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Fond farewell

Isaac Babcock

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Two Winter Park City Commissioners described by colleagues as "very different" in their approach to legislating will end their terms Monday.

Both Margie Bridges and Karen Diebel are at the end of their first terms in office. Both had chosen to end their tenure on the Commission without seeking re-election.

But that's where the similarities end for the two Commissioners, who have vastly differing plans for their next step out of office.

Bridges leaves the city 'in good hands'

Bridges had promised to only run for one term in office when she campaigned in 2007.

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Margie Bridges

Despite calls from friends and supporters to run for re-election, Bridges chose to stick with her promise.

"My husband has been retired for a number of years," she said. "He wants to spend that time with me, and I want to spend that time with him. I have a 30-year marriage and I'm more interested in being still married this time next year."

The City Commission did "a lot of heavy lifting" during Bridges' three-year term in office, as she worked with the City Commission to make broad changes to the Comprehensive Plan, City Charter and CRA.

Often cast in the role of a consensus builder or swing vote on the five-member Commission, Bridges said her position made her seek a middle ground on as many issues as she could to maintain unity on the Commission.

"I've served with two mayors and always pleaded my case to try to find supporters for my viewpoint and tried to build consensus when I couldn't necessarily bring people around to my way of thinking," Bridges said.

Her diligence in researching issues earned respect from other members of the Commission.

"She always came prepared," fellow Commissioner Beth Dillaha said. "She always did her homework.

I always appreciated the time and effort."

That effort helped lead to the first successful amendment to the Comprehensive Plan in more than 10 years. Bridges saw that process through to the end, starting with a Commission that at the time included Mayor David Strong and Commissioners John Eckbert and Doug Metcalf. Changes to the mayor and Commission happened midway through the process, but Bridges helped the final push that saw the plan sent to Tallahassee.

"I'm very proud of all of the effort that went into passing the Comprehensive Plan," Bridges said.

Though that plan may help determine the shape and governance of the city for years to come, Bridges said she's even more proud of some forward-thinking budgeting that spared the city financial heartache during the ongoing recession.

"I'm very proud of the fact that the commissions that I've served on have worked to streamline our budgets in anticipation of economic challenges that are unprecedented," Bridges said. "We still maintained services, our phenomenally recognized library, park maintenance, paving schedules for our roads and still brought in all our utility projects that aren't pretty but need to be done."

Despite her term ending on the Commission, she said she hopes to continue with a project she has worked for years to see through — the inclusion of Winter Park on the national register of historic places.

"It's the collection of our whole historic downtown that's one of the elements that makes Winter Park so special," Bridges said. "I'm very excited that we've started that process to designate that on the historic register."

She said she's hoping to land on the Historic Preservation Board when Mayor Ken Bradley makes his new appointments in May.

Until then, her thoughts are set on greener pastures, spending more time with her husband, and working on a home they own in North Carolina.

In her stead, she said the city will be in good hands, regardless of what the future holds.

"The citizens of Winter Park are involved, they're engaged and they're caring," she said.

"I really think the city will be in good hands because we have so many passionate, concerned citizens."

Diebel running for Congress

Diebel has her sights set high. After her first term in public office, she's bypassing county and state office and campaigning for Congress.

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Diebel

During her three years on the City Commission, she left her mark as a staunch supporter of the SunRail system, which passed through the state Legislature in December.

That may have proven one of the most divisive issues during the last three years, as factions took sides either supporting Winter Park's inclusion in a rail funding agreement with Orange County or deriding it as being too risky or expensive.

Diebel continued to push for the system against some strong opposition on the Commission.

"We shouldn't go against the will of the voters," Diebel said. "I've supported this because the voters supported it."

Within the city she worked to increase efficiency in the budget, which at times helped bridge gaps between herself and Commissioners Dillaha and Phil Anderson. Those gaps were vast on some issues, many beginning from the outset of Diebel's term, Dillaha said.

"I think she was very true to abiding by the wishes of her campaign contributors," Dillaha said.

Despite differences of opinion on the Commission, the quintet rallied to tighten the budget and avoid cutting services.

"Commissioner Diebel was a champion of making sure our tax structure was as low as possible," Bradley said.

Both Commissioners Bridges and Diebel survived the pressure of public office well, Bradley said, operating in what Bridges said was one of the most economically difficult times in the city's history.

"I don't think anybody else knows what it's like until you're up here," Bradley said. "These ladies have served gracefully."