City Sues to Validate Library/Event Center Bond Issue
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.
On March 15th, a record number of Winter Park voters went to the polls. As a candidate for re-election, I had spent months outlining a vision for our City. I participated in candidate forums, sent mailers, visited residents’ homes and had countless one-on-one encounters.
That Is How Democracy Works
When it became apparent on the evening of the 15th that a majority of residents did not share this vision, I phoned the new Commissioner-elect and congratulated him. Was that difficult to do? Yes. Was I disappointed in the outcome? Yes . . .but that is how democracy works.
New Library: Elected Fair & Square
The proposed new library and events center at the civic center location in Martin Luther King, Jr. Park went through the same process I did. Those in favor and those opposed had equal opportunity to present their views. After reviewing all the points for and against, a majority of residents voted to approve moving forward to secure the bonds necessary to make the vision of a library and events center of the future a reality in our community.
Petition Could Stop the Library
As with any vote, some people were disappointed with the outcome. Unfortunately this disappointment has manifested itself into a petition drive that could prevent the new library and events center from being built.
The City has declared the petition drive invalid, but in order to assure potential bondholders that the bonds and the location of the new library and events center are valid, the City of Winter Park has been forced to initiate a “bond validation” process. As with any legal action, the expenditure of time and money will result in additional cost to the tax payers.
Commissioners Did Not Mislead Voters
What is far more upsetting to me than the petition drive is the claim by the organizers that somehow the residents of Winter Park were misled by the Library Task Force and, ultimately, by the City Commission. As a Commissioner, I was involved in this process from the beginning, and I find this line of thought insulting and totally without merit.
15 Sites Examined
During my six years on the Commission I can think of no other issue that was more thoroughly vetted than the library. A Library Task Force appointed by the Commission and comprised of residents from a broad political cross-section of the City worked for 17 months to ascertain the validity of a new building and to identify the best possible location. During this time, dozens of public meetings were held seeking input on more than 15 different sites.
MLK Park Won Out
Once the civic center site in MLK, Jr. Park showed promise, a two-day Community Charrette was held at the park to again obtain input from residents. This charrette was attended by scores of residents in person and hundreds more who participated online. After weighing all the options, the Library Task Force was unanimous in their recommendation of a new library and events center to be located at the civic center site in MLK, Jr. Park.
As I watched the selection process narrow down to the park, I remembered back to a design studio in college where our professor encouraged us to think of parks not only as places of recreation but also re-creation; that parks, art, and education enjoyed a unique relationship. The ability of this new facility to relate to and enhance the experience of both library and park users is exceptional.
The fact that this can be accomplished within essentially the same impervious footprint of the existing Civic Center speaks volumes about our community’s respect for our open spaces.
But the process did not stop with the Task Force. Their recommendation was just that, a recommendation. It still had to withstand the scrutiny of the Commission and additional public input. Repeatedly during this phase, citizens approached the Commission wanting verification of where a new library would be located, and repeatedly they were assured that MLK, Jr. Park would be the home for the new building should the bond referendum pass.
The process took another step forward when a majority of the Commission voted to accept the recommendations of the Task Force and place the issue on the ballot for the residents of Winter Park to make the ultimate decision. As I look back at the process, I struggle to find opportunities that were missed. Each site had pros and cons, but as each round of eliminations took place the civic center site remained.
Gateway to Park Avenue
The civic center site abuts Morse Boulevard along the traditional gateway to Park Avenue. The thought of extending the character of the avenue as opposed to hoarding it should be applauded, not condemned. The issue was subject to the same scrutiny that any candidate endures — months of exposure in the political arena. It was a question at every Forum, and information was provided on websites, in mailers, via phone calls and at meet-and-greets.
Advocates on each side of this issue took advantage of every means possible to get their message out. If anyone feels they were not adequately informed, I believe it is not from any form of misinformation but rather from not having taken advantage of the wealth of information that was available during the campaign.
I end this with a call out to all the residents of Winter Park to join in embracing the new library and events center. No congratulatory phone calls are required. All that is needed is a willingness to become involved. I was privileged to attend a recent presentation by the Aspen Institute, a world-renowned organization that has chosen our community to explore and develop programing for the library of the future.
