Well, it’s over for another year, but newly elected Commissioners Marty Sullivan (Seat #1) and Sheila DeCiccio (Seat #2) will not take their seats on the dais March 23, as that Commission meeting has been cancelled because of the current health crisis. Here’s hoping April will see us return to normal.
Thanks to Blydenburgh and Creasman
Our City owes a debt of gratitude to the four candidates and their supporters who worked so hard in this race. To Carl Creasman and Jeffrey Blydenburgh, we appreciate your engagement in our community and your willingness to serve, and we look forward to your ongoing contributions as our City continues to go about its work.
Poll Results – Commission Races
As of February 20, Winter Park has 22,366 registered voters. Of those, 8,610 – or 38.5 percent – cast their votes. Not every voter voted for every ballot item, however. Apparently, there were around 600 voters who voted only in the Presidential Primary and declined to participate in the local races. In the races for the two Commission seats, for instance, fewer than 8,000 cast votes.
For Commission Seat #1, Marty Sullivan received 4,360 votes and Jeffrey Blydenburgh received 3,519, for a total of 7,986 votes cast. Votes not cast, called “under votes,” totaled 624.
For Commission Seat #2, Sheila DeCiccio garnered 5,415 votes to Carl Creasman’s 2,366, for a total of 7,989, with 627 under votes.
Ballot Amendment Results
All Charter Amendments passed except one. Question #9, on whether the City Auditor Contract Term should go from three to five years, failed by a decisive margin – 4,442 to 2,712.
The Charter Amendment questions fared even worse than Commission races in number of votes cast. Although this is only conjecture, it looks like voters may have simply gotten bored with the exercise as they began going down the list of Charter Amendment questions. Question #1, which established the use of gender-neutral language throughout the Charter, drew 7,785 votes. That number declined steadily, so that by Question #11, only 6,977 people cast votes.
Here again are the four candidates, this time on the Library debate stage. The program was moderated by Carol Foglesong of the League of Women Voters. Marty Sullivan and Jeffrey Blydenburgh face off for Seat 1; Sheila DeCiccio and Carl Creasman vie for Seat 2.
In addition to opening and closing statements, candidates received three questions from the moderator and an additional four questions from the audience. Click on images at the end of the article for unedited video of the debate. Questions and summarized answers appear below in the order of rotation.
Name a strength, a weakness, an opportunity and a threat to Winter Park.
Creasman: Winter Park’s strength is people. A weakness is that we are at the center of the fastest growing region in the country. The opportunity is that we are a wealthy city and can control our own resources, like the electric utility. We should create our own mini-mass-transit system and our own broadband network. Our threat is an internal one — the tone of political discourse in our city, which has the potential to lead us into dangerous places.
DeCiccio: Our strength is people and a sense of community. We have the opportunity to expand our greenspace, with the Post Office and Progress Point. Our weaknesses are traffic congestion and inadequate infrastructure. Failure to immediately address problems as they arise poses a threat to the city.
Sullivan: Our strength lies in our strong financial well-being. Weakness is the conflict between citizen and developer interests. We need to balance what enhances our quality of life with what gives a developer a reasonable rate of return. Both the opportunity and the threat lie in the Orange Avenue Overlay. Opportunity is in the increased green space and bicycle and pedestrian ways. The threat lies in excessive entitlement giveaways to developers.
Blydenburgh: The strength of our community is its people. Our weakness is that, while we have a vision, we don’t have a master plan for the city. The opportunity is that we are close to being the best community in Florida, and we have the opportunity to be even better by fixing broadband and local transit problems and supporting our young families. The threat is the contentiousness, which needs to end.
Cite an example of change you propose to improve Winter Park. How will your proposed change be measured and evaluated?
DeCiccio: I would look to our Parks, Lakes and Urban Forestry. We lack a 10-year maintenance plan, the last having expired in 2016. Maintenance is the elephant in the living room. Who will take care of all these projects that are coming on line right now? .
Sullivan: We should address traffic in a different way. We need a calibrated, dynamic traffic model that will enable us to look at what kind of road changes we can make that will ease congestion. When we begin paying for Sunrail maintenance and operations next year, Sunrail needs to go from being commuter rail to being mass transit system. Every person on Sunrail represents one less car on the road. Measures would be Sunrail ridership and traffic counts.
