Four Candidates = No Primary

Shambeck Withdraws from Commission Race

Four Candidates = No Primary

After some to-ing and fro-ing, Winter Park has finally settled into the 2015 election cycle. The period during which candidates could qualify to run ended yesterday at noon. City Communications Director Clarissa Howard confirmed that two candidates, Steven Leary and Cynthia Mackinnon, will oppose each other in the race for mayor. Two candidates, Greg Seidel and Gary Brewer, will run for Commission Seat #1, which is being vacated by Leary.

Shambeck Drops Out

The third candidate for commission, Willow Shambeck, withdrew from the race and threw her support behind Gary Brewer. She also endorsed Steve Leary for mayor.

Shambeck, President and Broker of Cursor Realty Commercial, stated, “. . .I have decided it is better to withdraw my candidacy for Winter Park City Commissioner. With the addition of a third candidate, the race will require nearly 100% of my time and resources to run a February Primary Election and a March General Election . . . which I unfortunately cannot afford to dedicate at this stage in my business.”

General Election – March 10

The fact that there will be no primary election significantly simplifies the election schedule shown in the chart below.


 

Special Election 2015 Section in The Voice

The Voice will feature a special Election 2015 section. To see candidate profiles, interviews, filings, positions on various issues and other stories as they are published about Winter Park’s very own annual reality show, click on the “Election 2015” button in the upper right portion of your screen. 

Campaign Treasurer’s Reports can be found on the City of Winter Park website athttp://cityofwinterpark.org/government/city-info/election-info/financial-reports/.

Kenneth F. Murrah

January 19, 1933 – December 5, 2014

Kenneth F. Murrah

 

Leadership and service marked a life of accomplishment for Kenneth F. Murrah, who succumbed to prostate cancer on December 5, 2014.

Kenneth was the quintessential Southern gentleman, with a distinctive accent formed during his youth in Chipley (now Pine Mountain), Georgia. Kenneth moved to Winter Park in 1944. He expressed his affection for this town through service on the City Commission and the Parks and Recreation Board and by his many personal contributions.

City Historian

His Winter Park history presentations before various community organizations earned him the de facto title of City Historian. He loved learning about the people who had made a difference in this town and, in the process, Kenneth became one of them.

Valued Education

Kenneth appreciated his fine education and generously supported the institutions that provided it. Valedictorian of the Winter Park High School class of 1951, he was one of the founders of the school’s Foundation. In 1998 he initiated an annual celebration at the Winter Park Public Library honoring each year’s valedictorians and their families. He endowed a fund to continue the tradition.

“Mr. Emory”

In gratitude for the scholarships that made it possible for him to graduate from both the College and Law School at Emory University, he contributed funds each year that enabled other young people to enjoy that opportunity. His volunteer service to Emory was recognized both with the law school’s Distinguished Alumnus Award and the J. Pollard Turman Award for exceptional alumni service.  Kenneth’s undergraduate leadership positions included President of his fraternity and Student Body President.

Loyal ATO

His Alpha Tau Omega fraternity provided a lifetime of friendships. He showed his appreciation by endowing college scholarships and LeaderShape training for ATOs, both at Emory and at Florida chapters. He assisted in founding the University of Central Florida ATO chapter and served on the board of the ATO National Foundation.

Distinguished Attorney

Kenneth established his law practice in Winter Park in 1963, focusing on estates and trusts. With support from longtime partners Patrick Doyle and Bruce Wigle, and from devoted staff, Kenneth helped people plan secure futures for themselves. The firm provided broad services to many widows and widowers who had no families to help them. In July 2014, Kenneth recruited a talented young partner, David Torre, to help carry on the firm’s work. Kenneth loved his work and could never imagine retirement. He worked on behalf of others to the end of his life.

Lifelong Methodist

Kenneth supported the First United Methodist Church of Winter Park and served on the Board of Trustees. As managing trustee of the Susan H. Marcy Trust, he initiated a number of innovative grants to strengthen the church. For over 35 years, he also participated on the district New Church Development Board.

Civic Leader

A passion for fairness and a devotion to community put Kenneth at the forefront of many civic efforts. The list of task forces on which Kenneth served is a long one. Among the most important were the Bi-Racial Commission in the early 1960s — predating the 1964 Civil Rights Act — Central Park, City Charter, and Commuter Rail. He also helped raise funds to furnish the Rachel D. Murrah Civic Center, named in honor of his late wife. He garnered funds to develop Shady Park, promoted a bond referendum to purchase the city golf course, and supported a referendum to build the new public safety building.

He served on the boards of Hospice of Central Florida, the Winter Park Chamber of Commerce, the Central Florida Foundation, the Holocaust Center, Meals on Wheels, the Gardens at DePugh, and the Winter Park Advisory Committee to the Central Florida Foundation.

Kenneth and Rachel, his wife from 1957 until her death in 2000, and his second wife, Ann Hicks, all demonstrated their appreciation for the Winter Park Public Library through  service on its board and support of its fundraisers. Honoring Rachels love of reading, Kenneth established a memorial endowment to purchase works of fiction.

Cultural Leader

Arts and other cultural organizations were a priority for Kenneth. He generously supported the Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra (OPO) and Rollins’ Cornell Fine Arts Museum. He was honored to receive the OPO’s John O. Blackburn Distinguished Service Award in 2013. Kenneth was the kind of board member most valued by non-profits.  He attracted new friends and funds. He gave generously of time, talent, and resources. He prepared diligently for meetings and posed important — if sometimes challenging — questions.

Lifelong Democrat

Kenneth’s connection with the Democratic party dates back to his childhood, when President Roosevelt made frequent visits to nearby Warm Springs, where Kenneth saw him driving his car equipped with hand controls. As an adult Kenneth supported candidates who worked for public education and women’s rights. He was appointed to the Florida Elections Commission by Governor Lawton Chiles. Locally, he served as the treasurer for three candidates for the City Commission.

Devoted Family Man

One key to Kenneth’s ability to give back to his community was the support of his family. For 43 years he was the loving husband of Rachel, mother of his sons Ken and Bert (d. 1990). Since 2002 Ann Hicks has been his fortunate partner not only in civic affairs, but also in world travel. Kenneth especially loved time with Ken Jr.’s family in Ponte Vedra, watching Jack, Kenny, and MacLain grow up, and, with Ann, providing sideline support for Jack’s baseball, football, and lacrosse games.

Memorial Service January 4, 2015

A celebration of Kenneth’s life will take place at the First United Methodist Church of Winter Park on January 4, 2015, at 4:00 p.m., preceded by music from members of the Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra at 3:30, and followed by a reception in the Family Life Center. Friends are encouraged to follow his example of generosity by making a contribution to the OPO Plaza renovation fund, the Winter Park Library new building fund, the Cornell Museum exhibits fund, or your preferred non-profit organization.

 

 

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News Alert--Bowling Alley Slides Into Gutter on a 3-3 Split

News Alert–Bowling Alley Slides Into Gutter on a 3-3 Split

The Voice reported on September 19 that the Community  Redevelopment Advisory Board and the Parks & Recreation Advisory Board narrowly approved the purchase of the Fairbanks Avenue Bowling Alley at 1111 Fairbanks Avenue. On September 22, however, the Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) voted down the $3,250,000  purchase of the 1.6 acre property on a 3-3 split.

 

Bradley, Leary, McMacken on Losing Side

Bradley_McMackin_Leary_500x180.fw

The CRA Advisory Board is made up of citizens serving in an advisory capacity only. The Community Redevelopment Agency, which is comprised of the mayor and four commissioners, plus a representative from Orange County, Frank DeToma, is the decision-making body.

 

Knight: “The price is the price.”

Bowlingv2 Bradley

City Manager Randy Knight kicked off the discussion by reporting that he had

spoken with the seller, Scott Fish of UP Developments, and that Fish was

unwilling to take less than the $3.25 Million asking price. “So,” said Knight, “the price is the price.”

