A Masterplan to Nowhere

Guest Columnist – Charley Williams

Editor's Note: Articles written by citizens reflect their own opinions and not the views of the Winter Park Voice.  

A Masterplan to Nowhere

One week ago, the Winter Park City Commission voted 3-2 to move forward with the sale of a gateway property contiguous to one of the city’s benchmark parks: MLK Park, future site of the new Library/Events Center complex. The 1.5 acre parcel, known as the Bowling Alley property, could have become a functional green space entranceway to our city. But a gateway argument did not capture this Commission’s imagination.

Illustration Courtesy of Michael Planning

Citizens are now left with serious questions about how all our expensive studies, workshops and summary reports can come together to form a cohesive plan for parks, ball fields, green space, partnerships, trails and connectivity, supported with the necessary implementation budget.

Our Parks Masterplan (2008 Wade-Trim) is now 10 years out of date. This is the document which should be guiding our next steps, not only with current decisions surrounding MLK Park, but all our future parks discussions. First things first.  Let’s hope the City Commission adopts a budget for this badly needed roadmap (estimate: $120,000) and expedites implementation. We are coming late to this party.

If you are not familiar with the 2008 Parks Masterplan, I invite you to take a look: Scroll down to the very bottom of the page:
https://cityofwinterpark.org/departments/parks-recreation/administration/publications/

Other questions which merit attention: Will Winter Park have a “Great Park” one day? Where is that plan?  What is the vision? What green space parcels has the City acquired in the past 2 years? 4 years? 6 years? Are we keeping pace with need and more importantly, with our required 10 acres of park space/per 1,000 resident formula, now that our population has reached 30,000?

The 2008 Parks Masterplan states that “seventy-nine (79) acres of additional parkland are required by 2028 (note: that’s in 10 years) to meet existing and projected demand for parks and recreational facilities” (Recommendation 3.1).

Where will this new park land come from? At what price?

According to Wade-Trim, “The estimated cost to meet projected demand for parkland by 2028 is $41.3 million. This would require approximately $13.1 million of land acquisition every 5 years, or approximately $2.6 million annually.” (Section 7.2, Estimated Costs Associated with Projected Demand)

The report also highlights an 8 multi-purpose playing field deficit for our children by 2028. (Recommended Action 3.4)

And let’s not forget this recommendation. “City of Winter Park Parks and Recreation Masterplan should be updated at least every 5 years to reflect any shift in development trends and desires of the community.” (Recommended Action Step 3.5)

It would appear that we are making decisions in a vacuum. The budget for the MLK Park future usage exercise with GAI consultants is in the range of $50,000 in CRA monies. Yet there is apparently no cross-reference with our own Winter Park Parks Masterplan needs and capacity issues, because it is 10 years out of date.

Interesting as well, our Winter Park Vision plan was submitted on June 9, 2016, and has been sitting on a shelf for the past year. Why pay $200,000 for a plan we are not going to fund or implement? Are these exercises meant to be moot?

Said the Cheshire Cat to Alice, “If you don’t know where you are going, any road will take you there.”
From ‘Alice in Wonderland’
By Charles Lutwidge Dodgson writing under the pseudonym Lewis Carroll.

Charley Williams provides the marketing for a local civil engineering firm working on such infrastructure projects as Sunrail, Wekiva Parkway, I-4 and the new South Terminal at Orlando International Airport. He has been a Winter Park resident for twelve years. 

Keep the Bowling Alley Property - Expand MLK Park

Yellow Signs are Back

Keep the Bowling Alley Property – Expand MLK Park

Yellow signs are popping up everywhere, urging the City not to sell the bowling alley site at 1111 W. Fairbanks, rather, to use it to expand Martin Luther King, Jr., Park.

Final Decision June 12

The final vote will likely be at the Commission meeting on June 12. The meeting begins at 3:30. Public comment is usually taken around the 5:00 hour. Click here for the meeting agenda.

Bowling Alley Background

The old bowling alley property has a checkered history. In late spring 2013, Rollins purchased the property when it looked like Harper-Shepherd Field would become a Minor League baseball stadium and no longer would be available to Rollins teams. Being contiguous with Martin Luther King, Jr., Park, the property was ideal for Rollins to expand their playing fields.

Editor’s Note:  According to Communications Director Clarissa Howard, Rollins purchased the bowling alley property for use as a lacrosse practice field. She said the purchase was unrelated to Minor League baseball at Harper-Shepherd Field.