This Is Your Library, Your City
The possibilities are endless. This programing process will continue through additional community conversations, commission meetings and design reviews. All will be open to the public. Please take the time to get involved in your community, for it is that personal involvement that makes Winter Park the special place we all call home.
Editor’s Note: Tom McMacken served two terms as Winter Park City Commissioner, from 2009 to 2015.
Public Records Access Model of the Future – Your Local Library
Guest Columnist – Barbara Petersen
As Winter Park discusses the library services of the future, many opportunities come to mind.
Informed Citizens Are Key to Civic Wellbeing
The Florida First Amendment Foundation (FAF) believes the library has an important opportunity to partner with local government to enhance access to public information and to more efficiently manage public records requests.
Library Supports Citizens’ Need for Public Information
We believe there is a natural synergy between the Winter Park library and the Winter Park municipal government. Libraries are known to be apolitical and non-bureaucratic. Highly skilled in information management, the library is uniquely suited to assume more responsibility to support the public information needs of the community under Florida’s open government laws, known in the vernacular as our Sunshine Laws.
Library is Ideal Repository of Public Documents
The 21st-century library can be a digital community center which helps foster an informed and engaged community. The library of the future can add tremendous value by increasing access, adding credibility and generating valuable public information that contributes to the civic understanding and institutional memory of a community like Winter Park.
Working with organizations like the First Amendment Foundation, the Winter Park library could serve as custodian of public documents and answer public records requests. The library could catalog and hold public records in a cloud-based repository accessible by the entire community.
Investigative reporters, community-based organizations, and business entities would be encouraged to deposit information into the repository that they’ve obtained through the public records requests.
Cloud-Based Repository Most Efficient
A citizen’s request for public records through a central library repository removes layers of bureaucracy, reduces the escalating costs of accessing public records and leads to a more informed and engaged citizenry.
The Florida First Amendment Foundation would willingly join this partnership. Through Winter Park’s leadership, this could become a national model. What a wonderful value-added component to a library’s 21st- century services.
Editor’s Note: Barbara Petersen is President of the Florida First Amendment Foundation, which works to preserve and protect open government laws (www.floridafaf.org). She is past Chair of the National Freedom of Information Coalition and served as Chair of the Commission on Open Government. Petersen is based in Tallahassee.
The Winter Park Public Library partnered with the Washington, D.C.-based Aspen Institute to convene community gatherings to discuss the role of the 21st century library. A panel discussion on the evening of June 8 at the University Club was open to the general public. The following day, a group of 30 community leaders gathered at the Civic Center for a day-long roundtable discussion.
Public Forum at University Club
The library dialogue led off with a Wednesday evening event entitled, “Your Winter Park Library: A Conversation About the Future.” The panel discussion was moderated by Amy Garmer, Director, Dialogue on Public Libraries, from The Aspen Institute. The formal presentation was followed by lively input from the audience.
Featured panelists were John Bracken, V.P. for Media Innovation at the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, and Richard Adler, Principal, People & Technology and Distinguished Fellow, Institute for the Future.
“We are excited to have John Bracken share his extensive knowledge and national perspective on what it takes to create and sustain healthy, informed and engaged communities in the digital age,” said Winter Park Library Executive Director Shawn Shaffer. “And Richard Adler’s vast insight into the successful marriage of people and technology . . . will set a strong foundation for the Winter Park Library Dialogue.”
Winter Park Will Be Model for Other Libraries
“Winter Park is the first of five communities across the country that we will be working with in the next year and a half,” explained Garmer. “The engagement of the City of Winter Park in exploring the future of the library and the opportunities to re-envision its role for the 21st century will serve as a model for other communities across the country.”
Community Leaders Meet – By Invitation Only
The public event was followed the next day by an invitation-only meeting of community leaders and representatives who gathered to discuss how the library can meet changing community needs in an environment of rapid, radical change in information technology. For a list of attendees, click here.
The Winter Park library dialogue was based on a framework established by The Aspen Institute in 2014 that explores how libraries can respond to increased demands for high-speed information access, changes in our education and job training systems, and community services to help people compete in a changing economy.
Round Table Discussion
Participants in Thursday’s moderated roundtable addressed four strategic opportunities.
