Winter Park City Commission candidates Greg Seidel and Wes Naylor squared off once again before an audience of students and residents at a debate last Wednesday at Rollins College – the latest look at where each prospective Commissioner stands on the issues.
Incumbent Greg Seidel and challenger Wes Naylor were asked early on about infrastructure in the city and what gaps they would look to fix as Commissioner.
Naylor said his highest priorities included creating a “strong IT backbone,” improving traffic flow and preserving the city’s tree canopy.
“I think a big part of protecting our infrastructure is protecting our tree canopy, making sure we’re doing that correctly,” Naylor said. “That is a part of the charm, that is a part of the infrastructure in Winter Park. The parks are a part of the infrastructure of Winter Park, and we have to make sure that we’re resourcing them appropriately and monitoring that resourcing … so that the investments we’re making today do pay off and that we do not get in a situation where large groups of Oaks are dying at the same time.”
Seidel said his priorities are similar, focusing on improving traffic throughout the city and moving the power line undergrounding program forward – an effort that would allow trees to freely grow by eliminating the need for V-shaped cuts in the branches.
“By trade I’m a civil engineer and some people might even call me a ‘nerd’ because I get into the details of what’s actually being done,” Seidel said. “When we look at the infrastructure needs within the city, one thing I tell people is I do these plans for the DOT. I do these plans for Orange County. I do this plans for local governments. … All the details that have to go into that are something that you really need to understand so you can understand how to make the big picture work and you can understand how to get things done.”
Switching to the theme of Rollins College, both candidates were asked for their take on the role of education in Winter Park and how it can be improved.
“Much of Winter Park was built around Rollins College, it really is a genesis of the city,” Naylor said. “Education and learning are absolutely essential to what Winter Park is.”
“We’re not a school board and we don’t run the schools of Winter Park, so when you get to that education point there’s not much control … but it comes to the point of how we enable their success. How do we look into our community and partner with technology firms and make STEM a priority?”
Seidel said that raising his children in local schools like the Winter Park Day Nursery all the way up to Winter Park High School has given him a good perspective of the local school system.
“Winter Park residents highly value education – it’s shown in how good our schools are,” Seidel said.
“Education starts at a younger age. On the Commission I pushed for increasing funding for not just the Winter Park Day Nursery, but also the Welbourne Day Nursey. I think my future starts with my kids, and when I say ‘my kids,’ I mean ‘our kids.’”
Sustainability in Winter Park was also brought up when Naylor and Seidel were asked what can be done to improve the city’s efforts.
“Covanta is a company that burns waste to produce energy,” Seidel said.
“Is it completely green? No it’s not, but it is about sustainability because we’re not putting things in the landfills anymore. When we started our new waste collection, we put some flexibility in there so that if there is a way for us to get our waste to Covanta in the future … Winter Park would be burning our own waste to create electricity we could then buy back.”
But Naylor said sustainability is much more than just an effort here and there – it takes recruiting the right people to keep an initiative going.
“Sustainability, as we’re talking about long-term vision, has got to be at the core of what we’re doing,” Naylor said. “When I became associated with the doctoral program here at Rollins, one of the first projects I got involved with was a paper talking about how you sustain sustainability, because that’s the real question. Everyone is familiar with companies that for show start an effort but then it’s quickly abandoned.”
“In order for a sustainability initiative to sustain, there has to be good businesses behind it.”
One of the last questions of the night regarded the ongoing controversy of the ever-changing west side of Winter Park. The traditionally African-American community has seen rampant development, eating away at single-family neighborhoods that have existed for decades.
Winter Park resident Lurlene Fletcher questioned the candidates on how they could preserve the character of the west side.
“It’s your house, it’s your heritage and Winter Park is blessed to have a tremendous heritage on the west side and how it’s interacted with the city,” Naylor said. “One of the things that we haven’t really seen – and perhaps this is one of the places again that Rollins can help you with – is having a conversation about, as development occurs, how do we help preserve that heritage that’s so much a part of Winter Park.”
Seidel said a meeting between developers and the residents of the west side needs to happen so that all sides can find a compromise moving forward.
“What I’m trying to do there is bring the sides together instead of five Commissioners debating what’s best for the west side, so let’s let the property owners and the residents talk about it and see what they come up with and bring that plan forward to us,” Seidel said.
“Since I got elected, the west side has been the most contentious issue at the Commission meetings when development comes up. I’m looking to bring everyone together to set expectations, have a grown-up discussion about it, and determine what’s the best path forward.”
The two candidates will meet for another debate at noon on March 10 in the Winter Park Public Library Community Room. Residents will cast their votes in the general election on March 14.