When it became clear that baseball would not be coming to Winter Park, however, Rollins no longer needed expansion room and put the property up for sale. UP Developments, LLC, contracted to buy the property from Rollins.

But the City wanted the property, too. At the time, they had their own ideas about expanding MLK Park and mitigating some of the traffic problems on Fairbanks and 17-92. In the fall of 2014, Scott Fish of UP Developments, LLC, agreed to assign his contract with Rollins to the City, so that the City could buy the property from Rollins.

That deal didn’t work out, and Rollins ended up keeping the property until 2016, when the City bought it for $2.9 million.

Editor’s note: Ms. Howard pointed out that the City did not use park acquisition funds, but instead took money from the CRA and general fund reserves, thereby avoiding any requirement that the land be used as a park.

People Want Trees & Grass – They’re Being Ignored

In the meantime, plans for the new library-event center took shape, the City created yet another vision of itself and the Comprehensive Plan underwent its seven-year cycle of massage and manipulation. The City organized plenty of public discussion around each of these activities.

Missing in these discussions was a consideration of the city’s assets as a whole – as a system. This was nowhere more evident than in the discussions about the City’s parks and greenspace — which brings us back to those yellow signs.

MLK Needs a Plan?

While the City was visioning and planning, the turf and facilities at the playing fields on south end of the MLK Park were deteriorating, and the bowling alley property stood vacant. Since the bowling alley was creating something of an eyesore on a major gateway artery, someone decided the City should have a plan — so GAI Consultants were retained to create one.

At the April 10 meeting of the Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA), which is made up of the Commissioners and a representative from Orange County, Hal George, GAI made a presentation about their plans for creating a Master Plan. At that meeting, the Commissioners also decided to sell the bowling alley property, retaining only a right-of-way for a turn lane on Fairbanks.

Well, Part of MLK Needs a Plan

In light of the fact that the City was in the process of retaining an architect and landscape architect for the new library-event center, and they were now planning to dispose of the bowling alley property, GAI was advised that their MLK Park Master Plan should include only those parts of the park that did not include the library-event center or bowling alley areas.

Why Sell the Bowling Alley?

According to Commissioner Peter Weldon at the April 10 meeting, “Selling the bowling alley property now gives us the opportunity to do things that are much more tangible and beneficial to the City,” – like a third story on the new library-event center parking garage, or a parking garage downtown. “For one-third the money we have into [the bowling alley] land today, we could provide 100 parking spaces to expand the parking for MLK Park,” said Weldon.

Property Sale on Consent Agenda

At the next Commission meeting, April 24, the bowling alley property sale appeared on the Consent Agenda as Item C. Items on the Consent Agenda do not require discussion or public comment. Commissioners Seidel and Cooper pulled Item C off the Consent Agenda for discussion.

Commissioner Greg Seidel said the proposed sale needed more public discussion. Commissioner Carolyn Cooper agreed, requesting the item be tabled until there had been opportunity both for public discussion and for consideration by the Parks & Recreation Advisory Board, which had not had a voice in the decision to sell.

She pointed out that the City seldom had access to land contiguous with an existing park – and in this case, the City already owns the land. Once the land is gone, we can’t get it back.

Commission Votes to Sell the Bowling Alley

The motion to table, or postpone the sale, failed on a 3-2 vote, with Cooper and Seidel dissenting.

Cooper made a second motion to approve the sale contingent upon completion of the designs for the library and for MLK Park. That motion also failed on a 3-2 vote.

The motion to approve the sale of the property, minus the right-of-way for the turn lane, passed on a 3-2 vote, with Cooper and Seidel dissenting.

MLK Master Plan Rolls Out the Next Day

The next night, April 25, close to 100 people gathered at the Rachel Murrah Civic Center to discuss the Master Plan for part, but not all, of MLK Park. The GAI consultants explained that the bowling alley property and the new library-event center were not part of the discussion. Groups of people gathered around tables and used maps of the park and construction paper cutouts representing different types of public spaces to illustrate their visions of the park.

“Fix the Park and Don’t Sell the Bowling Alley”

As the various tables prepared to report out to the group as a whole, two things became clear. First, each table said they wanted the existing park facilities, especially the playing fields and water features, to be cleaned up and repaired. It would be okay, they said, to leave the rest of the park alone – just fix what’s there. “And don’t fill it up with shiny new stuff,” they said.

Second, participants opposed the sale of the bowling alley property. “Wait,” they said. “We don’t even have a completed design for the new library. What if we need that land? It’s too soon to decide what to do with it.”

