priority, and she encourages residents to look at who is supporting each candidate financially before casting a vote.

“I’m not here to tell you who the best candidate is for you,” she said. “What I can tell you is that I come into this office every day laser-focused on the best interests of District 1 residents. I am not here to line my own pockets, or as part of a self-promotional business. … I don’t believe in back-room meetings and I don’t owe favors to cronies or corporations. … Sadly, local races have recently become big money campaigns, and if a local candidate has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars, it is important to ask that candidate exactly who they are working for.”

When it comes to growth and development, Wilson said Central Florida leaders governed with the premise that all growth is good for decades. 

“Over the previous decades, Orange County’s leadership allowed deviations from the comprehensive plan resulting in a patchwork of development without adequate infrastructure,”’ she said. “In my first year of office, I was able to champion increased impact fees to ensure developers pay for the burden felt on our roads, schools and emergency services. 

“Even with the increased impact fees, we are years behind in our infrastructure investment,” she said. “When I entered office, we were rapidly losing undeveloped land needed to mitigate flooding and provide refuge for displaced wildlife. I am proud to have passed a budget reinvestment in conservation lands when we updated our Green PLACE Program in 2021. I furthered a revised wetland protection ordinance and a tree protection ordinance in an effort to find some balance during the development process. Early in my first year, I heard from residents their concerns about flooding and standing water in typically dry places, so I advocated for a stormwater management update. My goal is making sure our stormwater retention and treatment accounts for the growth and loss of natural soil absorption. I am currently working on a process to create stormwater treatment that mimics the natural processes of wetlands. All the while, I am pushing for a low impact development manual that incentivizes development projects that follow environmentally friendly regulations.”

The environment has been a driving force in Wilson’s work. Since entering office, she has championed a more protective fertilizer ordinance to better protect waterways from runoff; advanced an updated dock permitting process to better protect shorelines; and advocated for a more protective tree protection ordinance to stop the mass clearing of tree canopy. 

She also pushed for a full revision of the Wetland Conservation Code and brought forward the need to revise the Environmental Protection Commission to eliminate the conflicts of interest in the permitting process. 

“All my efforts give us more tools to prevent the degradation of our environment as we continue to grow,” she said. “The environmental policy changes that I have been working on don’t always make headlines, but they are critical for the health and safety of all Orange County residents. No one survives without clean air and water.”

When it comes to tourism in the area and the work done by the Tourist Development Task Citizen Advisory Task Force, Wilson believes the TDT undertook a difficult job in recommending how to best use hundreds of millions of unencumbered tourist tax revenue. She said members of the task force expressed frustration with the process and the limits they were given in looking at uses for revenue. 

“I think we all benefited from the public discourse that transpired throughout the task force meetings and believe we learned some valuable lessons,” she said. “I turned to my residents during this process and asked them to reach out to let me know what they thought about the use of TDT and the recommended uses by the task force. What I heard overwhelmingly was a sense of frustration about tax dollars being used to subsidize private industry in a county with so many other needs. Residents described needs that would also benefit the tourism industry but were not considered by the task force because they were limited by the evaluation rubric and statutory limits. Tourists rely on our roads, on our law enforcement and fire rescue. They add to our landfill and they consume our drinking water but those infrastructure uses couldn’t even be discussed during the process. I strongly believe this funding should be used to improve the infrastructure needed by our tourists and residents. I will continue to advocate for statutory changes that allow local areas to spend their tax revenue for local needs. I will also always advocate for our smaller cultural and historic treasures who are constantly struggling to get funding. They benefit the community but also draw tourists from around the world and should be supported. I will continue to ask the difficult questions when it comes to changing the way these funds can be allocated.”

Wilson said her relationships with Orange County Public Schools leadership, administrators and teachers has been a huge benefit during her time serving as a commissioner.

Wilson was instrumental in bringing the stadium back to Windermere High School and has worked with several principals and the Orange County Sheriff’s Office to facilitate safer drop-off and pick up, school crossings and walkable, bike-able access for students. 

When it comes to the future of the east-west connector, Wilson said she has worked hard to forge a good relationship with her Lake County counterpart, and the two meet quarterly to discuss issues that impact their respective districts. 

“There will be multiple connections to State Road 27 in the coming years, including the completion of New Independence Parkway, Flemings Road and the Wellness Way project,” she said. “I am a strong voice for our residents as these projects progress to make sure their concerns are addressed, and that their safety and quality of life are preserved and protected.”


Although Austin Arthur was born and raised in South Florida, he moved to the West Orange County area with his brother, Zander, 15 years ago. 

Once settled into the area, he knew he would never leave. 

