Doesn’t matter what your position is on any of the of issues that will be addressed the afternoon and evening of Monday January 13 by the Winter Park City Commission – while we won’t suffer in silence, we will all suffer together.
Five-and-a-half Hours – Minimum
The number of minutes projected on the January 13 Agenda on the City website comes to five hours and 35 minutes. Not included in the time projections are all the preliminary stuff like the Pledge of Allegiance and the Mayor’s report, closing remarks by Commissioners and . . . Public Comment.
City Manager’s Report
Estimated at 5 minutes, this report has no fewer than 23 items on it, 10 of which are slated to happen in January. Randy Knight is good at what he does, but he’ll have to employ some advanced ‘speed-dating’ tactics to get through this one in five minutes.
Consent Agenda – Progress Point
This one – nine minutes – lists five types of items. Under “Approve the Following Contract Items” (one minute) is a contract for $89,765 to demolish the building at Progress Point. Last time this came up, the discussion lasted considerably longer than one minute.
Action Items Requiring Discussion – The Canopy
First on this list is – yep – Final Approval of The Canopy. This is the long-awaited “Guaranteed Maximum Price.” The agenda framers have allotted an hour and a half for this topic. Maybe they could get through it in 90 minutes – but only if there is no public comment. And what are the chances of that?
Public Hearings – Orange Avenue Overlay
In the grand old tradition of saving the best til last, #4 on the list of four items is The Orange Avenue Overlay – for three hours. Two ordinances, one to amend the Comprehensive Plan, and the other to amend the Land Development Code, will go through a first reading. If they are approved, they will go to Tallahassee for review and then return to Winter Park for the second and final reading in late January or early February.
The Orange Avenue Overlay concept has gone through more than 20 public meetings, workshops and walkshops. People who normally go quietly about their business have been spewing out emails and firing word-bullets back and forth for months. The pro and con camps are about evenly split, neither one is quiet, and many of them will be at this meeting.
The second 13.1 miles of the race begins here, on Orange Ave. Everyone will be tired. Perhaps it would help us to remember we are all neighbors, living together in one of the most desirable places on earth, and to treat one another accordingly.
Okay Winter Park Voters, it’s time to get our ducks in a row. This election season is off to a lively start, with four well-qualified candidates for City Commission. In the unlikely event you’ve forgotten, they are (in alpha order) Jeffrey Blydenburgh, Carl Creasman, Sheila DeCiccio and Marty Sullivan.
But wait, there’s more.
This year’s ballot is going to be chock-full of choices for you to make – from the national scene to the Winter Park City Charter to the City Commission seats alluded to above. Here are the dates on which the election process will play out. Special thanks to Charley Williams for gathering this information from the Orange County Supervisor of Elections.
Winter Park Municipal Election — March 17, 2020
February 1 – Overseas Ballots Mailed to Military Personnel posted abroad
February 6 – Vote by Mail ballots go out
February 18 – Voter Registration Deadline
February 25 – Sample ballots mailed out
Note: if you don’t vote, you lose your right to complain, a sacred privilege most Winter Parkers could not do without.
March 2 – Early Voting begins @Winter Park Public Library, every day, 10:00 am to 6:00 pm
March 7 – Deadline to request your Vote by Mail ballot
March 15 – Early voting ends
March 17 – ELECTION DAY — POLLS OPEN 7:00 am to 7:00 pm.
Winter Park municipal elections are non-partisan and open to all voters — Democrat, Republican or NPA (no party affiliation). In addition to Commission races for Seats #1 and #2, there will be 11 Charter Amendment questions on the ballot. In advance of Election Day, the Voice will publish the details. If you don’t want to wait for us, check the City website at www.cityofwinterpark.org for complete information.
If you want to Vote by Mail, you must renew your request every four years. If the last time you requested a Vote by Mail ballot was 2016 or earlier, you have until March 7 to renew your request.
If you have questions, the folks at the Orange County Elections Office are courteous and helpful. Give them a call at 407-836-2070.
Candidates for Commission Seats #1 and #2 Introduce Themselves to You, the Voters
Winter Park is fortunate to have a full slate of candidates for Commission Seats #1 and #2 being vacated by Greg Seidel and Sarah Sprinkel, who have given so generously of their time and effort over the years. While these are large shoes to fill, the candidates seeking to step in bring a wealth of civic and professional experience and accomplishment. As voters, we owe a debt of gratitude to all six people – to Greg and Sarah for their service to our City, and to the four candidates for their commitment and willingness to serve.
Jeffrey Blydenburgh – Seat #1
“It’s time to give back.”