Did the Master Plan Take a Wrong Turn?

GAI held a second meeting at the Civic Center on May 2. Only 25 to 30 people came, many of whom had attended the April 25 meeting. Again, the over-arching themes included the desire to repair existing park facilities and opposition to the sale of the bowling alley.

Asked if the outcomes of the two meetings would be reported back to the City, the GAI consultant replied that they “hadn’t heard from everyone yet.”

Additional meetings were to have been held in May, with a final plan due in July. According to Communications Director Clarissa Howard, the schedule for public meetings has been revised, and the next public meeting will be sometime in July.

Howard reported that GAI has, however, held focus group meetings that included “moms, sport coaches, daycare nurseries, realtors, staff and other professions.” These meetings were not public, said Howard, nor was public notice required.

“GAI will compile this input from the public forums and the focus group meetings into preliminary conceptual rendering to be presented at the meeting and on site walk planned in July,” wrote Howard.

Plans Minus Funding = Toothless Tigers

Comments opposing the sale of City land are too numerous to count, but there were some articulate ones on the subject of MLK Park and the bowling alley sale. While commenters were respectful, their comments indicated an underlying disconnect between Winter Park’s citizens and their elected officials.

In a letter to the Mayor and Commissioners dated May 10, Winter Park resident Bob Bendick wrote: “Winter Park has tended to discuss each of its parks in isolation . . . . Far more functional, and a characteristic of communities with the most successful public open spaces, is to think in terms of a system of parks and greenways that meets active and passive recreational needs and forms a green framework for the city’s future.”

Bendick went on to propose “that Winter Park move quickly to integrate its parks, lakes, greenspace, pedestrian and bicycle planning into a single document that describes a connected network . . . .” The plan will only be worthwhile, wrote Bendick, “if there is reliable funding to carry it out. And this is where Winter Park can do better.”

Bring Parks & Rec into the Loop

It is worth noting that at the May 24 meeting of the Parks & Recreation Advisory Board, Vice Chairman Julio de Arcos asked Parks & Recreation Director John Holland if anyone had sought his input on selling the bowling alley property. Holland replied that no one had. Advisory Board members expressed their opinion that the land should not be sold at this time.

Members of the public attending the Parks & Rec meeting requested the board write to the Mayor and Commissioners to express their concern about the sale of the property. According to an email from John Holland to one of the attendees, “The Parks and Recreation Board Chair has written a draft letter to the City Commission and we are currently getting approvals on format and verbiage.”

Still Time for Action

The sale of public land requires two votes by the Commission. The bowling alley sale will likely come up at the next Commission meeting on June 12. Any one of the Commissioners on the winning side of the vote to sell – Leary, Sprinkel or Weldon – can re-introduce the matter for the purpose of changing their vote. Click the email address to let your elected representatives know how you feel about stewardship of public land. MayorandCommissioners@cityofwinterpark.org

 

Judge Denies Citizens’ PAC

Requests for Rehearing, Rewording Denied

Judge Denies Citizens’ PAC


city-libary-cogsAs 2017 gears up, the court continues to clear obstacles from the Winter Park Library’s path to Martin Luther King, Jr. (MLK) Park. Judge Margaret Schreiber has denied the Save Our Library WP PAC’s requests for a rehearing of the bond validation suit and the removal of language specifying the library location from her ruling.

Petition Question Still Unanswered

The only matter still pending is a request that the court quash the Certificate of Insufficiency issued by City Clerk Cindy Bonham. The City maintains the petition is a “reconsideration of a referendum,” which must be filed within 30 days of the election. The PAC says their petition, which was filed in August well after the election, was an initiative seeking to establish an ordinance to prevent a library from being built in MLK Park. A Citizens’ Initiative, provided for in the City Charter, has no time limit.

City Fees Top $200,000

According to City Manager Randy Knight, the City’s legal fees, to date, amount to $201,759. Fees in the bond validation suit are $168,881, and fees in the dispute over the petition total $32,878.

Bond Validation Protects City, Saves Money in the Long Run

The bond validation protects the City from future legal challenge regarding the bond issue, and it will save the City money by allowing the bonds to be sold at a more favorable rate. Any expenditures associated with the bond validation will be recovered over the life of the bonds and, according to an attorney knowledgeable about the situation but who asked not to be identified, represents a wise investment on the part of the City.