Blydenburgh: The community should focus on young families who represent our future. We should employ technology that allows two-way communication at our Commission meetings. The opportunity for increased participation in government issues is important, as are upgrades and maintenance of our playing fields.
Creasman: Our city would be better if we got Lynx buses off our interior roads and had our own mini-mass-transit system, funded with CRA dollars, in the form of either a trolley or an autonomous vehicle. While we cannot expect to fix traffic congestion immediately, this would provide a measurable benefit over time by decreasing traffic on our interior roads and addressing our critical environmental issues.
Are you happy with the level of transparency you see at City Hall in conducting meetings and sharing information honoring public records requests?
Sullivan: Not really. The city website is not user-friendly. I’ve received highly detailed reports from City Manager Randy Knight that would be very useful for everyone, but the information is available only to Commissioners. We need to better manage our communications to provide full and timely information.
Blydenburgh: We need good communications in order to make good decisions. You can get just about anything you want if you ask Randy Knight, but it shouldn’t be that way. The city’s responsibility is to inform us. I think we should redesign the city website so we can find the information that we need.
Creasman: There has been a “Balkanization of Communication,” and we are now talking past each other. Since the explosion of mass media communications technology in 2007-2008, communication presents a huge challenge for the city. Do we need to update the way the city communicates? Yes, but we need to recognize just what a large task that is.
DeCiccio: We need to improve the city communications department. We need to all have the same information so that we are all speaking from the same page. I would also like to see at least one Commission workshop every month, where Commissioners can publicly discuss their thinking. We should not have to wait for weeks to get minutes from a board or commission meeting.
Will you support an increase in city funding for the new library? If you are asked, as a commissioner, to stop or delay the library project, would you vote yes or no?
Blydenburgh: Our job as commissioners is to ensure the new library is delivered on the budget and the schedule established by the current commission. I would not support a stop or delay in library construction.
Creasman: We should increase city funding for the library, and I would vote no if someone tried to stop the project.
DeCiccio: I am in full support of the new library and increased city funding for it. However, if cost overruns get out of hand, then I would have to take another look. It is very difficult for me to say yes or no to that question. If serious problems surface, I would not be doing my job if I didn’t take another hard look.
Sullivan: Paraphrasing Winston Churchill, “Winter Park can be depended upon to do the right thing once we’ve exhausted every other possibility.” We need the best in-depth research possible to determine our citizens’ wishes. Hence, as your next commissioner, I will represent you, the citizens, on this issue and, from the results of the research, I will do your bidding.
Referencing 17-92, knowing that the infrastructure has already experienced failure with the present load, why is this not given paramount consideration when higher FARs [floor area ratios] are being put into place over existing codes?
Creasman: I think city has done a good job of budgeting, and city staff has done a good job of maintaining our infrastructure. I would look forward to continuing to support the expertise of city staff.
DeCiccio: We are fortunate that our sewer and water lines are in such good shape that the city has been able to reallocate that money into undergrounding our power lines. Water quality and water treatment are the important issues now, so that we avoid contaminating our lakes, streams and aquifer.
Sullivan: The city has done a good job of maintaining our core infrastructure. We need concurrency with our infrastructure and our new development to make sure new development does not over-tax our infrastructure system.
Blydenburgh: And to reach concurrency, right now the burden is on the city. We need to shift the burden to developers by implementing developer impact fees. The developers need to pay for the impact of their development on our infrastructure.
Are you in favor of Orange County Mayor Demmings’ one-cent transportation tax? State the reason for your position.
DeCiccio: Strongly support. Fifty percent of it will be paid for by tourists and it will be applied to transportation infrastructure. Right now, only 32 percent of the people in Winter Park both live and work here. Everyone else commutes. It can take up to two or three hours on Lynx, so if we could have more direct routes, that would be fewer cars on the roads. We also need to connect Sunrail to the airport and have it run nights and weekends.