“My wife, Kellie, was born and raised here in West Orange, and we are raising our three children here,” he said. “We absolutely love it here and never plan to leave.”

Arthur was a firefighter paramedic who said he always had a passion for business. 

In 2012, he and his brother launched a marketing firm, Stars and Stripes Marketing Services, which they still run today in Winter Garden. 

In 2014, the brothers opened another business, Gymnastics USA, also in Winter Garden. 

“Along the way, we have had several businesses, including a software company, named after my late father, which was successfully acquired two years ago,” Arthur said. “Business became thriving to the point where I could no longer also do my role as a firefighter paramedic, so I stayed focused on the businesses and I still am involved in leading our marketing firm today.”

Arthur said he has always had a heart for the community and for helping others, so he began to give back and volunteer his time for charitable causes. 

He serves on many community service boards, including the West Orange Habitat for Humanity, Challenge 22 to End Veteran Suicide, West Orange Scholarship Foundation, Eight Waves Children and Family Services, and the Winter Garden Architectural Review and Historic Preservation Board.

“It was through my service with these organizations that I realized we have a serious leadership crisis in Orange County Government,” he said. “I began to see many alarming deficiencies, and so I started to urge friends to run for commissioner in our district, but I kept being asked in return if I would do it. Eventually, I decided to take on the task myself.”

Arthur believes Orange County has a lot of challenging issues. 

“I believe Orange County has become bureaucrat-heavy and needs a haircut,” he said. “We need to approach things with a common sense, business mindset rather than a political one. We also need leadership that is community-driven, but one cannot understand the will of the community unless you are actively engaged in the community.”

Arthur believes what’s currently happening throughout Orange County Government is not working. 

“This is evidenced by the fact that we have the mayors of Winter Garden, Ocoee, Oakland and Apopka all endorsing this effort,” he said. “We also have every council member of Windermere endorsing the campaign. In total, we have almost 25 various current and former elected leaders who have endorsed. It is not just electeds (who) are supporting my candidacy. We see people volunteering and even financially giving to the campaign that have never done either of those things in their life. … People are hungry for something new at the county level, and many of them feel I am the best candidate for the job during such a time as this.”

Arthur believes the growth in District 1 is profound, especially in Horizon West.

“We are all feeling the pressure,” he said. “While acknowledging certain land-usage rights exist, growth cannot be unchecked — especially without regarding the ability for our schools and infrastructure to sustain the increase in population and traffic. If we do not have an ‘infrastructure-first’ mindset, the residents lose. At the same time, we have a supply-and-demand issue when it comes to housing. The housing market needs more supply online to meet demand and to bring housing prices and rental prices down, so (as) to become affordable for our residents. People (who) have lived in West Orange their whole lives are finding that their children and grandchildren are becoming priced out of the communities they helped to build. This is why the commissioner must work with everyone involved in the subject of development toward solutions.”

When it comes to the environment, Arthur plans to focus on promoting native species, prioritizing bodies of water, preserving tree canopy areas and protecting green space. 

“The president of the Oakland Nature Preserve, Rick Polland, has been an inspiration to me on how we can intersect preservation with governance as he is also a commissioner for the town of Oakland,” he said. “As a commissioner, he was one of the first elected officials to endorse the campaign, and I am grateful to partner with him and to have his knowledge and wisdom as a resource. As a member of Friends of Lake Apopka, I have learned that when residents stand up for our God-given natural environment, we can do powerful things together. Jim Thomas, the founder of FOLA, began a mission decades ago that has led to tremendous restoration of Lake Apopka and showed us how to engage residents and government to not only protect what we hold dear but, as in the case of the lake, restore it. I seek to stand on the shoulders of these giants as we focus on local environmental restoration and conservation.”

Arthur believes the community needs more business in the tourism industry, not less. He thinks there is a need to be clear with residents about how TDT dollars can be legally used in the county. 

“We must acknowledge the work of powerful advocates who have helped to surpass expectations year after year, such as with Visit Orlando, whose expert marketing and promotion of our area has benefited residents by bolstering our economy,” he said. “Not only through direct job opportunities but also indirect benefits through economic growth of the area. This helps to grow small businesses and offers many other prospects to residents trying to work their way through a high-rent and high-interest rate economy. This past year, we saw a lot of misdirection regarding the subject coming from our commission, and the only thing it was successful in doing was confusing and dividing people. Let’s promote our economy and not bite the hand that feeds. I am unashamedly pro-business and I am pro-tourism because it feeds our economy, which helps to feed all of us and provides the foundation for economic diversification.”