PAC: City Could Have Avoided Additional Fees

According to citizens associated with the Save Our Library WP PAC, the City would not have incurred the $32,878 in fees if they had acknowledged the citizens’ petition initiative. Michael Poole, president of the PAC, told the Voice, “This expenditure could have been avoided by allowing the voters a say in the location of the library – either by including location language in the March 15, 2016 ballot, or by accepting the citizens’ petition as an initiative and allowing the voters to express their preference that way. If the City had put the location to a vote, it would not have cost them anything.”

 

Save Our Library PAC Disputes Judge’s Ruling

Requests Rehearing to Present New Evidence

Save Our Library PAC Disputes Judge’s Ruling

city-libary-cogsThe Save Our Library WP PAC has filed two motions with Orange County Circuit Court requesting a rehearing of the library bond validation suit and asking Judge Margaret Schreiber to amend her Final Judgment, issued December 7, 2016.

PAC Wants to Present New Evidence

The request for rehearing is to present evidence, not presented at the hearing on October 20, 2016, that contradicts the City’s position that the new library-event center complex can only be built in Martin Luther King, Jr., (MLK) Park.

Memory Jog for City Manager

The evidence in question is video of City Manager Randy Knight speaking April 21, 2016 at a public meeting about the library. In the video, Knight states that the library could be built in a location other than MLK Park. At the October court hearing, Knight testified that he could not recall whether or not he had made that statement at the April meeting.

PAC Asks Judge to Strike 3 Paragraphs

The motion to amend the Final Judgment asks the Judge to eliminate paragraphs #26, #34 and #35 of the Final Judgement. Click Here to read Final Judgment.

Paragraph #26 refers to the PAC’s petition as a “reconsideration of the Bond Ordinance,” and states that the petition is now barred because it failed to meet a 30-day deadline for filing.

‘Reasonable Voter’ Paragraph Questioned

Paragraph #34 holds that a reasonable voter, upon reading the bond ordinance, would have understood that the new complex was to be built on the site of the existing Civic Center, and Paragraph #35 states that the MLK site was a matter of public record because of the motion passed at the October 26, 2016 commission meeting.

No Decision Reached in Separate Case

The PAC’s requests are based on a separate action filed in the Ninth Circuit Appellate Division in which they claim their petition is a Citizens’ Initiative and does not seek reconsideration of the bond ordinance. They hold that, because the intended location of the new complex did not appear anywhere on the ballot, the voters did not knowingly vote to locate the complex in MLK Park. They voted only to approve the library bonds.

No One Contested the Bond Validation

“In the bond validation case,” said PAC President Michael Poole, “the judge was asked only to validate the bonds. No one contested that. I do not know how [Judge Schreiber] could also decide on the library location when the location language appeared nowhere on the March 15 ballot. And the decision as to whether our petition constituted a reconsideration of the bond ordinance or not has nothing to do with validating the bonds.”

PAC: Court Lacks Jurisdiction

The PAC’s Motion to Alter or Amend Final Judgment states that paragraphs #26, #34 and #35 refer to, “. . .a collateral issue to the bond validation proceedings and [we] respectfully believe the Court does not have jurisdiction over this issue. The Court is aware that a Writ of Certiorari has been filed with the Ninth Judicial Circuit . . . . This case is pending and specifically addresses [these issues].”

The pending case is before a three-judge panel in the Ninth Circuit Appellate Division. Poole says they do not know when the panel will issue their ruling.

Judge Validates $30 Million Bond for Library in MLK Park

Other Litigation Still Pending

Judge Validates $30 Million Bond for Library in MLK Park

winterpark-library2On Wednesday, the City’s plan to build a new library, event center and associated parking structure moved one step closer to Martin Luther King, Jr., Park. Judge Margaret Schreiber’s ruling validating a $30 million bond issue included MLK Park as the new building’s location.

Path to the Park May Have Some Bumps

At least one obstacle remains in the path to the park, however. A related but separate legal action is still pending. The issue involves a petition that seeks to prevent a library from being built in MLK Park, signed by more than 2,000 residents. The Save Our Library WP PAC submitted the petition to the City in July 2016. The PAC contends the petition is a “citizens’ initiative” under Sec. 5.01 of the City Charter. A citizens’ initiative has no deadline. The City asserts the petition is a “referendum” under Sec. 5.02 of the City Charter, and is therefore legally insufficient because it missed the filing deadline for a referendum.

Referendum or Citizens’ Initiative?

The PAC has asked the court to decide the petition question. Their case is moving ahead in the Orange County Circuit Court. It has been assigned to a panel of three circuit court judges — Jennifer Harris, Thomas W. Turner and John Kest.

