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.
Candidates for Commission Seats #1 and #2 Introduce Themselves to You, the Voters
Winter Park is fortunate to have a full slate of candidates for Commission Seats #1 and #2 being vacated by Greg Seidel and Sarah Sprinkel, who have given so generously of their time and effort over the years. While these are large shoes to fill, the candidates seeking to step in bring a wealth of civic and professional experience and accomplishment. As voters, we owe a debt of gratitude to all six people – to Greg and Sarah for their service to our City, and to the four candidates for their commitment and willingness to serve.
Jeffrey Blydenburgh – Seat #1
“It’s time to give back.”
Jeffrey and Caroline Blydenburgh have lived in Winter Park since 1997. Over the years, Blydenburgh served the community in many capacities. He was Vice Chair of the 2016 Visioning Committee, Board President at Mead Botanical Garden, 2018-19 president of Rotary and board member of the Rollins College Winter Park Institute. He also served as Vice Chair of the Jobs Partnership, a local organization that helps the working poor in our community progress to family-sustainable employment.
Blydenburgh stated as his reason for running for City Commission, “This community has given so much to us. It was time to give back. I am at a time and place in my life that I can use my skills as architect and planner to bring a creative and inclusive approach to the city commission.”
Blydenburgh wrote that, if elected, he would seek to bring a culture of listening and respect to all aspects of Winter Park’s local government. “I think residents will find me to always have an open door,” he wrote, “and be willing to hear any resident’s viewpoint and make a good judgment on their behalf.”
He cited four major questions he believes are facing Winter Park.
Civility – “We may not always agree,” he wrote, “but Everyone in Winter Park deserves respect and deserves to be heard.”
Crime – “We can have no tolerance for crime of any kind in Winter Park. When I’m a City Commissioner, I’m going to ensure that law enforcement has the resources and tools they need to keep us safe.”
Traffic – “Traffic is washing over us in Winter Park. As an architect and designer, I bring a unique perspective to this issue.”
Growth – “My rule of thumb when it comes to growth and development is – does it protect or harm the unique charm of Winter Park? Is it good for our residents – all our residents?”
His kickoff party is Sunday, January 5, 3:00 to 5:00 pm at Mead Botanical Garden.
James (Marty) Sullivan – Seat #1
“We must improve pathways of communication with citizens for greater city government transparency.”
Marty Sullivan is a fifth-generation Floridian, a Navy veteran and an environmental and geotechnical engineer. He and his wife Maura Smith have lived in their historically designated Winter Park home for 33 years. As outdoor enthusiasts, they are keenly aware of the impact humans exert on fragile Florida ecosystems and of the need for each of us to take responsibility for safeguarding the environment that sustains us.
Sullivan has served on numerous city boards, including Lakes & Waterways, Orange County Public Works Advisory Board, and as chair of the Winter Park Utilities Advisory Board during the purchase of the utilities company in the early 2000s. From 2017 – 2019, he was Statewide Natural Resources Director for the League of Women Voters.
Sullivan’s campaign is built on four pillars of integrity, commitment, experience and tradition.
Of integrity, he wrote, “I am truly independent, with no obligation to any corporation, industry, company or special interest.” He continued, “I am committed to maintaining our quality of life by addressing scaled development, protecting park lands, and our transportation hierarchy of 1) pedestrians, 2) bicycles, 3) transit and 4) private vehicles.”
“I have experience serving on numerous boards at the state, county and city levels. My professional experience includes engineering in the fields of software development, geotechnical engineering and environmental engineering.”
Finally, “As a fifth generation Floridian, I understand the importance of preserving tradition and ensuring that Winter Park remains a premier historic village.”
“Our overarching challenge,” wrote Sullivan, “is to enhance our quality of life through City government transparency by improving our pathways of communication with our citizens.”
His kickoff party is Wednesday, January 15, 6:30 pm at Mead Botanical Garden.
Carl Creasman – Seat #2
“We must confront the future with an openness that is welcoming, not exclusionary.”
Carl Creasman and his wife Kim have lived in Winter Park for 26 years. Creasman’s life’s work has been in the non-profit sector, in religious institutions and in higher education. He joined the Valencia College faculty in 2002 as a history professor. In 2013, he was elected President of the Faculty Senate for the East Campus, and the following year he became College-wide Faculty Association President. He also chaired the Winter Park Parks & Recreation Advisory Board.
Creasman has a list of things he’d like to accomplish as Commissioner in Seat #2. Foremost among them is “demonstrating principled leadership based on values and virtue, which includes listening well to others.” He wrote that he plans to, “uncover and support ‘next best step’ solutions that are strategic in nature, not only pointing the city toward 2020, but to 2070 and onward.”
In a more practical vein, he said he would like to realize the following accomplishments, if he is elected.
Support and protect greenspace by investing in and expanding our parks.
Complete the refurbishment of MLK Park, first approved in 2017.
Confront growing connectivity and traffic concerns.