Arthur said if the Orange County School Board is not working well in partnership with the county and the local municipalities, the residents lose. He said it’s critical to have a good relationship with the School Board members, and he already has begun the process with OCPS Board Member Alicia Farrant endorsing his campaign. 

“It is critical that our School Board stay focused on ensuring education within our schools and that kids are in a safe environment — not in overcrowded environments or sitting inside vulnerable portables,” he said. “The Orange County Commission must work together with OCPS to ensure the right number of schools are available before the overcrowding occurs — not always racing to catch up.” 

Arthur believes the Lake County Government has done a tremendous job partnering strongly with CFX to make the east-west connector happen. 

“However, the sad thing is that there have been other connectivity solutions which were teed up by a prior commissioner and they have lingered without support for the past few years,” he said. “Those connections could provide much-needed routes supporting relief for congestion and greater public safety access in both Orange and Lake counties. These additional solutions include non-toll road options such as with Sawgrass Bay Boulevard, which ends just 100 feet away from Orange County’s Flemings Road. Currently, the connection is approved but is slated to take two years to complete. CFX is scheduled to be done with their $500 million, 5-mile, highway project in only two years. Which begs the question, ‘Why do we need the same amount of time to connect 100 feet in Orange County?’ 

“This connection needs to be prioritized by the District 1 commissioner who should work with staff to get it done faster,” he said. “Two years for 100 feet is unacceptable; our residents need traffic relief now. … I am excited that I have already begun a relationship with members of the Lake County Commission, resulting in both Commissioner Sean Parks and Commissioner Josh Blake endorsing our campaign. The commissioners and I are chomping at the bit to coordinate … to get connectivity and other shared issues resolved, in partnership between our two counties. When you do not have a partnership mentality in leadership, the residents lose. I am tired of the residents in District 1 Orange County losing.”


Pam Gould has lived in the Windermere area of West Orange County for 23 years. 

She and her husband, John, raised their two boys in the area.

For more than 20 years, Gould said she has had the privilege to work on many “big issues.”

“Success was achieved because I built engagement, consensus and fostered collaboration,” she said. “I’ve held executive leadership roles at Orlando Health, Health Central/Health Central Foundation, Island One Resorts, Dave’s House, and from 2010 to 2019, owning my own business. I managed various projects for The Healthy West Orange Arts & Heritage Center at the Town of Oakland, Lakeside Behavioral Health, ARDA International Foundation, Garden Theatre, West Orange Chamber of Commerce and Winter Garden Heritage Foundation.”

Most recently, Gould retired as CEO of Shepherd’s Hope after expanding its presence and service within the West Orange County community. 

She was elected to the Orange County School Board in 2012. 

During her tenure, Gould has been instrumental in advancing the opening of 14 new schools, two rebuilds and multiple comprehensive campus improvements; has increased career and technical certifications and training; expanded work-study opportunities for exceptional students; started Generation WOW; participated in an exclusive Guidewell Mental Health Think Tank which resulted in her introducing mental health first-aid training to the school district; increased guidance counselors and mental health services; and championed the electrocardiogram screenings that are now required for high school students wishing to participate in athletic programs, band and ROTC. 

“Twelve years ago, I was asked by a group of community leaders to run for the School Board,” she said. “ As part of the executive leadership at Health Central, I had the privilege to be the executive in charge of the School Nurse Program. We developed a model for funding and support that engaged OCPS, the business community and the educational community through the Health Central Foundation to fully fund registered nurses in 21 schools. That experience proved the impact of strategic collaboration between public, private and not-for-profit can work and be sustainable. I wanted to see this model duplicated. I knew I had the skills to apply my business acumen and common-sense strategic approach to the board.”

Gould wants to represent District 1 because she was asked and has been called to continue her service. 

“My leadership experience, public service and community involvement have armed me with the tools to build on my success in solving big issues,” she said. “I have a unique gift for facilitating collaboration between public, private and grassroots organizations and identifying resources to accomplish big things.”

Gould said experience in solving big issues counts, and her perspective has come from leading not-for-profits, health care, and hospitality companies and her public service, all during the most challenging growth, social and health issues in the community’s history. 

“I … cannot stand by when something needs to get done,” she said. “I understand the landscape of District 1, managing its growth and the importance of preserving our character. I have the unique resume of being a community activist, recognized business leader and public servant. My long-term leadership role on the West Orange Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors has provided experience in managing the impact of county-level decisions on our municipalities and business community. Through broad engagement, we can go far and make sure we make the right decisions for our district.”

In terms of growth and development, Gould believes the county can do better identifying the stakeholders to advance alternative funding sources when local funding falls short. This includes working with developers to plan roads, parks, amenities, trail advancements and connected bike paths. 

