We are only a few short months from the 2024 elections, and although the presidential elections will surely steal the headlines throughout the country, in West Orange County, there are plenty of municipal elections that will have a day-to-day impact on our communities.
With the ballots set in the towns and cities of this portion of Orange County, voters will have the chance to elect a new mayor in Oakland; vote in a special election to fill the empty District 4 commission seat in Ocoee; and elect two commissioners in Winter Garden — districts 2 and 3.
To get you ready for the March 19 elections, here is what you need to know about the 2024 municipal elections in West Orange County.
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City of Ocoee
Ocoee voters living in District 4 will be tasked with choosing a representative for the next year — the remaining time on former District 4 Commissioner George Oliver III’s term.
Oliver vacated the seat in 2023 to run for the city’s mayoral seat against incumbent and eventual winner Rusty Johnson.
Since April 2023, the seat has been filled by interim Commissioner Ages Hart, but a special election will be held in March for voters to elect a successor to Oliver until the term expires in 2025. Voters then will vote for District 4 commissioner for a full four-year term.
Although there was a heated debate that included back-and-forth between former commissioner Oliver, current members of the commission and residents of Ocoee, regarding Oliver’s qualification to be his own successor, the courts ultimately said the former commissioner did qualify to run for his old seat.
With Oliver qualifying for the special election, he will face first-time commission candidate Nate Robertson
George Oliver III
After becoming the first black elected to the Ocoee City Commission for District 4 in 2018 and winning his re-election bid in 2021, Oliver vacated his commission seat to run for Ocoee mayor.
Oliver was opposed in both of his bids for the commission seat.
In his win in 2018, Oliver defeated incumbent Joel F. Keller — who served as District 4 commissioner for the 12 years before Oliver — by a slight margin of 41 votes.
2021 saw him again defeat Keller for the seat, except this time he faced two more challengers as the incumbent — Lori Hart and Keith Richardson. With a total of 745 votes (56.18% of the popular vote), Oliver won re-election in a landslide over Keller’s 337 votes, Hart’s 208 and Richardson’s 36.
Oliver’s most recent election platforms have focused on increasing transparency at City Hall and keeping Ocoee’s leadership accountable, as well as development aimed at improving Ocoee resident’s quality of life.
Outside Oliver’s work on the commission, he also worked as a computer education teacher at Horizon West Middle School, is a U.S. Navy veteran, served as the network administrator for the National Football League’s Jacksonville Jaguars and has worked in compliance management.
READ MORE HERE ON OLIVER SAGA
Robertson, a first-time commission candidate, is focusing his election bid on three key issues — education, personal freedoms and small-business development — and is approaching his bid with a “resident-first mindset.”
Although he hasn’t held any elected office, Robertson did run for the Florida House of Representatives District 40 seat in 2022 as a Republican and lost to Democrat and Dr. Phillips High School alumnus LaVon Bracy Davis by a large margin (27,920 to 15,040).
Before running for elected office in 2022, Robertson — who holds a bachelor’s degree in biblical studies from Union University, a Baptist college in Jackson, Tennessee — worked in account and program management for pharmaceutical company RxCrossroads.
Currently, Robertson serves as the vice president of pro-life organization, Sidewalk Advocates for Life. The organization’s website lists this as its vision: “That peaceful, prayerful, loving and law-abiding sidewalk outreach be present outside every abortion and abortion-referral facility in the U.S. and beyond, redirecting all to life-affirming alternatives, thereby ending abortion.”
Town of Oakland
With the mayoral seat open, following longtime Oakland Mayor Kathy Stark’s decision to decline to seek a new term, the town of Oakland will see current Town Commissioner Salvador Ramos and Chairman of the Planning & Zoning Board Shane Taylor face off to replace Stark. Seat 2 Commissioner Michael Satterfield was unopposed, so he retains his seat.
With Ramos vacating Town Commission Seat 3, a successor will be filled by the town following the swearing-in of the new board.
In November 2015, Ramos was appointed to fill the vacant seat left behind by late Oakland Com-missioner Willie Welch and has since retained his seat since the appointment — running unopposed in the 2020 election.
The longtime Oakland resident also served over two years on the town’s Charter Review Committee before his 2015 appointment.
Along with his position as town commissioner, he serves as a board member of MetroPlan Orlando’s Municipal Advisory Committee and is an honorary board member of the Central Florida Council for the Boys Scouts of America.
He also has been involved with many other charitable or non-profit organizations, especially through his church — Mosaic Church — where he’s served as a deacon since 2007, and as a committee member of the Coalition of Churches in Oakland.
In the private sector, Ramos founded Empire Finish Systems, a construction company, with his two partners — one of whom is Iliana R. Jones, a candidate for Winter Garden District 2 commissioner — and also has received the West Orange Golden Eagle award and Best Small Business award at the Golden Orange Awards.
Taylor, the 2019 Town of Oakland Volunteer of the Year and longtime resident, has served on the town’s Planning and Zoning Board since 2013 and began serving as the board’s chair in 2017.
