Mayor denies two outstanding citizens
In my opinion, it is a sad reflection on the leadership of the city of Winter Park when two outstanding citizens do not get appointed to the boards they applied for. Both Margie Bridges and Michael Dick have the expertise to serve on Historic Preservation and Planning and Zoning, respectively. Margie has always worked for historic preservation, served three years on planning and zoning and most recently as city commissioner. Michael reapplied for P&Z on which he has served with diligence and fairness. He has also served on the Tree Preservation Board.
It should be an honor to have these outstanding citizens appointed to these boards. I call Mayor Ken Bradley’s decision to deny them these positions disgraceful, political and divisive.
Mayor is misinformed
On Monday, May 9, the Winter Park City Commission considered appointments to the city boards. Two items of interest: one board member reapplied to fill a second term of his seat on the Board of Adjustment and Mayor Ken Bradley refused his application stating that it was because he had sued the city over a roof sign on Orange Avenue. The mayor was corrected that it was in fact another citizen suing. This board member was the only vote against allowing the sign, which triggered the lawsuit. The mayor then proceeded to malign the character of one of the most upstanding public servants Winter Park has ever had, former Commissioner Margie Bridges, stating she has violated Sunshine Laws. He refused to state specifics when asked by another commissioner. So much for civility. If the mayor of Winter Park is this misinformed about citizens applying for volunteer board positions, what else is he misinformed about?
A call for action by the silent majority
As citizens across the Middle East rise in protest against long-term entrenched rulers and clamor for democratic governments, Winter Park citizens have been moving in the opposite direction and abdicating their most precious right in a representative democracy — the right to vote for the candidates and policies of their choice. Elected officials, supported by only a small minority of eligible voters and a narrow mandate, are making decisions that affect all citizens. These decisions have the potential to reverse longstanding government processes, traditions and community preservation measures, mute dissent, and facilitate special interest groups’ influencing the voting decisions of elected officials.
For the five most recent Winter Park municipal elections, except in 2008, all elected officials have received the votes of less than 20 percent of eligible voters. The current mayor of Winter Park received less than 18 percent of eligible voter support, representing 3,400 votes, when he was elected to the office in 2009.
Proposed and implemented actions by the current City Commission subsequent to Winter Park’s March 2011 municipal election and the election of two new commissioners include:
• Proposed ordinance to change existing city laws on Citizen Advisory Boards to:
Enable Planning and Zoning Board members, who have had to address community divisive issues, to be removed at the sole option of the mayor with the consent of the majority of the commissioners. Historically, permitted removal was only for cause.
Establish uniform membership for each board irrespective of the complexity or volume of issues to be addressed.
Permit non-residents to be able to serve on the Citizen Advisory Boards.
• Proposed ordinance to increase the hours during which alcohol can be served in the Hannibal Square area, overseen by Winter Park’s Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA). The CRA, dating from 1991, was established in part to combat the proliferation of bars in the area and resulting crime and to ensure the community’s residents a safe and peaceful living environment.
• Appointment of newly elected commissioner Steve Leary as vice mayor. Mr. Leary has had no prior experience as a member of Winter Park’s City Commission or as a member of one of the city’s Citizens Advisory Boards. A more logical choice, if one were an apostle of good government, would have been the selection of either of the two more seasoned commissioners, Carolyn Cooper or Tom McMacken.
• Approval of the Economic Development Plan Objectives including:
The assurance that workforce housing is available as a means of promoting and enhancing community character, a measure that appears to promote the well-being of Winter Park’s large employers such as Winter Park Memorial Hospital and Rollins College and not necessarily community character.
The hiring of outside consultants to vet the city’s current land use codes that could potentially impact the development of new business. The current land-use codes are the result of an extensive recent review by long-term members of the Winter Park community.
Omission of any goal to promote either cultural tourism or historic preservation, both of which have given Winter Park a special patina that has attracted new residents and businesses to the city and tourists visiting from around the world.
These agenda items that are being pursued by the new City Commission should hopefully give pause to many of the eligible voters who did not think it was necessary to exercise their right as a citizen to vote in Winter Park’s most recent election.
Although many citizens who did not cast their vote might currently favor what is being proposed, a time will come when their candidates are not elected. With the weakening of checks and balances embodied by the new proposals, citizens in the future will be less able to be heard and shape desired legislation. By not voting today, these citizens are ceding control over the future political direction and governmental processes of the city of Winter Park. It is time for the silent majority to stand up and be heard to ensure that the city of Winter Park is governed for the benefit of all its citizens and not for that of a select minority.