Jeffrey and Caroline Blydenburgh have lived in Winter Park since 1997. Over the years, Blydenburgh served the community in many capacities. He was Vice Chair of the 2016 Visioning Committee, Board President at Mead Botanical Garden, 2018-19 president of Rotary and board member of the Rollins College Winter Park Institute. He also served as Vice Chair of the Jobs Partnership, a local organization that helps the working poor in our community progress to family-sustainable employment.
Blydenburgh stated as his reason for running for City Commission, “This community has given so much to us. It was time to give back. I am at a time and place in my life that I can use my skills as architect and planner to bring a creative and inclusive approach to the city commission.”
Blydenburgh wrote that, if elected, he would seek to bring a culture of listening and respect to all aspects of Winter Park’s local government. “I think residents will find me to always have an open door,” he wrote, “and be willing to hear any resident’s viewpoint and make a good judgment on their behalf.”
He cited four major questions he believes are facing Winter Park.
Civility – “We may not always agree,” he wrote, “but Everyone in Winter Park deserves respect and deserves to be heard.”
Crime – “We can have no tolerance for crime of any kind in Winter Park. When I’m a City Commissioner, I’m going to ensure that law enforcement has the resources and tools they need to keep us safe.”
Traffic – “Traffic is washing over us in Winter Park. As an architect and designer, I bring a unique perspective to this issue.”
Growth – “My rule of thumb when it comes to growth and development is – does it protect or harm the unique charm of Winter Park? Is it good for our residents – all our residents?”
His kickoff party is Sunday, January 5, 3:00 to 5:00 pm at Mead Botanical Garden.
James (Marty) Sullivan – Seat #1
“We must improve pathways of communication with citizens for greater city government transparency.”
Marty Sullivan is a fifth-generation Floridian, a Navy veteran and an environmental and geotechnical engineer. He and his wife Maura Smith have lived in their historically designated Winter Park home for 33 years. As outdoor enthusiasts, they are keenly aware of the impact humans exert on fragile Florida ecosystems and of the need for each of us to take responsibility for safeguarding the environment that sustains us.
Sullivan has served on numerous city boards, including Lakes & Waterways, Orange County Public Works Advisory Board, and as chair of the Winter Park Utilities Advisory Board during the purchase of the utilities company in the early 2000s. From 2017 – 2019, he was Statewide Natural Resources Director for the League of Women Voters.
Sullivan’s campaign is built on four pillars of integrity, commitment, experience and tradition.
Of integrity, he wrote, “I am truly independent, with no obligation to any corporation, industry, company or special interest.” He continued, “I am committed to maintaining our quality of life by addressing scaled development, protecting park lands, and our transportation hierarchy of 1) pedestrians, 2) bicycles, 3) transit and 4) private vehicles.”
“I have experience serving on numerous boards at the state, county and city levels. My professional experience includes engineering in the fields of software development, geotechnical engineering and environmental engineering.”
Finally, “As a fifth generation Floridian, I understand the importance of preserving tradition and ensuring that Winter Park remains a premier historic village.”
“Our overarching challenge,” wrote Sullivan, “is to enhance our quality of life through City government transparency by improving our pathways of communication with our citizens.”
His kickoff party is Wednesday, January 15, 6:30 pm at Mead Botanical Garden.
Carl Creasman – Seat #2
“We must confront the future with an openness that is welcoming, not exclusionary.”
Carl Creasman and his wife Kim have lived in Winter Park for 26 years. Creasman’s life’s work has been in the non-profit sector, in religious institutions and in higher education. He joined the Valencia College faculty in 2002 as a history professor. In 2013, he was elected President of the Faculty Senate for the East Campus, and the following year he became College-wide Faculty Association President. He also chaired the Winter Park Parks & Recreation Advisory Board.
Creasman has a list of things he’d like to accomplish as Commissioner in Seat #2. Foremost among them is “demonstrating principled leadership based on values and virtue, which includes listening well to others.” He wrote that he plans to, “uncover and support ‘next best step’ solutions that are strategic in nature, not only pointing the city toward 2020, but to 2070 and onward.”
In a more practical vein, he said he would like to realize the following accomplishments, if he is elected.
Support and protect greenspace by investing in and expanding our parks.
Complete the refurbishment of MLK Park, first approved in 2017.
Confront growing connectivity and traffic concerns.
Carry forward Commissioner Greg Seidel’s plan to create a city-wide traffic plan using FDOT Geographic Information System (GIS) data.
Create a city-owned transit system similar to that now on trial in Lake Nona.
Develop a master plan for the remaining years of the CRA that puts the focus on people.
“Within our city proper,” wrote Creasman, “the narrower set of questions [we face] starts with how to handle being one of the fastest growing regions in the country. Winter Park lies in the center of the region, and cars and people will continue to come.”
“Another question,” he continued, “would be whether Winter Park is taking its place as a regional leader . . . in addressing issues of public safety, of growing mental health issues and of equity in terms of accessible housing and appropriate pay for those who work in our city.”