In the private sector, Taylor works for the Dr. Phillips Foundation in construction and development and has been one of the key people involved in the development of the Packing District project near Downtown Orlando.
City of Winter Garden
There will be two commission seats on the ballot during the 2024 municipal elections in the city of Winter Garden.
For the District 2 seat, Danny “DJ” Culberson Jr. and Iliana R. Jones will face embattled incumbent Ron Mueller — who will face a forfeiture hearing in January after the commission recently ruled to hold a forfeiture hearing on three alleged city charter violations.
Chloe Johnson and Karen McNeil will run to fill the seat left vacant by District 3 incumbent Mark A. Maciel, who withdrew after qualifying, while District 4 Commissioner Colin Sharman is unopposed in his re-election bid, so his seat will not be on the ballot.
DISTRICT 2 CANDIDATES
Mueller is facing a forfeiture hearing in January after the commission voted 4-1 to proceed with investigating three charges of alleged violations of the city’s charter regarding Sunshine Laws — regulations requiring public disclosure of government agency meetings and records, to promote and maintain transparency among public officials.
The three charges are from Article II, Section 14 of the City Charter. Specifically, the violations Mueller is being charged with are: Allegedly requesting the removal of city staff members, who report to the city manager; working with city staff members without solely going through the city manager; and giving orders to members of the city staff.
The incumbent has called these accusations “nothing more than just political rhetoric” and a “political stunt here to push something at the election time that is unwarranted and unfounded from the information.”
Mueller’s list of commission accomplishments over his time as an elected official includes saving residents $2,551,750 in liens, penalties and interest left behind by previous Oakland Park developers; approving the repaving of all the streets and repairing or replacing the aging storm drain system at Valencia Shores; and being a part of the effort to stop the construction of the turnpike ramp at Avalon Road, which Mueller said would have worsened traffic in the area.
Mueller said his focus in office will be five-fold: Annexation of land and roads that are under Orange County jurisdiction; an economic model that emphasizes balanced distribution of economic resources among three tiers — the investor, consumer and labor tiers; integrating more green space elements in Winter Garden; continued efforts to execute the comprehensive plan on Plant and Dillard streets; and a continued focus on creating “Hallmark moments.”
READ MORE HERE ON MUELLER SAGA
Danny “DJ” Culberson Jr.
Culberson’s campaign platform is committed to implementing several components while remaining financially responsible and not burdening residents with more taxes.
He proposes strategically leveraging the city of Winter Garden’s reserve balance to do so.
His plan in office would be to improve the city worker-to-resident ratio, invest in youth leadership and life skills programs, support small businesses and local downtown businesses, and help enable the growth of the city’s summer and day camp offerings.
Outside of his bid for the commission, Culberson has a broad background in restaurant management at the corporate level and currently, he is a corporate account manager for chemical manufacturing company Ecolab.
Iliana R. Jones
Jones is again trying to make history by becoming the first Latina to sit on the Winter Garden commission after running for the District 2 seat in 2021 and losing to Mueller by a narrow margin of 66 votes.
The co-owner and CFO of Empire Finish Systems, a construction company she owns with her brother, Oakland Commissioner Salvador Ramos, Jones is a graduate of USF and serves as a board member of the Winter Garden’s Architectural Review & Historic Preservation Board, West Orange Political Alliance, West Orange Chamber of Commerce and Winter Garden Heritage Association.
Her election platform focuses on three key issues: Family, low density and local charm. Jones’ focus is to keep Winter Garden a family-friendly city that grows in a way that maintains its low-density and charm-filled nature.
DISTRICT 3 CANDIDATES
After incumbent Mark A. Maciel withdrew from the election following qualifying, he chose to endorse Johnson as the candidate he would support in the race for District 3 Commissioner.
Along with Maciel, Winter Garden District 1 Commissioner Lisa Bennett and former District 3 Commissioner Harold Bouler also have endorsed Johnson for the seat. Johnson’s platform for the election is based on three key elements: She wants to keep Winter Garden family-friendly, with safe neighborhoods, while maintaining its low-density charm.
Along with her endorsements and platform, Johnson also has experience in the public sector in various manners.
She founded a non-profit called I Am Her, which seeks to uplift women in a positive environment. She’s also served as vice president of One Winter Garden, was a member of the Community Redevelopment Agency Advisory Board and a representative for Winter Garden on the Orange County’s Citizens Safety Task Force, and was a member of Winter Garden’s Planning & Zoning Board.
A lifelong resident of Winter Garden, McNeil has advocated for public safety, continued economic development and the preservation of historic landmarks and buildings in Winter Garden.
McNeil also has helped develop several initiatives including parenting classes, the installation of speed bumps, youth programming with a focus on skill and talent development and Single Mothers in a Learning Environment (SMILE) — a GED preparation program. She also serves on the board of VoxPopuli, a West Orange County community media outlet.
Along with her advocacy work, McNeil is the president of Fresh Start Entrepreneurs Inc. — a nonprofit that helps prepare people for business ownership — and is the owner of McNeil’s Adult Daycare.