But, What’s the Value? 

Whatever the price, the value is still unclear. City staff has, to date, not had the land appraised nor are they able to answer questions about what other, similar pieces of property are available.

McMacken: “We’re adding a substantial piece to a great park.”

Arguing in favor of the acquisition, Commissioner Tom McMacken said he thought, long term, this would be “money well spent.”

Bradley later stated, “This is a property that’s never been on the market . . . never, ever been on the market.”

Cooper: “Don’t Talk to me about an asphalt park.” 

Bowlingv2 Cooper

“The struggle I’m having,” said Cooper, “is that staff’s plan for this – and generally those plans come to fruition – is for this to be an asphalt parking lot . . . So that’s not park. Don’t talk to me about an asphalt park.”

 

For Commissioner Sprinkel, the deal didn’t pass the sniff test. She said that while the bowling alley acquisition deal may have been familiar to some on the dais, “It just dropped into my lap.”  She said she felt the commission had not spent sufficient time discussing the acquisition or exploring the different possibilities that might be available to them. “I just feel like it’s too fast,” she said, “it’s not considering everything, and it just doesn’t feel right.”

How Are We Going to Pay for This?

Bowlingv2 Sprinkel

One issue that arose repeatedly was the funding source. The acquisition of the property had first come up during the budget discussion at the August 25 commission meeting.

 

The city proposed to use $1,650,000 from CRA reserves, $975,000 from the Parks Acquisition Funds and $625,000 from the sale of land to the medical practice of Dr. Ivan Castro. The CRA reserves, however, had only $1,400,000 — not $1,650,000. Where to find $250,000?

 

$245,000 Mysteriously Materializes

Expenditures for CRA Projects and Community Initiatives in the CRA budget proposed on August 25 totaled $1,165,148. Without a murmur, by September 22, total CRA expenditures had fallen to $920,648.

 

These are the projects that took the hit.   

CRA Project or 

Community Initiative

8/25 Proposed

Budget

9/22 Proposed

Budget

Heritage Center Operation

40,000

30,000

Housing Rehab Assistance

20,000

0

Business Façade Matching PRG

25,000

0

West Meadow Ice Rink

225,000

225,000

W. Morse Blvd. Streetscape

100,000

0

Signs and Wayfinding

90,000

0

                    

The money cut from these projects totals $245,000 – just about enough to make up the shortfall needed to purchase the bowling alley.

 

Bowlingv2 WilliamsCitizens Object to Lack of Transparency

As the mayor opened the floor for public comment, Larry Williams of Eucalyptus Properties approached the podium. First he pointed out that the mayor had been mistaken when he stated that the bowling alley property had never been on the market. “Indeed, it has been on the market,” said Williams, who explained that he himself had optioned the property six years ago, but decided not to buy it because it would be difficult to develop.

Williams went on to address the City Manager: “What you did, Randy, was not right,” he said. “This is a lot of money. You don’t negotiate this kind of deal without putting it out on the table. . . .There’s one thing that’s been absent in this conversation far too much, and that’s the price.”

Williams pointed out that not only is the city paying a premium for land that has limited utility, but also, the city staff at no time requested a property appraisal or verification from Fish of $300,000 in carrying costs he was asking from the city.

Woody Woodall: “This is Not a Park.”

Woody Woodall, who currently sits on the CRA Advisory Board and who voted against the acquisition, insisted, “This is a lousy deal.” He objected to depleting CRA reserves. If the money is there, he said, “I’d rather we spend it on something that will be a positive addition to our parks.”

Will the Commission Seek Last-Minute Appraisal?

As the Commission prepared to vote, Commissioner Cooper proposed to table the matter until the city could get an appraisal on the property, but that amendment failed.

The Board then voted for an amendment to seek a property appraisal. Commissioner Sprinkel questioned the value of such an appraisal. “What happens if the appraisal comes back at less than what the price is?” she wanted to know. When Bradley asked if she wanted to put that forward in the form of an amendment, Sprinkel replied, “I’m not going to vote for it anyway, so it doesn’t make any difference to me.”

When Bradley sought to reassure Sprinkel that the property was “sure to appraise,” especially since there is a building on it of “who knows how many square feet,” Sprinkel replied, “No one knows. That’s the whole problem – we don’t know any of this.”

Bowling Alley Purchase Fails

With that, the clerk read the role. Leary, Bradley and McMacken voted for the purchase.  Sprinkel, Cooper and DeToma voted against.

The 3 – 3 vote was not enough. The motion failed. 

  

Will City Strike a Fair Deal to Buy Bowling Alley?

Some Say It’s a High Price to Pay

Will City Strike a Fair Deal to Buy Bowling Alley?


September 18, 2014 – High Noon. City Manager Randy Knight called a joint meeting of the Community Redevelopment (CRA) Advisory Board and the Parks & Recreation Board to discuss the purchase of the Fairbanks Avenue Bowling Alley at 1111 W. Fairbanks Ave. The two boards met at the Winter Park Country Club golf club house.
Scott Fish, of UP Developments, LLC, developer of the new Whole Foods, has contracted with Rollins College to purchase the bowling alley for $2,950,000. Fish is willing to assign his contract with Rollins to the city, so the city can buy the bowling alley property to extend Martin Luther King, Jr., Park.

City Rushes to Meet Deadline

The city will waste no time waiting until after the visioning process to seize the opportunity. The contract between UP Developments and Rollins is scheduled to close October 27, creating urgency among city staff to reach a decision. The matter will go before the CRA Board at 2:30 Monday, September 22, and will be on the agenda of the commission meeting which immediately follows.

Rollins Bought Property in 2013

Rollins purchased the bowling alley property in the late spring of 2013, when it looked like Harper-Shepherd Field would become a Minor League baseball stadium. Rollins needed space for other teams that use Harper-Shepherd. Being next to Martin Luther King, Jr., Park, the bowling alley property was an ideal location for Rollins to expand their playing fields.
When it became clear that baseball would not be coming to Winter Park, however, Rollins no longer needed expansion room and sought to sell the property. UP Developments, LLC,, stepped in and contracted to buy the property from Rollins.
Apparently, the city has been interested in the bowling alley property for some time, with an eye to expanding MLK Park and mitigating some of the traffic problems on Fairbanks. When they approached Scott Fish about it, Fish agreed to assign his contract with Rollins to the city, so that the city can buy the property from Rollins and UP Developments will withdraw from the transaction.

Purchase Will Expand MLK Park, Add Parking

City purchase of this property would expand MLK Park by approximately 1.6 acres, allowing for a non-regulation sized playing field. It would also create an additional 100 parking spaces for the park and for business establishments along Fairbanks and 17-92. Preliminary plans also call for an extended right-hand turn lane along west-bound Fairbanks at the intersection with 17-92.

Cost to City — $3.25 Million

The city proposes to pay for the property with funds from several different sources. They include:

CRA contribution from fund reserved for debt service $1,650,000
Parks Acquisition funds 975,000
Sale of city land at 300 Pennsylvania Ave. 625,000
TOTAL
$3,250,000

UP Development’s contract with Rollins is for $2,950,000. According to Winter Park Communications Director Clarissa Howard, the additional $300,000 the city is willing to pay would compensate Scott Fish for “real estate fees and site plan design fees associated with the property.”

“Is this a fair price?”

CRA Advisory Board member Daniel Butts asked City Manager Knight if he thought this was a fair price for the property. Knight replied, “It’s higher than market value,” but added that there has been no appraisal on the property.
Butts then wanted to know how much the city would lose in tax revenues. He pointed out that this expenditure would “wipe out the rainy-day fund” for CRA debt service. The debt he was referring to is on the Community Center in the Hannibal Square neighborhood. The “rainy day” fund would cover this debt service should property values fall again as they did in 2010-2011.