At this point, no one knows how or if the judges’ ruling in this case will affect the final chapter of the library story. The only certainty is that the case is now before the judges, and the judges will issue a ruling some time in late 2016 or early 2017.

“Quasi-Judicial Tyranny”

In its filing, the PAC rejected the city’s argument that the action requested in their petition would result in the repeal of the bond ordinance. That position, they said, “thwarts the citizens’ democratic ability to legislate by initiative . . . [The Commission’s] decision is a classic example of an act of quasi-judicial tyranny” and violates the citizens’ right to due process.

After-the-Fact Logrolling

The PAC also asserted the new library and the new location are two separate issues, since the site was not mentioned on the March 15 ballot, which passed by a narrow margin. The PAC cited the legal “single-purpose rule,” which states that any proposition going to voters must address a single purpose. “This rule guards against logrolling, a practice of rolling separate issues into a single proposition . . .to obtain approval of what might be a controversial or unpopular vote.”

Any Reasonable Voter

Judge Schreiber disagreed. “Given the overwhelming information about the location of the Project on the site of the existing civic center in MLK Park,” Schreiber states in her Final Judgment, “a reasonable voter in the City could only have understood the Bond Referendum to mean that the new library and events center and related facilities would be built on the site of the current civic center.”

PAC Awaits Decision on Petition

Michael Poole, president of the Save Our Library WP PAC, said of Judge Schreiber’s decision, “The judge’s ruling surprised us, but we are still focused on making sure the citizens have the ability to vote for the location. We are moving forward with our suit.”

No Scheduled Demo for Rachel Murrah Civic Center

Anticipating construction of the new facility, there had been talk at the Commission level of demolishing the existing Rachel Murrah Civic Center in January 2017. Winter Park Director of Communications Clarissa Howard said, however, that the City is in a wait-and-see posture. She confirmed that, at present, there is no schedule for the demolition of the Murrah Civic Center.

Wheels of Justice

Grind Slowly, but Exceedingly Fine

Wheels of Justice


city-libary-cogs

The Library/Event Center/Parking Structure issue is still making its way through the tangled maze of the Florida judicial system. On October 20, the hearing regarding validation of up to $30 million in general obligation bonds for the purpose of building the library-event center came before Judge Margaret Schreiber of the Ninth Judicial Circuit.

Despite the array of arguments and the number of lawyers present to make them, at the end of the day, it comes down to one question. What language will the Judge put in her final order?

Bonds Will Be Validated

Since no one opposed validating the bonds, the Judge asked the city’s bond attorney, whose area of expertise this is, to come back to her by November 15 with drafts of two final orders for her signature. Both orders will validate the bonds.

Validation Order May? Or May Not? Include Location

One order will include the language of the location in Martin Luther King, Jr. (MLK) Park. The other will validate the bonds, but will include no language about the location. After she receives the two draft orders November 15, the Judge will decide which order to sign. Either way, the bonds will be validated.

Separate Suit on Petitions Also Pending

Meanwhile, a separate suit, this one filed in the Appellate Division of the Ninth Circuit, seeks to determine whether the petitions submitted to the City by the Save Our Library WP PAC constitute a Referendum or a Citizens’ Initiative.

Are the Petitions a Referendum?

If the appellate judge finds that the petitions are a Referendum, under Sec. 5.02 of the City Charter, then the petitions are not valid and the effort to block the location of the library in MLK Park fails.

Or a Citzens Initiative?

If the judge finds the petitions are a Citizens’ Initiative, under Sec. 5.01 of the City Charter, the petitioners will bring before the Commission an ordinance stating that no library may be built in MLK Park. The Commission must vote on that ordinance. If they pass it, it becomes law that no library may be built in MLK Park.

Final Decision May Be Up to the Voters

If the Commission does not pass the ordinance, then the ordinance will go on a ballot and it will be up to the registered voters in Winter Park to decide whether the ordinance passes or fails. In both cases, only a simple majority is required.

At this point, it is unclear how the outcome of one lawsuit will affect the outcome of the other.

State & City Attorneys’ Joint Filing on Library Bond Validation Suit

State Attorney Can Argue Motions at October 20 Hearing

State & City Attorneys’ Joint Filing on Library Bond Validation Suit

city-and-library-logo-scalesCity Attorney Kurt Ardaman reported to the Commission yesterday that Assistant State Attorney Richard Wallsh had withdrawn his motions to strike language regarding the site of the new library in the City’s bond validation suit.