Sullivan: Strongly support. Compared with other cities our size, we have about one-third the public bus system we should have. The tax will provide a dedicated funding source to invest in mass transit. We should turn Sunrail into a transit system and expand it. Every rider on Sunrail is one less car on the road.
Blydenburgh: Strongly support. The estimated amount coming into Winter Park annually is between $8 and $12 million. This is something the community should support.
Creasman: Strongly support. We need to invest in our police force, a mini-mass-transit system and Sunrail expansion. If we are going to solve the problems confronting us, we have to be willing to pay for solutions.
Do you support the Rollins plan to move their graduate business school and the Cornell Fine Arts Museum to property they own north of Fairbanks
Sullivan: To locate the Cornell Museum there would be wonderful. Bringing the Crummer Business School to that site would be the first time Rollins has brought classes north of Fairbanks. The third issue is the massing of the buildings, without much open space. I think there should be more open space, and I am not in favor of bringing students north of Fairbanks.
Blydenburgh: I support the project. The current commission has made several recommendations for increased setbacks and open space. I don’t have a concern with students coming north of Fairbanks, and to have the Cornell there would be a huge plus.
Creasman: I would listen to the residents on this one, to find out what works for everybody. Generally, Rollins has been very positive for our city. In fact, as of 2008, they were the second-largest taxpayer in the city, but I think Rollins has more work to do on their design.
DeCiccio: I strongly support the Cornell Museum relocating to that site, but I am opposed to the current design for the business school. The massing isn’t right. I support the college moving Crummer there, but they need to redesign the building so it doesn’t look so much like a prison wall.
Everyone should have received their Vote by Mail ballots by now, and if you’ve read yours, you may still be scratching your head. In addition to the four candidates for City Commission, 11 Charter Amendments appear on the ballot — in the form of questions.
You Still Have Time to Register to Vote
Before we get into that, if you haven’t registered to vote, there is still time to do so. You have until February 18 to register. Call the Orange County Supervisor of Elections at(407) 836-2070. The folks down there are courteous, knowledgeable and anxious to help.
Charter Must Be Updated Every 10 Years
Every 10 years, the City Charter is updated by a group of citizen volunteers, with professional guidance from an outside consultant – this year, Marilyn Crotty led the effort. A group of your neighbors spent an entire summer going through the City Charter, (in effect, our Constitution) going page-by-page, line-by-line, to make changes and clean up archaic and obsolete language. The result of their efforts is what you see on your ballot – only in question form.
Help Available at the City Website
The Communications Department at the City of Winter Park has put up a very informative page that shows you exactly what has changed. You will see about half the questions are simply housekeeping – such as making the Charter language gender-neutral. The other half, if passed, would make a change in the way the City operates. Click here to view the Charter changes.
Referring to the questions as they appear on your ballot, below is a brief explanation of each one. Between this and the page on the City website, you should easily be able to decide how you want to vote.
This is a rather comprehensive housekeeping question. Among the things it does is to make the Charter language gender-neutral and to delete obsolete language. There is no change to the way City business is conducted.
This changes the base salaries of the Mayor and Commissioners, which have not been changed for more than a decade. If this question passes, the Mayor will receive $15,000 a year and each Commissioner will receive $12,600 a year.
This simply acknowledges that the City has a “Commission-Manager” form of government. Nothing changes, we’ve had that all along, it just adds the language.
Language in this question will make our Charter language consistent with County and State law regarding the conduct of elections. No real change here.
Less complicated than it looks. Deadlines for citizen referendum petitions have been extended from 30 to 45 days, giving citizens more time to collect petition signatures. After you’ve submitted your petition, if the Commission fails to adopt a proposed ordinance within 60 days, or fails to repeal the referred ordinance within 30 days, then they have to hold a special election and put it to the voters. That election shall be held not less than 30 days and not later than 90 days from the date the petition was determined sufficient (i.e., accepted by the City).
If there is an election already scheduled within that time frame, there would not be a special election. Instead the measure would go on the regular ballot.
If a Commissioner becomes unable to serve within 60 days of a general election, this gives the remaining Commissioners the option of either appointing someone to fill the vacant seat or operating with a Commission of four members until the election is held.