Land Acquisition Only the Beginning

Parks & Recreation Advisory Board member Janet Atkins pointed out that acquisition of the land was only the beginning, and that considerable additional funds would be required to demolish the building and to redevelop the property. It is also unclear who would pay for widening Fairbanks to create the right turn lane onto 17-92. She said, however, that “this is a great first step toward expanding this park.”

Parks & Rec Votes to Approve the Purchase

Parks & Recreation Director John Holland stated the land purchase would help meet the goals of the Parks & Rec Department in three ways. First, it would add park land, consistent with the Comprehensive Plan mandate to provide one acre of green space per 10,000 residents. “We are right on the line of meeting that level of service,” said Holland. He pointed out that there is a need for more multi-purpose playing fields. And, third, there is a current parking shortage at MLK Park.

CRA Votes Approval — with Strings Attached

The CRA Advisory Board, which voted separately, required more discussion. Daniel Butts wanted to know if the city had any other funding source. Noting that the city has reserves of $27 Million, Butts suggested the city contribute at least half of the purchase price to avoid depleting CRA contingency funds. He also urged Randy Knight and Planning Director Dori Stone to go to Scott Fish and to Rollins to re-negotiate the sale and come back with a better price. The CRA then voted three to two to approve as amended.
The measure is scheduled to go before the CRA at 2:30 Monday, September 22, and then to the Commission, which meets at 3:30 immediately following the CRA.

Comp Plan Amendment Fails; City Takes Up FY 2015 Budget

Considers Funding Regional Arts Center

Comp Plan Amendment Fails; City Takes Up FY 2015 Budget

In an abrupt turnaround, the city commission acquiesced to city staff recommendations and citizen sentiment and voted unanimously to quash the proposed amendment to the Winter Park Comp Plan. The proposed change would have increased density of development on four-lane roads and eliminated parking garages from the calculation of allowable building size.

A standing-room-only crowd, most of them carrying the “indoor” version of the now familiar No Density signs, filled the chambers on the evening of August 25. As the proposed amendment came up for discussion, City Planning Director Dori Stone took the podium to articulate staff’s recommendation regarding the amendment. She stated, “Staff is recommending that we not adopt [the amendment] until we go through the visioning process.”

Commissioner Carolyn Cooper made a motion Not to Adopt; Commissioner Sarah Sprinkel seconded, and the motion Not to Adopt passed unanimously.

Commission Gets Down to the Nitty-Gritty Business of the City

After a break, the chambers cleared of yellow signs and the commission got down to the first episode of the city’s yearly reality show – The Budget. August 25 was the first of three commission meetings that will see discussions and, ultimately, finalization of the FY 2015 city budget.

There is good news in this budget – the millage rate is set to remain the same, as it has for the past seven years. It allocates substantial additional funds for tree purchases. And the city reserves are holding steady at about 30 percent.

New Funding Mechanism for Organizational Support

This year’s proposal includes a mechanism for funding organizational support, based on a quarter point revenue contribution from each of the three major funds: General Fund, Electric, and Water & Wastewater. Current estimates put the funding pool at approximately $294,500 – nearly double what has been provided in the past. The current budget proposal, however, allocates $257,000 for organizational support.

To date, the city has received requests from six organizations. The chart below shows the amount each organization requested and the amount the city proposes to allocate.


Organization


Funding Request

 
Proposed Allocation

United Arts

$17,000

$15,000

WP Day Nursery

  24,000

    7,000

Mead Gardens

  85,000

  75,000

WP Historical Association

  70,000

  60,000

WP Playhouse

  30,000

      -0-

Performing Arts Center*

$100k for 10 years

$100k for 10 years

DPAC Scores Big

The Performing Arts Center referred to here is the Dr. Phillips Performing Arts Center (DPAC) in Orlando. Winter Park proposes to contribute $100,000 a year over the next 10 years, totaling $1 Million. This year’s $100,000 contribution represents approximately 39 percent of the total allocation for organizational support.

According to DPAC Communications Director Scott Bowman, the budget for DPAC now stands at $513 Million. Two-thirds of this money will come from public funds and a third from private donors. This regional facility will boast a 2,700-seat Broadway-type theater, a 1,700-seat acoustical theater and a 300-seat venue for smaller performances.

Winter Park is the only city so far to have offered a pledge of municipal funds to DPAC.

Will WP Kids & Orgs Play 2nd Fiddle to DPAC?

Since 25 percent of Winter Parkers’ taxes go to Orange County, according to Winter Park Communications Director Clarissa Howard, Winter Park’s $100,000-a-year organizational support contribution will not be the only Winter Park dollars DPAC will receive.

It is difficult to imagine what impact Winter Park’s $100,000-dollars-a-year will have on a $513 Million project. It is easier to envision the effect that an additional $100,000 a year over the next 10 years might have if it were spread among local organizations such as the Winter Park Day Nursery or the Winter Park Playhouse.

Future Commissions Hands Are Not Tied

Communications Director Clarissa Howard did confirm in an email to the Voice, “Although commission can plan for a 10-year, $100,000 funding to DPAC, they cannot commit future commissions to this funding amount. Every commission has the ability to approve the levels of funding they feel are needed at that time.”

 

 

City Welcomes "Grass Roots" Ordinance Reform--Sometimes

A Closer Look at Two Ordinances Reveals That City’s Embrace of Citizen Activism Depends on Ordinance & Which Citizens Are Doing the Reforming

City Welcomes “Grass Roots” Ordinance Reform–Sometimes

The City’s apparent reluctance to fully partner with citizen advocates for stronger historic preservation – including the Commission’s unwillingness (so far) to grant a hearing to the City’s own consultant – has troubled local preservationists.

The uneasy relationship between the City and an informal Historic Preservation citizens’ advisory panel contrasts strongly with the close working relationship between the City and the citizen advisory panel headed by Patrick Chapin and attorney Frank Hamner that worked closely with the Planning department and the City Commission to craft a new Fine Dining Ordinance. The Fine Dining panel’s recommendations were heard by the City’s Planning and Zoning Board as well as the full City Commission. Their recommendations formed the basis of the City’s new Fine Dining ordinance which was adopted in September, 2013.

There are similarities in the paths taken by each group in their attempts to amend a City ordinance – similarities that include months of meetings, resolution of conflicting views and interaction with City Boards. However, the contrast between the City’s treatment of the Fine Dining and Historic Preservation panels is striking.

Fine Dining Panel Receives Kudos All Around & Full City Cooperation.

By any measure, Chamber of Commerce President Patrick Chapin would be considered a City Hall insider.

Mr. Chapin sits on the Economic Development Advisory Board (EDAB) and also represents the interests of the Park Avenue Merchants’ Association in frequent testimony before the City Commission.

Mr. Chapin’s partner on the Panel was Frank Hamner, a local attorney representing the interests of the Holler family – a prominent Park Avenue landowner. The panel also included other Chamber members.

Mr. Hamner successfully lobbied City Hall to permit two fast food chains, Burger Fi and Firehouse Subs, to occupy Park Avenue retail space owned the Hollers. However, before and after the Firehouse Subs deal was closed, Mr. Hamner continued to work with Mr. Chapin to close the door to all future fast food chains on the Avenue.

City email records obtained by the Voice show that high-level staffers at City Hall – Director of Planning and Community Development Dori Stone and Planning Manager Jeff Briggs – corresponded frequently with Hamner and Chapin on a range of matters, including Fine Dining, during an 8 month period between May and December, 2013. Our count of the emails exchanged among Chapin, Hamner, Briggs and Stone in various combinations shows that more than 100 emails were exchanged.

Various public statements from City officials and their accommodation of the panel’s interest in appearing before key City boards confirmed that the City welcomed the involvement and leadership of Chapin and Hamner in changing the Fine Dining Ordinance. The panel’s draft of proposed ordinance changes was ultimately accepted as the template for the new ordinance that was overwhelmingly approved by the Planning and Zoning Board and the City Commission.