1. Aligning library services in support of community goals
2. Providing access to content in all formats
3. Cultivating leadership and citizenship in the community
4. Ensuring the long-term sustainability of the library
In the coming weeks, The Aspen Institute will report the results of the June meetings.
‘Be Grateful for the City You Live In’
Amy Garmer remarked on how impressed she was by the level of sophistication, knowledge and commitment she encountered in Winter Park. “Winter Park is unique,” she said. “You are so fortunate. Be grateful for the city you live in.”
Guest Columnist – Joe Terranova Much has been said recently about the construction of a new library in Winter Park. Unfortunately, some of the comments by the Mayor and others have been misleading. Here is another view.
Mayor Steve Leary has stated on several occasions that the petition being circulated is illegal. I am not aware that any court has ruled on the matter. The City Attorney may ‘feel’ that way. Our counsel says our actions are strictly within the law.
City Clerk Calls Petition Unlawful
Although our City Clerk has made statements that cast doubt on the legality and timeliness of the petition, our City Charter gives her, in her official capacity, no legal standing to make those kinds of judgements.
I am a member of the Petitioners’ Committee collecting signatures to prevent the construction of a new library in Martin Luther King, Jr., Park.
Why Are We Doing This?
The citizens recently approved a referendum authorizing the City to issue bonds in an amount up to $30 Million to build a new library, events center and associated parking structure. The Mayor has stated that “everyone knew” the library would be built in MLK Park.
No Site In Referendum
Neither the ballot language nor the ordinance authorizing the referendum stated where the library would be built. In fact, during a Commission meeting when the ordinance was being voted on, one commissioner wanted to specifically say in the ordinance that the library would be built in MLK Park. The Commission voted No.
Publications issued in support of the new library made it clear that all the conceptual renderings of the structures were just that – conceptual renderings. Nowhere did it say the MLK site was cast in stone.
MLK Park – Who Knew?
Our petition circulators have reported that while some people knew where the library would be built, most did not. Many of those who did not said they would not have voted in favor of the referendum had they been aware of the intended site in MLK Park.
Why Not MLK Park?
MLK Park is probably the worst option available to the City for the location of the new library. This huge structure would adversely affect the environment in the park. Traffic at the corner of 17-92 and Harper Street is already bad and will get worse, even without adding a library and events center. Removing an essential element – our library – from the core of our City will, in time, denigrate Winter Park as a special place.
Where Can the New Library Go?
The approved referendum gives the City the legal authority to build the new library anywhere in the City it wants. City leadership, however, has never bothered to get a consensus of the citizens to support the MLK Park site for a combined library, events center and associated parking structure. As a result, the Mayor has unnecessarily divided the City on this issue.
It is now time to take MLK Park off the table and get real as to a proper location for the new library in the City core. The only way we can do this is through our Citizens’ Initiative, which is authorized by the City Charter.
Sign the Petition
If you have not already signed our petition and wish to do so, contact our petition coordinator, Sally Flynn, by email at email@example.com. Someone will be in touch with you. If you believe as we do, we urge you to sign the petition.
Our motto is simple: Library? YES! In MLK Park? NO!
Former Winter Park Mayor Joe Terranova is a member of the Citizens Petition Committee.
For the better part of two years – and, really, for many decades prior to that – Winter Park has been engaged in a discussion of how to preserve the character of our city — the character that makes us cherish the privilege of living here. We all want the same thing, but we have difficulty agreeing on how to achieve it.
What Do We Want?
Basically, we want our city to stay beautiful.
How do we do that?
The attached video articulates in a simple, vivid way, six principles of civic beauty. Regardless of which notion you espouse of beauty and how to achieve it, this entertaining, instructive piece offers a framework and a vocabulary with which to conduct the discussion.
Six Principles of Beautiful Cities
1. Variety and Order
2. Visible Life
4. Orientation and Mystery
6. Make it Local
Seventh Principle for Winter Park
7. Create Shade – shade trees, awnings, misters – anything to protect us from that famous Florida sunshine.
I hope you will take the time to enjoy this short video, originally published by The School of Life, located in London’s famed Bloomsbury district. They describe themselves this way. “The School of Life is devoted to developing emotional intelligence through the help of culture. We offer a variety of programs and services concerned with how to live wisely and well.”