Winter Garden mayor, commissioners endorse Iliana Jones over incumbent

It seems the entire Winter Garden City Commission — minus the incumbent — wants a change at the District 2 seat.

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For the first time in Winter Garden’s history, the entire sitting City Commission is endorsing a challenger over the sitting incumbent.

Winter Garden Mayor John Rees and commissioners Lisa Bennett, Colin Sharman and Mark Maciel all have endorsed Iliana R. Jones over incumbent Ron Mueller in her bid for the District 2 seat. 

Danny “DJ” Culberson also is vying for the seat.

“Iliana is a qualified and dependable community leader who has been giving back for years,” Rees said. “She cares about people and will be an effective city commissioner. I am pleased to endorse Iliana for the City Commission.”

Added Bennett: “Iliana is the type of leader we need on the City Commission. She leads by serving others. When there is a need in the community, Iliana steps up. I am proud to endorse her for the City Commission, District 2.”

The endorsements come after the City Commission voted in a special meeting Jan. 26 not to hold a forfeiture hearing for Mueller following discussions related to potential violations of the City Charter. Those violations stemmed from evidence that Mueller had communicated directly with city staff instead of through the city manager.

The charter states: “Except for the purpose of an investigation pursuant to this charter, the City Commission and its members shall deal with the city administrative officers and employees solely through the city manager.”

“First and foremost, it places staff in an awkward position of potential charter violation, (and) it can be interpreted as attempting to influence staff with respect to operation,” City Manager Jon C. Williams said in the special meeting. “The reality is that by putting staff in that position, it forces them, or us, to choose between doing something an elected official wants versus the majority of the commission. … Every city manager can take a different approach to commissioner and staff interactions. I will say, prior to being promoted to city manager, I, along with all of your senior staff, were put in this room and were told, in no uncertain terms, that we were not to have an interaction with a certain commissioner. And if it was found that we did that, then we would be fired.”

Jones said she is honored to receive the endorsements from the sitting City Commission.

“I am humbled to earn the endorsements of Mayor Rees and commissioners Bennett, Sharman and Maciel,” she said. “I have great respect for each of them and for their dedication of time and professionalism on behalf of the residents of Winter Garden. Each of them serves because they genuinely care about Winter Garden. They do not earn a retirement and receive a nominal stipend of $600 per month.”

Jones is the co-owner and chief financial officer of Empire Finish Systems, a Winter Garden-based company. She currently serves on boards the Winter Garden Architectural Review and Historic Preservation; Bloom and Grow Garden Society; Winter Garden Heritage Foundation and West Orange Chamber of Commerce. Her charitable work has included helping veterans move into debt-free homes through Home at Last, Eight Waves in East Winter Garden, Lift Disability Network, and Legacy of Hope for abused and abandoned children.



Michael Eng

As a child, Editor and Publisher Michael Eng collected front pages of the Kansas City Star during Operation Desert Storm, so it was a foregone conclusion that he would pursue a career in journalism. He holds a journalism degree from the University of Missouri — Columbia School of Journalism. When he’s not working, you can find him spending time with his wife and three children, or playing drums around town. He’s also a sucker for dad jokes.

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