Jeff Briggs applauded the efforts of the Chapin/Hamner panel in his introduction to the panel’s presentation of its proposal to Planning & Zoning on 8/6/13:

 

P&Z Planning Mgr., Jeff Briggs Thanks Fine Dining Panel:

“Fortunately and thankfully, we are in a position now that we have an ordinance that is bottom-up instead of top-down. So there’s much gratitude and thanks from the staff to the Park Avenue Association, the Chamber, Patrick [ Chapin, Chamber of Commerce CEO ] and Frank [ Hamner, Holler family attorney ] and Daniel [ Butts, Battaglia Group CEO & Chamber Board Chair ] and Lambrine [ Macejewski, restaurateur/Chamber member ] . . .

We have a really great ordinance that is going to accomplish the things that we had talked about trying to do in the beginning and now we are finally with the finish line in sight . . . and so, thank you very much from the staff . . .”

After the panel received the unanimous approval of P&Z, they moved on to the City Commission on 8/26/13 and, again, presented their findings and recommendations. Mayor Bradley welcomed the panel:

Mayor Bradley on Fine Dining Panel recommendations:

“I’m going to support this . . . If all laws were made with citizen input and shop owners and everything, we’d be a much better place . . . I want to publicly commend the team that’s been working to do this — and the staff part of that. It’s been a good process.”

Historic Preservation Panel Encounters “Roadblocked” Board & Uncertain Commitment from City. 

Betsy Owens is one of the leaders of the group that is seeking a voice in the City’s revamp of its Historic Preservation ordinance. Ms. Owens is the Executive Director of Casa Feliz, a major historic landmark in the city of Winter Park. Ms. Owens and other preservation-minded citizens are part of a group – the Friends of Casa Feliz Preservation Advocacy Committee – formed to promote ordinance changes that will provide stronger protection of Winter Park’s historic homes and neighborhoods.

The relationship between Winter Park’s citizen preservationists and City government is far more complicated than the relationship between the City and the Fining Dining Panel.

The relationship hit a low point last summer when the City issued a demolition permit for Capen House several months after the City Commission voted unanimously – in a six minute hearing – to strip the historic home of its protected status.

The essence of that decision, which was rendered on behalf of SunTrust bank’s interest in the foreclosed house, was the protection of “property rights” vs. a community’s interest in preserving its cultural heritage.

Since that time, preservationists and City officials have struggled to resolve the “property vs. community rights” issue in numerous Historic Preservation Board hearings. Even though the informal advisory panel has submitted research and recommendations, testified before the HPB on multiple occasions and talked with City officials, including the Mayor, they have never been able to get a commitment from the City that their concerns and recommendations will be considered – and acted on – in any manner resembling the reception afforded the Fine Dining Panel. Click the button below to view the HP Citizen Panel report.

HP Citizen Panel Report

Commission & HP Board Unwilling to Commit to Appearance by HP Expert & Citizen Panel.

Preservationists have been unable to secure a promise from the Commission that either they or the City’s own consultant will be able to present their findings and recommendations directly to the City Commission, as was the case with the Fine Dining Panel. Instead, the Mayor – with the support of Commissioners Steve Leary and Sarah Sprinkel – has insisted that the panel and consultant interact primarily with the HPB, which will consider input from the consultant and the panel, then create a report of its own for presentation to the Commission.

Commissioner Cooper:

“I personally still have faith that we will hear from the experts here . . .”

Mayor Bradley on hearing HP Consultant:

“Whether we hear it or not, there’s dozens of consultants that this City uses in numerous ways – and I don’t believe every report comes to the Commission . . . Our task is clearly to hear from our board . . . That’s what we charge them to do . . . I’m assuming we’re going to hear the whole packet when it’s all said and done . . . “

HPB Chairman, Randall Glidden Rejects Citizen Panel Presentation to Commission:

“The last thing I think anybody wants to do is confuse the Commission . . . with a whole bunch of disconnected conversations . . .”

HPB board member, Genean McKinnon on Confining Citizen Panel Input to HPB:

“This is the clearing house for all of these things, then they will move through us on to the Commission.”

The Commission’s decision not to deal directly with the Historic Preservation citizen panel – and conflicting opinions among HPB members on questions of property rights and whether historic preservation enhances home values, have created discord between the board and citizen preservationists.

Preservationists also question the qualifications of some on the board. However, one opinion that board members and preservationists seem to share is that Lindsey Hayes, the City’s sole preservation-oriented staffer, is a well-qualified, passionate advocate for preservation.

Even though preservationists have had numerous contacts with Lindsey Hayes and a few meetings with Ms. Hayes’ supervisor Dori Stone, our requested search of all email correspondence among Owens and Dori Stone and dept. manager Jeff Briggs between May and December, 2013, showed no evidence of the Historic Preservation Citizen Panel receiving the sort of significant ongoing contact and support these high-level staffers offered the Fine Dining Citizen Panel.

As department Director, Dori Stone is ultimately responsible for working with City Manager Randy Knight to ensure that HPB findings are presented to the City Commission. However, that presentation – originally scheduled for October/November of this year – has now been pushed to the middle of 2014.

Is Preservation Ordinance Reform Imperiled by Board’s Fear of Commission Displeasure?

Lack of support at the highest levels in the City appears to be a factor in the uncertain pace of Historic Preservation review. HPB workload and “careful treading” are also factors. In an HPB workshop on October 9, 2013, HPB Chair Randall Glidden remarked that a set of past recommendations had hit a “roadblock” with the Commission because some Commissioners had objected to recommendations related to creation of Historic Districts in the City.

Does City Historic Preservation Board See Itself as City Commission’s Agent or Its Advisor?

During the workshop, Mr. Glidden suggested that because the board’s work involves policy considerations, it is appropriate for the HPB to “. . . go up the line to the City Commission” to find out from them “. . . what do you want to see? How do you want the historic resources of the City of Winter Park to be protected? What levels do you want to go to?’’

Mr. Glidden’s assertion triggered a question from audience member Pat McDonald seeking clarification of how the HPB sees its relationship with the City Commission:

Pat McDonald:

“So you’re not going to function really as an advisory board – you’re going function more as ‘You [ Commission ] tell us what you want and we’ll make that happen?’”

HPB Chairman Glidden:

“. . . We took the more proactive approach 18 months ago – and as a result, everything stalled. So, at this point in time I think it’s as important – if not more important – to say [ to the Commission ] ‘Here’s what your options are – but you need to tell us what you want to see…’ and then we’ll make it work.”

Mr. Glidden indicated that the HPB had even considered “removing” some recommended changes to make their findings more palatable to the Commission. During the workshop, Chairman Glidden and board member Genean McKinnon balked at suggestions that the work of the citizen panel should be presented directly to the Commission with Ms. McKinnon suggesting that the HPB’s report deadline made presentation of the citizen panel’s report to the Commission problematic. Mr. Glidden added that “I just think multiple recommendations prior to this board making their recommendation may be confusing. And, it kind of jumps the process.”

Who Were the “Back Channel” Influencers Who Caused the HPB to Ditch HP Ordinance Recommendations in 2012?

During the October 9 workshop, in response to intense questioning by preservationist Aimee Spencer, Mr. Glidden admitted that in March 2012, a male Commissioner had communicated to him that board-recommended changes were unacceptable, giving Glidden the impression that the board’s 2012 ordinance changes “wouldn’t fly” with the Commission due to “property rights” objections.

The exchange between the board chair and the Commissioner took place immediately after the P&Z board voted unanimously to accept the board’s recommendations on March 6, 2012.

Chairman Glidden described his encounter with the Commissioner after the P&Z meeting saying, “In talking to him [ the Commissioner ] after, I could see that we were going to have a problem . . .”

It is this input and similar comments apparently passed on to Glidden by Randy Knight and others through “back channels” in 2012 that accounted for the withdrawal of the board’s Historic Preservation ordinance recommendations from consideration at that time.