Mayor Leary immediately followed with remarks directed to “media who eagerly reported about the State Attorney [filing] those motions . . . [we are] eagerly anticipating covering dismissal of those motions as well.”

City Seeks to Include Site Language in Bond Validation Complaint

The State Attorney’s motions, filed September 21, challenged the City’s request for validation of up to $30 million in bonds “for the purpose of building a municipal facility in Martin Luther King, Jr. Park” on grounds that the ballot referendum made no reference to the location. “The inclusion of the site is not a proper subject for determination by this court,” reads the State Attorney’s Motion to Strike.

State Attorney Objects to Language, Wants Separate Hearing

As part of his filing, State Attorney Wallsh requested his motions be heard at a separate hearing prior to the October 20 bond validation hearing.

City & State Attorneys Agree to Consolidate Hearings

In a subsequent meeting September 30 between State Attorney Wallsh and City Attorney Ardaman, the two attorneys agreed, in a “Joint Stipulation Regarding the State of Florida’s Motion to Vacate Order to Show Cause and Motion to Strike,” that Wallsh would withdraw his motions and his request for a separate hearing, with the stipulation that he can still make the motions at the October 20 hearing.See Document.

Motions Cannot Be ‘Dismissed’

Motions in court cannot be dismissed. They are either granted or denied, actions only a judge can take. The State Attorney’s motions and his request for a separate hearing have been withdrawn – for now. The substantive arguments of the motions can still be heard at the October 20 hearing.

In other words, nothing has changed except the schedule.

Fur Flies Over Library Location

Stack of Legal Documents Grows

Fur Flies Over Library Location

city-and-library-logo-scales

On September 9, the Save Our Library WP Political Action Committee filed suit requesting the court to overturn the City Commission’s approval of the City Clerk’s Certificate of Insufficiency of Petition.

PAC Sues the City to Accept Petition

Save Our Library PAC members circulated a petition proposing an ordinance to prohibit a library from being built in Martin Luther King, Jr. (MLK) Park. They gathered the required number of signatures, had the signatures certified by the Orange County Supervisor of Elections, and presented the petition to the City. The Winter Park City Clerk declined to accept the petition on grounds that it was “insufficient.”

Referendum Ordinance or Petition Ordinance?

The Clerk’s finding of “insufficiency” was based on the claim that the petition represented a referendum ordinance rather than a petition ordinance. Basically, a referendum ordinance calls for the repeal of an ordinance the City has already passed – in this case, the $30 Million bond referendum. An initiative ordinance seeks to adopt a new ordinance – in this case, that no library may be built in MLK Park.

WPPL Trustees Speak Out

An “Open Letter to the Winter Park Community“ from the Board of Trustees of the Winter Park Public Library states, in part, “Efforts to halt the construction of the library in Martin Luther King, Jr., Park ARE actions against the new library.” The Trustees’ letter continues, “They [the efforts] are also significant in that they are an attempt to overturn the results of an election by eliminating the only viable site for the library-events center project. . . .”

For the full text of the letter, click here.

The Library will launch an e-newsletter to keep citizens informed on the library progress. Readers may subscribe by going to the wppl.org website.

City Sues State & WP Taxpayers for Bond Validation

Meanwhile, the City has sued the State and all Winter Park property owners, requesting the court validate the issuance of bonds for the purpose of building a library, events center and related parking structure. Although both the ballot language and the public notices that preceded the election were silent as to the location of this structure, the City has proceeded assuming the location was generally understood, and has included language specifying the MLK location in its Amended Complaint for Validation.

Legal Question? or Political Question?

Today, Assistant State Attorney Richard Wallsh filed a Motion to Strike Portions of Amended Complaint and a Motion to Vacate Order to Show Cause, asking the Court to strike references to the MLK Park location in the City’s Amended Complaint that seeks validation of the bonds. (Case No. 2016-CA-6063-0, Circuit Court of the Ninth Judicial Circuit of Florida, in and for Orange County, Florida)

In Paragraph 7 of his Motion to Strike Portions of Amended Complaint, Wallsh writes: “The selection of MLK Park as the construction site was never a portion of said ordinance or referendum. The inclusion of the site is not a proper subject for determination by this court. . . . That is a political issue for the city to resolve.”

Wallsh continues, “Plaintiff city is overreaching in its attempt to obtain judicial imprimatur for a hotly contested political decision regarding the location of the project for which bonds have been sought to finance.”

Hearing Set for October 20

Wallsh has requested the court either set a hearing for his motion prior to October 20 or move the October 20 date forward.