“Our children and families are crossing busy streets and highways, and there’s not enough pedestrian safety being incorporated into rapid development nor are old infrastructures being fully maintained or improved,” she said. “What’s gone well is we have had municipalities with vision and landowners that jointly created master plans before selling private property. Sure, it needs tweaks and updates, but that strategic foresight is directly responsible for not allowing crazy sprawl like we experience around us that haven’t been master-planned.

“However, there are areas in our district where there isn’t a master plan overlay,” Gould said. “As a result, we have roads that can’t handle the volume of traffic from all the new multifamily housing that’s been developed. We need attainable housing, but backfill without a master plan has compromised our communities and caused increased congestion and water management challenges. District 1 residents need to have easy access to everyday needs (such as) health care, groceries and getting to work. Currently, that’s difficult in some of our areas. We need fewer reactionary responses and more advanced planning. Problems can be solved through partnerships, not government acting in a vacuum. The only way to rapidly achieve results is to engage businesses, stakeholders, neighbors and non-traditional resources to diversify our economy, increase road and pedestrian safety, and preserve our natural resources while managing the projected growth for Central Florida.”

Regarding the environment, Gould said water management is a huge issue, with tremendous effects of runoff on the lakes and road flooding. 

“We have flooding issues in Gotha, Dr. Phillips and various neighborhoods that need to be addressed locally and at the state and federal levels,” she said. “We need to explore all the advances available to manage those floodways and ensure they are unobstructed, and we have high-quality filtration including use of preservation of natural resources. The lack of management is causing havoc. As we see storm intensity increase, our challenges become greater. 

“While water is an issue, it’s also our biggest asset — our beautiful lakes,” she said. “We’ve invested so much in restoring and preserving Lake Apopka and the surrounding chain of lake systems, but we haven’t been coordinated enough in educating all the new arrivals. As part of managing growth, preserving natural resources must be in the plan. Advancing our parks, preserves and recreational spaces is essential to the quality of life and long-term value of our properties. What’s gone right, beyond the preservation and restoration of Lake Apopka, is the creation of the West Orange Trail and the plans to connect to it. We need interagency and grassroots to focus on completing these connections.”

Gould values the input from the TDT task force, as she believes the group helped to improve the residents’ understanding of TDT.

“It’s a complex issue that is not easily understood without reviewing state statutes and allowable uses,” she said. “Stakeholder and public input is always a good outcome. The convening of the task force highlighted the requirements for that money and helped our community appreciate the real risk of losing that investment in our local economy. If this revenue is not managed well, it could be lost from local control. I would have liked to have heard more details on how the current process for the TDT funds seeded past grants for local arts and cultural institutions. In our community, key funding via TDT supporting county grants has funded the Garden Theatre and the Winter Garden Heritage Museum, as well as all kinds of art projects, from choral groups to murals. A deep dive needs to be done into how maintaining the core tourism venue projects can create more recurring revenue to keep grants flowing for cultural projects. I’d like to see more discussion on TDT's 5-year trajectory and how it benefits our tourism sector and cultural enhancements. I would like to explore statute changes that allow the offset of additional infrastructure resources in the tourism corridor if industry stakeholders agree it is needed. This could add support for police, fire, and waste management during peak tourism periods. There is a mechanism in place to fund some of these things through TDT today, but it requires that 40% of the overall pot be spent on tourism promotion first.”

Gould knows firsthand how important it is for School Board members and county commissioners to be aligned. 

If elected, she said she would reinstitute collaborative work sessions and regular updates with local municipalities and the West Orange Chamber of Commerce.

“Working together on advanced planning, we were able to ensure there were adequate lights and sidewalks in a 2-mile radius around the schools for walkers and bike riders along with light synchronization and road improvements throughout,” she said.

Gould plans to continue the collaboration with Lake County when it comes to the east-west connector by further developing the relationships between chambers of commerce, county commissions, the Department of Transportation and the Expressway Authority. 

“Early planning had a model that came out of convening the West Orange Chamber and the Central Florida Expressway Authority,” she said. “Convening the stakeholders and maximizing public-private partnerships will create new opportunities to adequately plan artery roads that maximize our residents’ ability to get where they need while minimizing the impact of traffic on neighbors.”



Annabelle Sikes

News Editor Annabelle Sikes was born in Boca Raton and moved to Orlando in 2018 to attend the University of Central Florida. She graduated from UCF in May 2021 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a minor in sociology. Her past journalism experiences include serving as a web producer at the Orlando Sentinel, a reporter at The Community Paper, managing editor for NSM Today, digital manager at Centric Magazine and as an intern for the Orlando Weekly.

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