The Voice asked the City’s two male Commissioners whether either of them had spoken with Mr. Glidden at the March 6 P& Z meeting:

Commissioner Leary on his contact with Chairman of Historic Preservation Board:“It is quite possible that I attended the P&Z meeting almost two years ago that you reference as I try to attend as many board/task force meetings as possible so as to stay informed on issues/projects. It is also possible that I spoke to Mr. Glidden and others during that meeting as I appreciate hearing from members of our community to help inform my perspective.”

Commissioner McMacken responds:

“I checked my appointment calendar for 2012 and it does show a P&Z meeting on March 6th. I have no recollection of any conversation with Mr. Glidden on or about that date.”

As shown in the 10/9 workshop video, preservationists and other citizens are continuing to ask for an opportunity to directly address the City Commission to present their views and suggestions – and those of the City‘s expert consultant. Despite Commission efforts to keep citizen and consultant testimony largely confined to the HPB, even City staffers had assumed that the Commission would – as a first step in consideration of ordinance changes – hear direct testimony from the City’s own Historic Preservation consultant, but a majority of the Commission rejected that option in November.

Video excerpts (included in part one of this story) of Commissioners debating the merits of allowing the City’s Historic Preservation consultant to share his research and recommendations with them illustrates the ideological and procedural fault lines along which the Commission is still divided – fault lines that the Fine Dining Panel somehow managed to straddle, but which have so far proved impassable to advocates in the Historic Preservation community.

Read & Input Comments

Note: We have changed the text of this article to correctly identify Ms. Betsy Owens by her proper surname.


 

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Commission Heeds the Will of the (Tennis) People

Votes to Keep Tennis Ctr. Vendor. Will City Negotiate More $$ This Time?

Commission Heeds the Will of the (Tennis) People

Last Monday, the City Commission chamber filled up fast with supporters of the current management at Winter Park’s Azalea Lane Tennis Center. In the three years High Performance Sports Management has run the Tennis Center, HPSM president Angie Zguna has made a lot of friends – and at Monday’s City Commission meeting, Angie’s friends stood up for her.

They also sent email – lots of it – to City Commissioners.

The formidable email campaign mounted by Ms. Zguna’s supporters made an impression on the city’s politicians, creating a buzz at City Hall culminating in a unanimous commission vote that gave the nod to Zguna’s company. The commission vote in favor of negotiating a new contract with HPSM was a rejection of the city’s own selection committee whose first choice was competing vendor NetResults Tennis LLC. HPSM and NetResults bid proposals and selection committee evaluations of both vendors can be accessed by clicking the buttons below.

HPSM Proposal    NetResults Proposal    Selection Committee Evaluation

Angie Zguna’s High Performance Sports Management Wins Commission Approval

A review of Angie Zguna’s career highlights and qualifications (provided to the city by Ms. Zguna) shows that she established herself as a formidable competitor at an early age. In her native Latvia, she rose quickly in ranks of young tennis stars, earning a high ranking in singles and doubles tournament play. Her performance in her home country ultimately lead to a #16 “Junior” ranking in the Soviet Union republics. After moving to the U.S. in the 1990s, Ms. Zguna played collegiate tennis in Louisiana before transferring to Rollins College where she earned the title of #1 Singles player in Division II.

Despite the strong support Ms. Zguna received from Winter Park’s tennis devotees, she has had to overcome many obstacles to win acceptance at City Hall – including opposition three years ago during her initial bid to manage the center. That opposition included other competing bidders and some Tennis Center members who opposed her in 2009, but are now supporting her.

In 2009, Ms. Zguna bested another strong competing bidder – who also happened to be the first choice of the city’s selection committee – and then managed to survive a second challenge when the losing bidder contested the City Commission’s vote in her favor.

All sources the Voice spoke with – inside and outside city government – agree that HPSM is managing the Tennis Center better than the city did and that Winter Park’s tennis players are happy with the arrangement.

Click for Video

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Why Did Tennis Center Lose Money before 2010 and Make So Much After?

According to a Jan. 25, 2010 story in the Orlando Sentinel, “the city lost $200,000 in the past four years” leading up to the management change. In 2009, the Tennis Center earned $128,420 in gross revenues, but the city’s cost to run and maintain the center was $213,655.00. The city’s yearly losses are cited as a key reason the city chose to privatize the management of a Tennis Center. In 2010, the center experienced a dramatic turn-around when the city privatized center management. Under HPSM management, Winter Park’s Tennis Center quadrupled its gross revenues over the next two years – moving the center from annual gross revenues of $128,420 in 2009 to $519,240 in 2011.

The Voice asked John Holland, Director of Parks and Recreation, how the Tennis Center managed to lose so much money when city staff was running it prior to 2010. Though Mr. Holland has testified to Ms. Zguna’s skill at running the Center and lauded her expansion of membership at the center, he credited a single factor as the key reason Tennis Center revenues turned from loss to profit so quickly: Tennis Pro fees.

Mr. Holland told the Voice that, prior to 2010 when the city ran the center, tennis professionals teaching at the center were only required to pay the city a small annual fee to teach on city-funded courts. When HPSM took over management of the center in 2010, the city required Zguna’s company to charge these independent pros a percentage of the private lesson fees they earn at the Tennis Center. According to Holland, this significant increase in revenue played a large part in turning the Tennis Center from loss to profit virtually overnight.

Was the City/Zguna Deal Too Sweet?

The Voice has spoken with sources close to the story who question whether the city might have driven a harder bargain – requiring HPSM to share more of the revenues generated by the Tennis Center, which is still city-owned. City staffers confirm that they do not know – year to year – what those net revenues are because Ms. Zguna’s company is not required to report profit and loss information to the city. However, Ms. Zguna did submit tax returns to the city as part of the current bid process.

The city’s current contract with Zguna’s company specifies that HPSM pays 10% of annual gross revenues to the city with the remaining 90% going to HPSM. According to the city, HPSM was not required to pay any sort of fee or “buy-in” to take over the city facility.

Per its contract with HPSM, the city has been obligated to cover most of the expense of maintaining the Tennis Center (including utilities) except for the cost of HPSMs own administrative overhead which includes their personnel costs. The Voice has confirmed with city staff that the city’s current negotiation with HPSM on the new contract includes a requirement that HPSM will pay for the center’s water and electric utilities starting this year – a concession worth about $40,000.

Despite the limited financial information the city receives from HPSM, city staff has provided the Voice with information on its own Tennis Center costs and assumed HPSM annual revenues. This information appears to support speculation that the center may be generating significant net profits for HPSM. In the years since the city created a defacto “partnership” with HPSM by handing over 90% of revenues in return for management services, the city has continued to provide much of the maintenance and upkeep of the HPSM-run center. City costs have been at least partially offset by the 10% of revenues the city receives from HPSM.

New Contract Negotiations: Will City Leave Too Much Money on the Table This Time?

In response to Voice inquiries, the city provided the information shown below documenting the 10% payments the city has received from HPSM over the last three years. Also shown are the gross revenues the city assumes the Tennis Center is earning as extrapolated from the 10% payments received by the city:

2010 — 10% = $34,310 / Assumed HPSM gross: $343,100
2011 — 10% = $51,924 / Assumed HPSM gross: $519,240
2012 — 10% = $50,521 / Assumed HPSM gross: $505,210

According to John Holland, the city’s Director of Parks and Recreation, the cost to the city of maintaining the Tennis Center in 2012 was $50,791.73. $40,393.00 of that cost was for water and electrical utilities – a cost that will be shifted to HPSM under the new contract. If city estimates of Tennis Center gross revenues are accurate, the center grossed almost $400,000 more in 2012 than it did in 2009.

Angie Zguna Responds

The Voice spoke with Angie Zguna, who accepted the city’s numbers and assumptions, though her own calendar-year accounting and royalty breakdowns are slightly different than the city’s fiscal-year-based accounting. Ms. Zguna also points out that HPSM covers “all operational expenses of the facility” while acknowledging that the city supplies significant assets, utilities and maintenance per its current contract with HPSM.