This establishes the size of City advisory boards at seven members. It gives the Mayor the right to appoint three board members and gives each Commissioner the right to appoint one board member. If passed, this would change the current system which gives sole authority for all advisory board appointments to the Mayor.
This would allow the Mayor or a Commissioner to be counted present for voting purposes if they video-conference into the meeting. The privilege would be limited to three times a year for any Commission member.
Currently, Commissioners can teleconference (audio only) in to a meeting, but they cannot vote on measures that come before that Commission meeting.
This would simply change the term of the contract for the City Auditor from three to five years.
If passed, this would strengthen the ‘non-partisan’ status of Winter Park elections by denying any candidate the right to campaign as a member of any political party or to accept campaign contributions from any political party, and it establishes penalties for candidates who do not comply.
This question would renumber the section containing the Charter Amendment Process (housekeeping), and would extend the deadline from 60 to 180 days for the City to hold an election on a Charter Amendment proposed by a citizen petition.
Not So Bad
I confess I had the same reaction many of you may have had when I first saw the ballot questions. In the end, though, they’re not so tough. And they come as a welcome reminder that our Winter Park City Charter is, indeed, a living document.
Jeffrey Blydenburgh, Marty Sullivan, Carl Creasman and Sheila DeCiccio met early Friday morning at the Chamber of Commerce for the first of two debates on issues which two of them will face during their terms in office as Winter Park City Commissioners. The second debate will be held at the Winter Park Public Library on Wednesday, February 19, at noon.
Eight questions were posed during the hour-long session, moderated by the Chamber’s Government Affairs Committee Chairman, attorney Lee Steinhauer. There was a respectful atmosphere of comradery among both audience and candidates that has been missing from Winter Park in recent years. Each question, with a brief description of the candidates’ responses, appears below. Full video is posted at the end of this article.
What is your vision for Orange Avenue between 17-92 and Fairbanks Avenue (i.e., the Orange Avenue Overlay District)?
Candidates approved of the Orange Avenue Overlay process and thought it was an excellent start. They also thought the project still has a way to go. They agreed that Progress Point should be preserved for public use, and they liked the idea of a park and a theater district there. Some expressed concern about excessive entitlements for developers, traffic, stormwater management and open space. They agreed that how it gets implemented is now what’s important.
Pass-through commuters and I-4 runoff traffic are a problem. There are those who are critical of the proposed overlay who fear that multi-use density would make matters worse. Others who are supportive of the overlay would say that the overlay would employ traffic-calming methods. What is your view of corridor traffic that you will bring to this commission, should you be elected?
Candidates acknowledged that Winter Park traffic is a regional issue, and that the City needs to work with FDOT & neighboring communities to figure this out. They spoke about multi[-modal transportation, turn lanes at major intersections, smart signaling and the so-called “last mile” – public transit necessary to move people from their cars to Sunrail or other modes of public transport. They also spoke of the need for dynamic traffic modeling, and agreed that Sunrail should transition from commuter rail to transit rail.
How do you feel about Incentivizinig developers with additional entitlements if they’re willing, in return, to underwrite the cost of storm water treatment & filtration?
Like all infrastructure questions, this is about the pressure Central Floridians are feeling from heavy, rapid population growth. The candidates expressed, each in his or her own way, a desire for developers to give back some of what they get from the City, but cautioned against “giving away the store.” They also agreed that our responsibilities to minimize flooding and keep our water clean exist on regional, local and personal levels.
The Commission is considering the purchase of Winter Park’s downtown Post Office to expand green space near Central Park at a price of $7.5 million. Although the US Postal Service did not initiate the sale of this property, under what conditions should the city purchase this property?
Candidates agreed the City should strive to expand Central Park, but not everyone agreed on the appropriate cost. All were committed to keeping the retail part of the Post Office in the city core and relocating only the distribution center.
Are zoning and ordinance inconsistencies the reason Winter Park is seeing signs of blight along its major gateway corridors?
Candidates agreed that Winter Park’s zoning ordinances need updating. They found the overlay concept useful in this regard, because it offers an opportunity to help small businesses as well as large developers. Sullivan pointed out Winter Park’s bus stops as one unnecessary example of blight. People awaiting buses sit on transformers or curbs with no protection from sun or rain. There is CRA money to fix at least some of this, and he urged that the city proceed immediately to remedy the situation.