“Finally,” he wrote, “. . . are we doing enough to protect the future charm of Winter Park, while maintaining codes and policies that will encourage businesses and entrepreneurs to flourish. If we stifle business and growth with overly restrictive rules, we risk harming our local economy.”
His kickoff party is tentatively set for January 15. Check the campaign website for time and location.
Sheila DeCiccio – Seat #2
“We are the stewards for the next generation.”
Sheila DeCiccio is an attorney, civic leader, wife and mother. She and her husband Dan have lived in Winter Park for 37 years. After a stint as Assistant District Attorney in Boston, DeCiccio moved to Orlando, where she became the first woman partner in the law firm Lowndes, Drosdick, Doster, Kantor & Reed. She completed her career as business manager for the DeCiccio & Johnson law firm in Winter Park.
DeCiccio has extensive city board experience, having served on P&Z, Code Enforcement and, currently, on Economic Development Advisory Board. Her community activities include Rotary, Winter Park Land Trust, Orlando Museum of Art’s Council of 101, Winter Park History Museum and St. Margaret Mary Catholic Church.
DeCiccio said she decided to run for office so that she could represent the residents when decisions are made at City Hall. “We are the stewards for the next generations,” she wrote, “and it’s up to us to protect our City.” She has recently retired from her legal career and is able to devote herself full-time to serving the interests of Winter Park residents.
If elected, DeCiccio pledges to advocate for wise development that is compatible with the charm and scale of Winter Park. She will work to ensure fiscal accountability and enhanced transparency within city government so residents know how and where city funds are being used. She will work to make sure the police and fire departments ae adequately staffed and funded – without raising taxes.
In answer to the question about what major questions Winter Park faces, DeCiccio describes comments and questions she has heard from citizens as she has walked neighborhoods and attended meet-and-greets. These citizen concerns will be her guide as a City Commissioner, she says.
Probably the greatest concern she hears about is traffic. Residents want to know what can be done to improve the traffic flow in Winter Park. Another question she hears is, does Winter Park really want to become a major tourist destination? “Residents don’t seem to share the current City leaders’ desire for more tourists in Winter Park,” she wrote.
Residents express their fears about over-development, and they wonder if their voices really are heard at City Hall, despite lip service assuring them. “They tell me that they often feel the Commissioners have already made up their minds before the public has had a chance to voice their concerns,” wrote DeCiccio. “If elected, I promise to listen to the residents and to make sure their voices are fully represented when we make decisions at City Hall.”
Winter Park will have a full slate of candidates when its city election is held March 17. As qualifying closed Tuesday, four candidates had qualified for the two open city commission seats.
Jeffrey Blydenburgh and James “Marty” Sullivan both qualified for Seat 1, now held by Commissioner Greg Seidel, who did not run for reelection. Carl E. Creasman Jr. and Sheila DeCiccio qualified to run for Seat 2, now held by Sarah Sprinkel, who also did not run for reelection.
Marty Sullivan, 72, said he decided to run because “I served on a lot of boards in the city and really enjoy the town. I believe the city is at a juncture where we want citizens to cooperate with business and development to make it a win-win for all three, with particular attention to citizens.” Sullivan, whose profession was in environmental and geotechnical engineering, is retired and has lived in the city 37 years. Among the city boards we served on were the Utility Advisory Board, Stormwater Board of Appeals and Pedestrian and Bicycle Advisory Board, all of which he chaired, and the Lakes and Waterways Advisory Board and Transportation Task Force.
Jeffrey Blydenburgh, 71, a retired architect and planner, has lived in the city 22 years. “I saw there was an opportunity to continue to serve the community,” he said, describing the city as “well led” in the past. He noted that others see him as having a “balanced view” on how the city will address growth. Blydenburgh is board member and past chair of Mead Botanical Garden Inc., a volunteer group that operates the city-owned park. He previously served on the city’s Historic Preservation Board, as vice-chair of the city visioning process in 2016 and past president of Winter Park Rotary.
Creasman, 55, a history professor at Valencia College, is youth pastor at First Baptist Church in Winter Park. He has lived in the city 26 years. He served five years on the city’s Parks and Recreation Advisory Board, the last four as chair. He could not be reached for comment, but, according to his web site, his vision includes “defending the future charm and wonder of Winter Park.” His focus, the site says, will be to continue to invest in and expand parks; strengthen city partnerships with Rollins College and Valencia; have “courageous conversations” about transportation, traffic, biking and accessibility, and encourage “healthy business and entrepreneurship.”