In her statement to the Voice, Ms. Zguna expressed her gratitude for the support she received from Winter Parkers: “We are thrilled to have once again been chosen to manage the operation of the tennis center. We love Winter Park, the community, Rollins, and feel that this is our home and to be able to continue managing the courts is a privilege and honor. We intend to take the center to the next level by continuing to work with the community to attract more local residents to learn tennis, to provide community outreach by working with local schools to introduce tennis as a lifetime sports to elementary and middle school children, to bring more tournaments, increase membership, and to attract international players to Winter Park tennis center as a world class training facility.”

The Voice has asked all City Commissioners and the Mayor to comment on this story. None have commented as of press time.

Auditor Quits. Cites City "Appearance" Concerns

Britz-Parker: I maintained “highest standards for independence.”

Auditor Quits. Cites City “Appearance” Concerns

2/11/13 Story Update:
City Auditor Bernadette Britz-Parker has withdrawn from her position with the city and will be replaced by another member of her firm, James Halleran. In a letter sent to the city (see button below) and obtained by the Voice today, Ms. Britz-Parker states that she has maintained the “Independence in Fact” and “Independence in Appearance” required of CPAs.
Britz-Parker also writes that she “never violated any standard, statute, interpretation, pronouncement or regulation relating to the profession.” The Voice spoke with a member of Britz-Parker’s CPA firm seeking comment from her or any representative of her firm regarding her withdrawal from the city account, but has not received any comment prior to publishing this update. We have also requested comment from city staff, the Mayor and all commissioners regarding these developments — and any future actions the city may take — but have not received comment as of press time.

Britz-Parker states categorically that her comments concerning Commissioner Cooper were not an endorsement of her campaign: “This comment was in fact an observation about preparedness for meetings and not an endorsement of Commissioner Cooper, who as I recall, was an unopposed candidate for re-election to the Winter Park City Commission.”
In the closing of her letter, Britz-Parker acknowledged the concerns of city officials regarding the appearance her comments created: “While I am confident that my independence has not been impaired in any way, after discussing the matter with the Managing Partner of our firm and the Partner in Charge of Accounting and Auditing, we have concluded that to assuage any concerns you might have, effective the date of this letter, the partner in charge of the City of Winter Park engagement will be James Halleran.” Letter From City Auditor

Cooper Faults Bradley for Ethical Inconsistency: “Wrong / Shameful”

In Monday’s Commission meeting, the gloves came off soon after opening niceties were dispensed with. Mayor Bradley started the exchange by responding to the City Auditor’s resignation: “I personally welcome that and will welcome the new partner.” Commissioner Cooper jumped in and asked for consideration of new rules and a consistent standard of conduct. As a case in point, she spoke about campaign contributions given to commissioners by the prior City Auditor.

Cooper cited her own investigation that turned up evidence that “that our prior auditor actually made contributions to candidates — financial contributions — while they were auditors.” Cooper compared the commission’s concern about an endorsement with their silence regarding campaign contributions by prior auditors: “If we were uncomfortable with the James Moore firm saying that I prepared for meetings, then I’m sure we would be equally uncomfortable with an auditor that gave the maximum possible financial contributions to people on this commission . . .”


Mayor Bradley disagreed, referring to the Auditor’s letter of resignation: “There’s a huge difference . . . she said, I mean, in her letter as you’ve read, apparently the same thing: ‘We probably should have re-thought that’ and because of that to assure the assurance that there’s no questions that she’s asked to be relieved of that responsibility. So I support that decision. I think that she did the right thing.”
The entire Feb. 11 commission discussion of the City Auditor resignation is featured in WPV Video shown below.

Click for Video

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2/9/13 Story: Election 2013 was re-ignited last week in Winter Park’s City Commission meeting when Mayor Ken Bradley called for the City Auditor to appear before the commission and explain her campaign endorsement of Commissioner Carolyn Cooper. “I think it’s a serious enough breach . . . that I think she should come and explain herself to this group.”

The Mayor’s challenge of the Auditor was set in motion two weeks earlier – in the prior January 14 Commission meeting – a few days after Commission candidate Ross Johnston filed an election-related lawsuit against the city. In that meeting, the Mayor asked the City Attorney to participate in a review of “the financial independence” of the City Auditor.

The endorsement in question is a two-sentence statement by Bernadette Britz-Parker, the City Auditor, in support of Carolyn Cooper’s study habits: “In 32 years of auditing governments, I have rarely encountered an elected official who has been as prepared as Commissioner Cooper. It’s refreshing to sit down for a meeting, and realize the financial information has already been studied so we’re not starting from scratch.” Commissioner Cooper included the statement in a campaign mailer and on the Endorsement page of her campaign website.

Ms. Britz-Parker is a partner in the CPA firm, James Moore & Co., P.L., that audits the city’s finances. The firm was hired in 2010 after being recommended by an Auditor Selection Board that included three accounting professionals, the Chief Deputy Comptroller for Orange County and Commissioner Cooper. Britz-Parker’s firm was ultimately approved and voted on by the entire City Commission.

Mayor Bradley set the tenor of the discussion early in the meeting by challenging the Auditor’s actions: “I find it questionable – highly questionable. Enough that it’s created questions in this community . . .” Bradley’s sentiments were echoed by Commissioner Sprinkel, who supported the Mayor’s call to have the Auditor explain her endorsement. (See video of full discussion below.)

City Attorney Finds No Violation, But Questions “Appearance” of Auditor Endorsement

During the meeting, City Attorney Larry Brown summarized his research on the matter by stating that opinions he’s researched show that “Generally accepted auditing standards and the United States Comptroller’s Government Audit Standards . . . do require that the auditor maintain independence. Independence is generally defined in the opinions as relating to financial independence, so when you look at the opinions, they don’t get into political endorsements. The opinions deal with an auditor who owns stock in a subsidiary company that he or she is auditing, or . . . an auditor is on a subsidiary board of a government that they’re auditing. Those are the kinds of independence opinions that I found. I did not find an opinion that expressly said giving an endorsement of that type, per se, violates the standard of independence.”

Brown did venture an opinion that generally accepted “best practice” among professional firms who do government business (including his firm) is to avoid endorsing candidates. Brown indicated that many, but not all, firms avoid endorsing or contributing to candidates because “the appearance is arguably one that interferes with your independence.”

Several accounting professionals contacted by the Voice agreed that campaign endorsements in a case like this are problematic – and are best avoided in the interest of maintaining the appearance of independence. However, the sources we spoke with could not point to any direct conflict of interest where the actual work of the Auditor – auditing city finances – could benefit any individual city commissioner.

Mayor Contemplating Termination of Auditor?

In an email obtained by the Voice, (see button below) the City Attorney states that “In my opinion, an official could reasonably find that this endorsement, (assuming it is a materially accurate quote), made with the intent that it would be used publicly in the campaign, created at least an appearance that the auditor failed to take action to assure the City and the public regarding her “independence”. As stated in my previous letter, Generally Accepted Auditing Standards stress that the auditor has an affirmative duty to assure her independence.” Brown also notes in the conclusion of his email that “It isn’t my role to decide whether this endorsement warrants termination of the contract.” There is no mention in the email of who may have asked the City Attorney about a “termination” option.

The Voice contacted City Manager Randy Knight, City Finance Director Wes Hamil and all City Commissioners and submitted questions regarding potential conflicts of interest created by the Financial Auditor’s endorsement – including the question of how an endorsement of this sort could actually impact the duties of the city’s Financial Auditor, or the city’s financial standing. Other than Commissioner Cooper’s statement to the Voice, none of the commissioners or city officials responded to our questions and request for comment. Commissioner Sprinkel declined comment, citing “Sunshine Law” concerns.

Commissioner Cooper’s statement to the Voice included her contention that the Auditor’s endorsement broke no rules and that she believes “. . . it is understandable that I would ask those professionals that work with me, as a commissioner, to comment on my work habits and dedication to the job I was elected to do . . . I believe our auditor is a professional and independence in matters of the city’s financial audit was not compromised. Had I thought otherwise, I would never have asked for a statement. Only professionals who have interfaced with me as a commissioner can fairly assess my dedication and competence.” The full text of Cooper’s statement can be viewed by clicking the button below.