Clerk Declares Library Petition Insufficient

Petitioners’ Appeal Fails to Sway Commission

Clerk Declares Library Petition Insufficient

city-and-library-logo-scalesIn a Certificate of Insufficiency dated July 28, 2016, City Clerk Cynthia Bonham denied the validity of the citizens petition that seeks to prevent a new library from being built in Martin Luther King, Jr. (MLK) Park. On August 8, the committee appealed that decision to the Commission, which upheld the finding of the City Clerk.

Petition ‘Insufficient’ for Three Reasons

Each of the three reasons for insufficiency contains the following language.
“Despite being labeled a citizen initiative, the Petition requires the reconsideration of City Ordinance No. 3020-15 enacted on November 23, 2015, and the City Commission’s affirmative votes to locate the library and events center in Martin Luther King, Jr. Park occurring at the City Commission meeting occurring on or about October 26, 2015.” [Emphasis Added]
For the full text, go to pages 69-70 of the August 8, 2016, Commission Agenda Packet. agdpkt-2016-08-08.pdf

Law + Motion = Confusion

Speaking on behalf of the petitioners, Attorney Virginia Cassady of the firm Shepard, Smith & Cassady P.A., described what she saw as the fallacy in the reasoning contained in the Certificate of Insufficiency. An ordinance carries the weight of law, while a vote by the Commission does not. “Essentially,” said Cassady, “it’s bootstrapping a vote by you [the Commission] to the ordinance that was adopted and passed in November, when in the ordinance itself there is absolutely no mention of MLK Park.”

Does Library Have to be in MLK Park?

Both the City Attorney and the City Manager have said on several occasions that the library/events center could be built somewhere other than MLK Park. Rather than trying to overturn the bond referendum, the petitioners seek an alternate location for the library.
AN ORDINANCE OF THE CITY OF WINTER PARK, FLORIDA, PROHIBITING THE CONSTRUCTION OF THE WINTER PARK LIBRARY AT MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR. PARK . . . .
For the full text, go to page123 of the Agenda Packet at the above link.

‘Initiative’ or ‘Referendum’?

The conflict between the petitioners’ committee and the City arises from the City’s position that the petition constitutes a Referendum, referred to in Section 5.02 of the City Charter, rather than an Initiative, as described in Section 5.01.
(See link above, page 129 of the Agenda Packet, for the Charter text.)

Basically, a Referendum requires the Commission to reconsider (i.e., overturn) an ordinance that has already been adopted.

An Initiative gives voters the right to submit their own proposed ordinance to the Commission. If the Commission fails to adopt the proposed ordinance, the ordinance must be taken to a full city election to be adopted or rejected.

City Attorney Offers No Written Guidance

Interestingly, the question of whether the petition is an initiative or a referendum is a legal determination. Yet, only the City Clerk has spoken. No legal opinion from Attorney Ardaman appears in the August 8 Agenda Packet.

City Attorney Has Some Advice for the City Clerk

In a memo dated May 8, 2016, the City Attorney writes to the City Clerk, “. . .if you conclude that the Petitioners Committee Affidavit and proposed ordinance constitute a Referendum as described under Section 5.02 of the Charter rather than an Initiative under Section 5.01 of the Charter, rather than waiting until after Mr. Poole and the Petitioner’s Committee expend substantial effort to obtain the signed petitions, the following response to Mr. Poole would be appropriate.”

While Attorney Ardaman encouraged the City Clerk to draw her own conclusions, he was kind enough to word the memo for her.

“Mr. Poole,” reads the memo. “The request for petition forms that you submitted to me as the Winter Park City Clerk on Friday, April 29, 2016, is not timely as the petition forms you have requested are based on a Petitioner’s Committee Affidavit and ordinance which appear to constitute a reconsideration or referendum to repeal Ordinance No. ____ and the City Commission’s decision to locate the library and events center in Martin Luther King Park, where the Ordinance was adopted November 23, 2015. Referendum petitions must be filed within 30 days after adoption of the ordinance to be reconsidered.”

Ardaman’s Charge to the Commission

Ardaman’s explanation of the task before the Commission was clear and simple – either uphold or overturn the City Clerk’s Certificate of Insufficiency.

As the Commissioners deliberated, there ensued considerable discussion, concluding with each Commissioner stating his or her position and the reasoning behind it.

Seidel: “This Vote Doesn’t Change the Process”

“I am assuming you are here with your attorney because you intend to take the next step,” said Commissioner Greg Seidel. “So, to me, what happens with this vote doesn’t really change what’s going to happen with the process.” Seidel voted to uphold the petitioners’ appeal.