How do you view Sunrail’s current and future usefulness and the transition to assume local management costs in 2021?
Blydenburgh began by pointing out that it has taken a while for people to change their habits and begin to use Sunrail. The others agreed we’ve made a good start, but we need to continue to invest to make it a workable system. It should become a transit system, not a commuter system. Our cities need adequate connectors to the airport. Sullivan suggests considering a parking structure behind the Winter Park Sunrail station and expansion of the current rail schedule to include nights and weekends – especially during weekend events like the art festivals.
One Commissioner believes their community-wide advocacy for or against a project prior to Commission review is okay. Others feel it is a violation of Florida’s ethics and sunshine laws. What do you believe is proper and right?
Sullivan acknowledged that if two Commissioners communicated about an issue outside a public meeting, they would be in violation of the Sunshine law. Creasman noted the intent of the law was to “protect” the policy-making process from politics. DeCiccio spoke to the need for increased transparency in the City and thought more communications should flow from the City. Jeffrey Blydenburgh spoke of the need for more collaboration among Commissioners and of the inconvenience and difficulty created by the law’s requirement that all decisions take place in the public eye.
The question, which interrupted the flow of the debate, was a reference to “Cooper’s Perspective,” in which Commissioner Carolyn Cooper emails constituents about issues that are scheduled for an upcoming Commission agenda. It appeared to have come as an afterthought, but no member of the Chamber was available for comment or confirmation at the time of this writing.
Is this a violation of Florida Sunshine Laws? Established in 1995, Florida’s ‘Government in the Sunshine Law’ provides a right of access to governmental proceedings of public boards or commissions. According to <floridabar.org>, “The law is equally applicable to elected and appointed boards and has been applied to any gathering of two or more members of the same board to discuss some matter which will foreseeably come before that board for action. There are three basic requirements of section 286.011, Florida Statutes: (1) meetings of public boards or commissions must be open to the public; (2) reasonable notice of such meetings must be given; and (3) minutes of the meetings must be taken and promptly recorded.” For more information, go to https://webprod.floridabar.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/18-RW-Opengovernmentoverview.pdf
Reached for comment, Commissioner Cooper had this to say. “This is clearly not a violation for me to communicate with the people who elected me to represent them. Wouldn’t you rather have your elected officials provide you with information and facts upon which to base an informed decision? There is nothing in any law that prevents me from sharing information about important issues in our city that impacts the lives of all of us. I will never stop communicating with my constituents. The people with whom I cannot communicate, outside of a formally noticed meeting, are my colleagues who sit with me on the Commission.”
If elected, will you uphold the Commission’s vote to move forward with the Winter Park Library & Events Center?
After acknowledging the project was “contentious” and “painful,” all four candidates were clearly eager to put aside the differences and to move ahead. Yes, they all support the project. They agreed they missed the Civic Center and looked forward to it “coming back to life,” as one put it. They all expressed the need to bring the project in “on budget and on time.”
The acknowledged budget was a maximum $41.7 million. “That’s got to be the final price when we’re all done,” said Blydenburgh. Sullivan responded, “It’s now time for us to come together and make sure that this is the best library and events center possible to serve our citizens.”
Blydenburgh: “As commissioner, I would represent 29,000 citizens. People matter – everyone of you matters. We all have the good fortune to live in Mr. Rogers’s Neighborhood. We may not always agree, but we all work together, we live together, and that’s how we should behave together.”
Creasman: “In deciding to run, I thought about the tone we have with each other, both here and on a national level, and that makes me nervous. I know where that possibly can go. It’s important to keep in mind that what should drive us is how much we care for one another. Every person matters, every person has value and every person’s voice should be heard. We are our best together.”
DeCiccio: “I respectfully request your vote on March 17. I have the experience and I have the time to devote to being your City Commissioner. We are the stewards for the next generation, and it is our responsibility to leave this city better than we found it. We have some serious issues to work on, but I truly believe the best is yet to come.”