Are City Officials Having “Off-The-Record” Conversations About Auditor?

According to City Attorney Brown, his formal January 25 opinion letter concerning the endorsement (see button below) was triggered by the Mayor’s request at the end of the January 14 Commission meeting. However, a careful review of meeting minutes and our video of that meeting does not appear to reveal the kind of specifics that Attorney Brown would have needed to craft his opinion letter.

In his letter, Brown mentions several times that he has not received any “written” information pertaining to case specifics. This distinction creates a question of whether there were verbal “off the record” communications regarding this case between the City Attorney and city officials. Following up this question, the Voice requested that city officials provide an “account” of the initial inquiry that supplied the specifics of the case to the City Attorney. As of press time, the Voice has received no reply regarding this matter from the city.

City Attorney – Auditor Opinion   City Email re Auditor   Cooper Statement

During last week’s Commission meeting, Commissioner Cooper defended the actions of the Auditor and took the blame for exposing her to criticism. “I feel very responsible for her kind of being called on the carpet . . . I did say to her ‘Oh, would you mind giving me an endorsement?’ and so that really is my fault . . . I don’t think it has any reflection negatively on her professionalism . . . all she said is that I was prepared . . . I’m willing to accept total responsibility for it.”

Cooper Takes Aim at Leary’s Support for Her Election Opponent. Mayor Objects.

Cooper followed her explanation of the Auditor’s endorsement with a thinly-veiled swipe at Commissioner Leary’s support of Ross Johnston’s campaign for her commission seat, adding “I am willing to say as a commissioner that I will – if we could do it as a group – that I will not sign petitions on behalf of a candidate, I will not volunteer my employees to be campaign treasurers for a candidate – nor will I ask anyone who works with me in my capacity as a commissioner to give me a reference.”

Mayor Bradley countered Cooper, taking exception to her equating campaign support with campaign endorsements (neither Cooper nor Bradley mentioned Leary by name) : “I think the Auditor’s incredibly different from that . . . I think that when we go to Wall St. or anyplace else, the financial independence of the auditor’s recommendation and opinion is critical.”

The Mayor called again for the Auditor to appear and explain whether her endorsement changes her financial independence. Commissioner Cooper criticized the Mayor’s approach, “It’s just public humiliation – and unnecessarily so . . .” Bradley quickly countered “I think it’s a question that needs to be answered in terms of financial independence . . .” The Mayor then hinted at a possible outcome of the investigation: “I think it’d be a lot easier than moving tonight that we terminate the Auditor immediately . . .”

Cooper Calls for Campaign Reform: Let’s Stop Taking Contributions From Large Developers

The strained relationship between Mayor Bradley and Commissioner Cooper surfaced repeatedly during their point-counterpoint exchange – with Cooper continuing her call for across-the-board reforms of commission campaign practices. “I personally would like for us to not accept contributions from people who bring large developments in front of the city.”

Commissioner Leary spoke next – his only input into the discussion. He supported the Mayor’s request for an explanation from the Auditor. “I’d certainly like to hear her explanation for what she did . . . this is a rabbit hole we’re getting into here. I’d like to just address this one thing on the point and move on . . .”

As the discussion wound down, Mayor Bradley offered to allow the Auditor to speak with the commissioners individually and/or submit a written explanation. Commissioner McMacken agreed that individual meetings with the Auditor would be appropriate.

In response to a request for comment from the Voice, Ms. Britz-Parker indicated that she will be submitting a written statement to the city regarding her actions. Winter Park Voice will publish the Auditor’s response as soon as it is made available by the city.

City Attorney Also Targeted in Election Controversy. Job Was Threatened Last December.

Complaints about high-level city professionals have not been confined to endorsements – City Attorney Brown has also been subject to recent election-related criticism and commission actions that put his employment at stake. In the same week that Mayor Bradley first questioned the City Auditor’s endorsement of Carolyn Cooper, Cooper’s opponent, Ross Johnston, accused the City Attorney of “possible” favoritism toward Commissioner Cooper. Johnston never produced any proof of bias and ultimately dropped his lawsuit to compel the city to place him on the ballot opposing Cooper.

Thirty days before Johnston leveled charges at the City Attorney, Mayor Bradley and Commissioner Leary mounted an unsuccessful bid to potentially replace Larry Brown as City Attorney. The motion to seek bids from other law firms to serve as City Attorney failed on a 3 to 2 vote at the December 10 City Commission meeting.

Though complaints about Brown from Bradley and Leary did not include charges of bias, the Mayor and Commissioner did state dissatisfaction with the attorney’s fees and job performance. Mayor Bradley also commented that he’d like the City Attorney to be “much more a part of this team.”

A common thread linking City Commission actions to possibly replace the City Attorney – and to investigate the City Auditor – are statements by Commissioner Leary & Mayor Bradley implying that these two officials could lose their jobs. In his remarks during the 12/10 commission meeting, Commissioner Leary referred to the City Attorney’s job while openly speculating about “someone else representing us”. Mayor Bradley is on-record mentioning an option on 1/28 to “terminate the Auditor immediately.”

WPV video below shows the entire Dec. 10 commission discussion of a search for possible replacement of the City Attorney. The entire Jan. 28 commission discussion of the City Auditor investigation is featured in WPV Video shown above.

Anti-Protest Ordinance Triggers Lawsuit

Anti-Protest Ordinance Triggers Lawsuit

On October 16, three local pro-life activists, Winnifred Bell, Allura Lightfoot and Deanna Waller filed suit in federal court to overturn Winter Park’s recently adopted anti-protest ordinance. Judge Roy Dalton, Jr. denied the plaintiffs’ Motion for a Temporary Restraining Order, but will consider granting a Preliminary Injunction to stop enforcement of the ordinance pending a final judgment in the case. Click here to see court document.

In September, prior to the final vote on the ordinance, protest supporters threatened to sue and “bankrupt” the city if Commissioners approved the ordinance. The activists’ lawsuit names the City of Winter Park, Florida, City Council, Steven Leary, Carolyn Cooper, Tom McMacken, Sarah Sprinkel and Police Chief Brett C. Railey as defendants. Mayor Bradley was not named in the suit. He was the only member of the City Commission to vote against the ordinance.

Jay Rogers, a pro-life organizer of the protest on Aloma Avenue, recently commented in his blog on challenging the ordinance:

“. . . the only way to know . . . how the ordinance will be enforced by the city police would be to challenge it in court. Such court challenges are certainly coming, not only from Florida pro-life activists, but possibly from many other legal advocacy groups around the country who are concerned with free speech issues. Before this is all over, I expect the ordinance to be culled back to the parameters of Frisby. I also expect it to cost the City of Winter Park Florida tens of thousands of dollars to defend in court.

“. . . Due to Roe v. Wade, we in the pro-life movement feel that our hands are tied as to what we can hope to accomplish legislatively (beyond some limited measures restricting the “how” of abortion, but not the ability to abort an unborn child). Now with these buffer zone injunctions, we feel that a noose has been placed around our necks and it is slowly being tightened. It is vital that we resist . . .”

In the Supreme Court’s ruling in favor of protest restrictions in the Frisby v. Schultz case — the basis for Winter Park’s anti-protest ordinance — Justice Sandra Day O’Connor addresses the rationale for restricting protest in a residential setting:

“The First Amendment permits the government to prohibit offensive speech as intrusive when the “captive” audience cannot avoid the objectionable speech . . . The resident is figuratively, and perhaps literally, trapped within the home, and, because of the unique and subtle impact of such picketing, is left with no ready means of avoiding the unwanted speech . . . Thus, the “evil” of targeted residential picketing, “the very presence of an unwelcome visitor at the home,” Carey, supra, at 478 (REHNQUIST, J., dissenting), is “created by the medium of expression itself.”