Sprinkel Defers to City Attorney

“I’m going to support our City,” said Commissioner Sarah Sprinkel, “because I’m following the advice of our attorney.” Sprinkel voted to deny the petitioners’ appeal.

Cooper: “It is a Citizens Petition”

“I also do not believe it reverses the vote on the library,” said Commissioner Carolyn Cooper. “I believe the citizens of Winter Park voted to approve a referendum of up to $30 million to build a new library.” Cooper voted to uphold the petitioners’ appeal.

Weldon: “There Will Be No End to the Lawsuits”

“I have tried to put myself in a position of perspective as to what is the best long-term decision for the City of Winter Park,” said Commissioner Peter Weldon, who voted to deny the petitioners’ appeal.

Leary: “The Petitioners Were Informed Early On . . .”

Mayor Steve Leary stated, “The petitioners were informed early on that this petition was invalid.” Leary cast the deciding vote to deny the petitioners’ appeal.

Cooper Appeals to Commissioners to Let Citizens Choose

In her concluding remarks during the Commissioner’s Report, Commissioner Carolyn Cooper asked the others seated on the dais if it might be possible to allow the residents to vote on the location of the library – to put the issue to rest. “I honestly don’t think it would hurt anything,” said Cooper, “and I believe the people of this city honestly want a new library.”

City Sues to Validate Library/Event Center Bond Issue

City Sues to Validate Library/Event Center Bond Issue


city-and-library-logo-scales

Library Update: Petition Goes to City Hall
2,000+ Voters Say ‘Don’t Put Library in MLK Park’

Tomorrow, the Save Our Library WP PAC will turn in the signatures of 2,234 registered Winter Park voters who oppose locating the new library in Martin Luther King Jr. Park. This number exceeds by approximately 10 percent the number of signatures required to file a Citizens Petition.

PAC leader Michael Poole said he is not sure what the next steps will be, but expects the issue to end up before Orange County Circuit Judge Margaret Schreiber for a final resolution. He said he expects there may be some discussion of the petition at Monday’s meeting of the City Commission.

“We believe the bond should be validated,” said Poole, “but not with a designated site, because the site was not on the ballot.”

Poole explained the Save Our Library WP PAC will intervene in the bond validation suit using the State’s Attorney. Asked whether he thought the City would continue to deny the PAC has standing to file the petition, Poole said, “I don’t believe any State’s Attorney, when confronted with more than 2,200 valid signatures, would not take in earnest what we are trying to do. This petition says, ‘Judge, these people don’t want the library in this park.’

“It would be incredible for the judge to say that we don’t have standing in this court,” said Poole.


The City Attorney announced at the July 11 commission meeting the City had filed suit in the Orange County Circuit Court to validate the bonds that will finance the construction of the new library – event center.

Case Will Go to Trial

The City is asking the court to confirm that it can legally and safely issue up to $30 Million in municipal bonds. Attorney Richard Geller, sitting in for City Attorney Kurt Ardaman, reported the matter will be litigated, there will be a trial before Judge Margie Schreiber, evidence will be presented and the Judge will determine the bonds can be issued.

Bond Counsel to Argue Before Judge Schreiber

To represent the City, the firm of Bryant, Miller, Olive P.A., with offices in Atlanta, Jacksonville, Miami, Orlando, Tallahassee, Tampa and Washington, D.C has been retained. Attorney Ardaman will act as co-counsel with the bond counsel.

6- to 9-Month Process

In answer to the mayor’s question about the anticipated time frame, Geller indicated the entire process could take six to nine months. The time frame depends on the Judge’s schedule according to City Manager Randy Knight. Knight said the first step, which would be for Judge Schreiber to issue an order to show cause, might occur within 60 to 90 days.

Protection for City & Bond Holders

Winter Park Communications Director Clarissa Howard explained in an email, “The city has made the decision to go through the bond validation process to protect the interests of the citizens and taxpayers of Winter Park. This bond validation process is the most expeditious and fiscally-responsible approach that will ensure the bonds can be properly issued and the approved project can be built without any future legal obstructions.”

Bond Rating Upped

According to an attorney speaking off the record to The Voice, while there is no legal requirement that suit be filed, typically a City such as Winter Park files suit seeking validation by a court, as such a ruling has the effect of giving the bonds the highest possible rating and lowering the cost to the City of the debt service, or interest it must pay on the bonds.