Sullivan: “Critical projects that need critical thinking and knowledgeable oversight are the Library and Events Center and the Orange Avenue Overlay. We need leadership with a strong engineering background. I seek to achieve a more citizen-focused government. We are a premier urban village, and I will work to preserve what’s best about our community.”
Doesn’t matter what your position is on any of the of issues that will be addressed the afternoon and evening of Monday January 13 by the Winter Park City Commission – while we won’t suffer in silence, we will all suffer together.
Five-and-a-half Hours – Minimum
The number of minutes projected on the January 13 Agenda on the City website comes to five hours and 35 minutes. Not included in the time projections are all the preliminary stuff like the Pledge of Allegiance and the Mayor’s report, closing remarks by Commissioners and . . . Public Comment.
City Manager’s Report
Estimated at 5 minutes, this report has no fewer than 23 items on it, 10 of which are slated to happen in January. Randy Knight is good at what he does, but he’ll have to employ some advanced ‘speed-dating’ tactics to get through this one in five minutes.
Consent Agenda – Progress Point
This one – nine minutes – lists five types of items. Under “Approve the Following Contract Items” (one minute) is a contract for $89,765 to demolish the building at Progress Point. Last time this came up, the discussion lasted considerably longer than one minute.
Action Items Requiring Discussion – The Canopy
First on this list is – yep – Final Approval of The Canopy. This is the long-awaited “Guaranteed Maximum Price.” The agenda framers have allotted an hour and a half for this topic. Maybe they could get through it in 90 minutes – but only if there is no public comment. And what are the chances of that?
Public Hearings – Orange Avenue Overlay
In the grand old tradition of saving the best til last, #4 on the list of four items is The Orange Avenue Overlay – for three hours. Two ordinances, one to amend the Comprehensive Plan, and the other to amend the Land Development Code, will go through a first reading. If they are approved, they will go to Tallahassee for review and then return to Winter Park for the second and final reading in late January or early February.
The Orange Avenue Overlay concept has gone through more than 20 public meetings, workshops and walkshops. People who normally go quietly about their business have been spewing out emails and firing word-bullets back and forth for months. The pro and con camps are about evenly split, neither one is quiet, and many of them will be at this meeting.
The second 13.1 miles of the race begins here, on Orange Ave. Everyone will be tired. Perhaps it would help us to remember we are all neighbors, living together in one of the most desirable places on earth, and to treat one another accordingly.
Okay Winter Park Voters, it’s time to get our ducks in a row. This election season is off to a lively start, with four well-qualified candidates for City Commission. In the unlikely event you’ve forgotten, they are (in alpha order) Jeffrey Blydenburgh, Carl Creasman, Sheila DeCiccio and Marty Sullivan.
But wait, there’s more.
This year’s ballot is going to be chock-full of choices for you to make – from the national scene to the Winter Park City Charter to the City Commission seats alluded to above. Here are the dates on which the election process will play out. Special thanks to Charley Williams for gathering this information from the Orange County Supervisor of Elections.
Winter Park Municipal Election — March 17, 2020
February 1 – Overseas Ballots Mailed to Military Personnel posted abroad
February 6 – Vote by Mail ballots go out
February 18 – Voter Registration Deadline
February 25 – Sample ballots mailed out
Note: if you don’t vote, you lose your right to complain, a sacred privilege most Winter Parkers could not do without.
March 2 – Early Voting begins @Winter Park Public Library, every day, 10:00 am to 6:00 pm
March 7 – Deadline to request your Vote by Mail ballot
March 15 – Early voting ends
March 17 – ELECTION DAY — POLLS OPEN 7:00 am to 7:00 pm.
Winter Park municipal elections are non-partisan and open to all voters — Democrat, Republican or NPA (no party affiliation). In addition to Commission races for Seats #1 and #2, there will be 11 Charter Amendment questions on the ballot. In advance of Election Day, the Voice will publish the details. If you don’t want to wait for us, check the City website at www.cityofwinterpark.org for complete information.
If you want to Vote by Mail, you must renew your request every four years. If the last time you requested a Vote by Mail ballot was 2016 or earlier, you have until March 7 to renew your request.
If you have questions, the folks at the Orange County Elections Office are courteous and helpful. Give them a call at 407-836-2070.