In the following video clip of the October 22 Commission meeting, City Attorney Larry Brown gives details of the lawsuit and assures the Commissioners that even though most of them have been named personally in the lawsuit, they have no personal liability in the case. Judge Dalton is requiring an initial response from the city by November 7. The first hearing of the case will be December 4, 2012.

Click for Video


 

City Officials On the Spot in Workshop Q&A

City Officials On the Spot in Workshop Q&A

On Tuesday night, October 9, City Manager Randy Knight hosted a well-attended workshop whose purpose was to explore proposed changes to Winter Park’s Tree Preservation Ordinance. Even though the lead-up to the workshop caused some heartburn on the City Commission [video ], citizens at Tuesday’s workshop took full advantage of the opportunity to speak their minds and engage city officials in a lengthy give and take that took some surprising turns.

The workshop was attended by City Commissioners and members of various boards including Planning & Zoning and the Tree Preservation Board. Some officials participated, some just listened. All input at the workshop was recorded and will be part of City Commission deliberations when changes to the ordinance come before the Commission again on November 12.

Building Department Director, George Wiggins, kicked off the meeting with a presentation of city tree preservation regulations dating back to 1957. Wiggins outlined the evolution of rule changes up through Winter Park’s current ordinance, pausing mid-way to stress, “There is an extremely important point here that I cannot over-emphasize . . . we have never issued a permit to remove a ‘historic’ tree.” Wiggins did admit that, on at least one occasion when city staff denied a permit for removal, the City Commission overturned the denial on appeal. Wiggins also pointed out that 95% of current ordinance rules are unaffected by the proposed changes. However, changes that will modify the current ordinance were of concern to many members of the audience.

State Forester Makes Surprise Appearance – Questions Wisdom of Proposed Changes

One surprise for city officials on Tuesday evening was the un-scheduled appearance of Dana Sussmann, an official from the state Forest Service. Ms. Sussmann is the state Forestry official in charge of overseeing a multi-county area in central Florida that includes Winter Park. Sussmann spoke to the assembled group of her concern about the city’s proposed changes. She noted that she had attended past ceremonies at City Hall to present the city with its “Tree City USA” award and said that the city has received the award for 32 consecutive years. Sussmann warned that the proposed ordinance changes could “. . . jeopardize the city’s chances of receiving the award for a 33rd year” and offered her opinion that “. . . the proposed changes, to me, significantly weaken the existing ordinance.”

In a telephone interview with the Voice, Ms. Sussmann confirmed that her agency, the Florida Forest Service, is responsible for reviewing applications for “Tree City USA” awards. According to Sussmann, even though this National Arbor Day Foundation award does not include a cash grant, the award enables cities to score higher on grant applications that do result in additional funding. Sussmann praised Winter Park’s history of protection for trees on public and private property, but questioned the new direction taken by the city’s Tree Preservation Board, “I’ve not had a community where something like this has happened before.”

Speaking about Winter Park’s reduction in forestry staffing, Sussmann acknowledged that she’s uncertain about the impact of hiring contractors to perform city forestry services, but noted that by “. . . reducing staffing you lose so much knowledge and experience of the city. And yes, maybe it’s less expensive to outsource it, but when you have people who work directly for the city, who’ve been there, who care about the city…their level of knowledge and commitment, I think, is higher because they have a personal connection with the city.”

Authors of Current Ordinance – Hagle and Weldon – Still Disagree

At the start of audience Q&A, Marc Hagle, one of the authors of the current ordinance, presented an analysis of ordinance rules and launched a detailed critique of tree removal and replacement rules proposed by the Tree Preservation Board. Hagle pointed out that the property rights of homeowners were vigorously debated by the committee that wrote Winter Park’s current Tree Protection Ordinance. Hagle characterized Pete Weldon, a member of the ordinance-drafting committee as being a strong advocate for the primacy of homeowner rights. “Pete Weldon was on that committee – he’s also on the committee that is re-writing this ordinance . . . I have great respect for Pete . . . we just don’t agree on this particular issue.” Hagle noted that Weldon was the only dissenting vote on the committee that wrote the current ordinance, adding that the current ordinance was supported and adopted by unanimous votes on the City Commission and Planning & Zoning board. Woody Woodall, chair of the current Tree Preservation Board, told the Voice that Weldon is a key author of the proposed changes to the ordinance. The Voice contacted Mr. Weldon for comment, but received no comment on this issue as of press time.

Meeting Heats Up (Literally) During Discussion

As the evening wore on, the meeting got hotter – not the debate, but the room itself. Despite at least one request to crank up the AC, city officials were unmoved. Any hope officials may have had that a stuffy room would end the meeting at the advertised time was unfulfilled. The meeting ran long as city residents continued to communicate their concerns to city staffers and politicians despite the heat.

Who Pays for Right-of-Way Trees? City Residents Focus on Danger & Expense

The evening’s second surprise was the appearance of an issue tangentially related to tree removal: the high cost of pruning and otherwise maintaining large trees that are planted in the city right-of-way in Winter Park’s neighborhoods. The issue was a high priority for some city residents, including Martha Kuhn, a resident of Park Grove in north Winter Park. Kuhn spoke of a close encounter with a right-of-way oak tree, “My daughter and I were almost killed when one of those big oak tree limbs fell right on our car while we were driving in it.” Kuhn stated that the city had been called three times about the tree.

Kuhn’s husband later recounted a catastrophic event this past summer when a storm knocked down a large live oak in their neighborhood right-of-way, which then fell into other trees, taking them down, culminating in one of the downed trees crashing into a parked Post Office jeep. Kuhn questioned George Wiggins about the maintenance, clean-up and removal of the trees: “Who pays?. . . is that my responsibility or the city’s?” Mr. Wiggins responded that hazardous trees in the right-of-way are handled by the city, but noted that ongoing maintenance is the responsibility of homeowners. John Holland, Director of Parks and Recreation , confirmed that in years past, the city had informally taken responsibility for right-of-way tree maintenance — despite ordinance requirements to the contrary. This practice ended when hurricane clean-up in 2004 forced the city to re-focus its priorities.

Earlier in the meeting, Mrs. Kuhn summed up the feeling of many in the audience, “I think we have to do something about these really old trees . . . and I don’t think the home owners can do it.” Others pointed out that city residents are confused about who is responsible for tree maintenance in the city.

Workshop Clarifies City Policy, Promotes Communication, but Strong Differences Remain

Near the end of the meeting, Pitt Warner, a long-time resident and real estate broker, brought the meeting back to its original focus: “Let’s pass this ordinance and give people an incentive to plant as many trees as possible without having a three, four, five thousand dollar bill . . .that’s punitive. It’s bureaucratic – and as you can see here, it’s confusing . . . people don’t even know the rules here in town. So let’s try and encourage it.” George Wiggins agreed, “That’s the rationale that the Tree Preservation Board is employing by asking the replanting of trees instead of paying large amounts into the Tree Replacement Fund.”

As always in Winter Park – when it comes to trees – there was a distinct difference of opinion regarding the city’s rationale. Sally Flynn spoke to the assembled group and read a letter from Steve Goldman that disputed the rationale for changing tree protection rules. Goldman’s letter was in response to a recent email sent by Mayor Bradley to Winter Parkers supporting the ordinance changes, “I feel that Ken Bradley is certainly entitled to his opinion about whether Winter Park’s current tree preservation ordinance is too strict. However, what bothers me about this communication is that he describes these proposed changes as taking steps to ‘protect this valuable asset’, when in fact the proposal is simply to reduce the fees which must be paid when someone decides to remove part of our tree canopy. What’s wrong with being honest and saying what you really propose to do, instead of this double talk? This proposal makes it easier to remove Winter Park’s trees – plain and simple.”

Proposed changes to Winter Park’s Tree Protection Ordinance will be given a first reading at the November 12 City Commission meeting.