DeCiccio, 63, a lawyer, has lived in the city 37 years. She was inspired to run while serving on the planning and zoning board, she said. “The issue of the library came up, and there were so many unanswered questions” related to such issues as parking, drainage and size. She became worried about all the development happening in the city, she said, and realized, “we’re either going to look like the great wall of Maitland or we’re going to preserve our charm.” Besides the planning and zoning board, DeCiccio has served on the city’s Economic Advisory Board, the Code Enforcement Board and the Orange Avenue advisory steering committee.
Everyone’s gearing up for the Autumn Art Festival Oct. 12-13, hoping the weather will cooperate. It’s been pretty quiet, and the weekend forecast looks to be fair. Head over to Central Park to enjoy local artists, local music and local family fun. The Autumn Art Festival is the only juried fine art festival exclusively featuring Florida artists. The Festival is open 9:00 am to 5:00 pm both days, and admission is free.
October is typically the month when the Campaign Jungle Drums begin to rumble about who will run for office in the spring – or not – and for what. This year is no exception. Mayor Steve Leary announced in a September 17 press release that he had filed paperwork to run for Orange County Commission Seat #5, opposing incumbent Emily Bonilla.
Leary — Mayor until Nov. 30, 2020
According to now-retired City Clerk Cindy Bonham, as a candidate for Orange County Commission, Leary must submit his resignation as Winter Park Mayor on May 29, 2020, to be effective November 30, 2020. Leary can continue to serve as Mayor until November 30, 2020, but must step down December 1, 2020, whether or not he is elected to the Orange County Commission. “If he loses the County election,” wrote Bonham, “he would lose both the County and City seats. Someone would have to be appointed as Mayor until the March 2021 general election. . . .”
Sprinkel Will Run for Mayor
Commissioner Sarah Sprinkel has announced her intention not to run for re-election to Commission Seat #2 in 2020, so that she can run for Mayor in 2021. Winter Park Commissioners are limited to four terms – whether they serve as Mayor, Commissioner or a combination of the two. Since Sprinkel is currently serving her third term as Commissioner, she has only one term remaining – a term in which she would like to serve as Winter Park’s Mayor. She will, therefore, relinquish her Commission Seat #2 when her third term concludes.
Who Will Replace Sprinkel? Who Will Oppose Seidel?
Commission Seats #1 and #2 are both up in 2020. Greg Seidel told the Voice that he will run for re-election to Seat #1.
Attorney and former Planning & Zoning Advisory Board member Sheila DeCiccio also has announced her intention to run for the Commission in Spring 2020. Word On The Street is that others are planning a Commission bid, but to date no one has gone public. Stay tuned.
In addition to commissions, boards and task forces, we also have informal gatherings with City Officials, where you can let them know what you’re thinking and find out what they’re thinking.
The Mayor’s Coffee Talk was in July. Vice Mayor Greg Seidel’s was August 8, and Commissioner Sarah Sprinkel’s was September 9. The remaining Coffee Talks will be held 8:00 to 9:00 am at the Winter Park Golf and Country Club, 761 Old England Ave.
In Winter Park’s first run-off election, voters sent incumbent Pete Weldon packing and handed Todd Weaver a comfortable 285-vote victory — a margin of 4.6 percent.
High Turn-out Despite Rain
Typically, run-off elections draw fewer voters, but voter enthusiasm generated by this runoff was high. Vote-by-Mail was greater than normal. As the last ballot was counted, more than 700 additional voters had cast ballots in the runoff. That’s an increase of 13 percent over the vote in the March 12 general election.
Did Republican Electioneering Steer Voters to the Polls?
The Winter Park City Charter mandates that Commission races be non-partisan, but since 2012, the Orange County Republican Executive Committee (OCREC) has ignored the Charter and played an active role in Winter Park elections. Here is one example of an OCREC mailer sent on the eve of the April 9 runoff.
Republican voters were subjected to a barrage of OCREC-sponsored mailers, emails and robo-calls. Weldon won big in the heavily Republican Precinct 1, where voter turnout was up 15 percent. OCREC electioneering seemed to have less impact elsewhere, however, and Weaver easily carried the other four precincts.
The Chandler Effect and Lee Road
Weaver also appears to have benefited from the endorsement of former candidate Barbara Chandler. Almost half of Ms. Chandler’s votes in the March 12 general election came from Precinct 4, which includes both the traditional West Side neighborhood and the Lee Road corridor. Weaver targeted the Lee Road neighborhoods with a message about controlling traffic and development and had his best results in Precinct 4.
Did the Run-Off Deliver a Message about the Canopy Project?
High voter turn-out and a clear win for Weaver may make the City sit up and take notice. The main plank in Weaver’s platform was that the Canopy Project has gone astray. He pointed out that the project – particularly the events center — is over budget and not delivering what the voters were promised – a bigger library. Weaver suggested we hit the pause button and re-evaluate the project in light of current cost projections and City leaders’ plans to use the Canopy events center to attract tourist dollars.