Carry forward Commissioner Greg Seidel’s plan to create a city-wide traffic plan using FDOT Geographic Information System (GIS) data.
Create a city-owned transit system similar to that now on trial in Lake Nona.
Develop a master plan for the remaining years of the CRA that puts the focus on people.
“Within our city proper,” wrote Creasman, “the narrower set of questions [we face] starts with how to handle being one of the fastest growing regions in the country. Winter Park lies in the center of the region, and cars and people will continue to come.”
“Another question,” he continued, “would be whether Winter Park is taking its place as a regional leader . . . in addressing issues of public safety, of growing mental health issues and of equity in terms of accessible housing and appropriate pay for those who work in our city.”
“Finally,” he wrote, “. . . are we doing enough to protect the future charm of Winter Park, while maintaining codes and policies that will encourage businesses and entrepreneurs to flourish. If we stifle business and growth with overly restrictive rules, we risk harming our local economy.”
His kickoff party is tentatively set for January 15. Check the campaign website for time and location.
Sheila DeCiccio – Seat #2
“We are the stewards for the next generation.”
Sheila DeCiccio is an attorney, civic leader, wife and mother. She and her husband Dan have lived in Winter Park for 37 years. After a stint as Assistant District Attorney in Boston, DeCiccio moved to Orlando, where she became the first woman partner in the law firm Lowndes, Drosdick, Doster, Kantor & Reed. She completed her career as business manager for the DeCiccio & Johnson law firm in Winter Park.
DeCiccio has extensive city board experience, having served on P&Z, Code Enforcement and, currently, on Economic Development Advisory Board. Her community activities include Rotary, Winter Park Land Trust, Orlando Museum of Art’s Council of 101, Winter Park History Museum and St. Margaret Mary Catholic Church.
DeCiccio said she decided to run for office so that she could represent the residents when decisions are made at City Hall. “We are the stewards for the next generations,” she wrote, “and it’s up to us to protect our City.” She has recently retired from her legal career and is able to devote herself full-time to serving the interests of Winter Park residents.
If elected, DeCiccio pledges to advocate for wise development that is compatible with the charm and scale of Winter Park. She will work to ensure fiscal accountability and enhanced transparency within city government so residents know how and where city funds are being used. She will work to make sure the police and fire departments ae adequately staffed and funded – without raising taxes.
In answer to the question about what major questions Winter Park faces, DeCiccio describes comments and questions she has heard from citizens as she has walked neighborhoods and attended meet-and-greets. These citizen concerns will be her guide as a City Commissioner, she says.
Probably the greatest concern she hears about is traffic. Residents want to know what can be done to improve the traffic flow in Winter Park. Another question she hears is, does Winter Park really want to become a major tourist destination? “Residents don’t seem to share the current City leaders’ desire for more tourists in Winter Park,” she wrote.
Residents express their fears about over-development, and they wonder if their voices really are heard at City Hall, despite lip service assuring them. “They tell me that they often feel the Commissioners have already made up their minds before the public has had a chance to voice their concerns,” wrote DeCiccio. “If elected, I promise to listen to the residents and to make sure their voices are fully represented when we make decisions at City Hall.”
Winter Park will have a full slate of candidates when its city election is held March 17. As qualifying closed Tuesday, four candidates had qualified for the two open city commission seats.
Jeffrey Blydenburgh and James “Marty” Sullivan both qualified for Seat 1, now held by Commissioner Greg Seidel, who did not run for reelection. Carl E. Creasman Jr. and Sheila DeCiccio qualified to run for Seat 2, now held by Sarah Sprinkel, who also did not run for reelection.
Marty Sullivan, 72, said he decided to run because “I served on a lot of boards in the city and really enjoy the town. I believe the city is at a juncture where we want citizens to cooperate with business and development to make it a win-win for all three, with particular attention to citizens.” Sullivan, whose profession was in environmental and geotechnical engineering, is retired and has lived in the city 37 years. Among the city boards we served on were the Utility Advisory Board, Stormwater Board of Appeals and Pedestrian and Bicycle Advisory Board, all of which he chaired, and the Lakes and Waterways Advisory Board and Transportation Task Force.
Jeffrey Blydenburgh, 71, a retired architect and planner, has lived in the city 22 years. “I saw there was an opportunity to continue to serve the community,” he said, describing the city as “well led” in the past. He noted that others see him as having a “balanced view” on how the city will address growth. Blydenburgh is board member and past chair of Mead Botanical Garden Inc., a volunteer group that operates the city-owned park. He previously served on the city’s Historic Preservation Board, as vice-chair of the city visioning process in 2016 and past president of Winter Park Rotary.
Creasman, 55, a history professor at Valencia College, is youth pastor at First Baptist Church in Winter Park. He has lived in the city 26 years. He served five years on the city’s Parks and Recreation Advisory Board, the last four as chair. He could not be reached for comment, but, according to his web site, his vision includes “defending the future charm and wonder of Winter Park.” His focus, the site says, will be to continue to invest in and expand parks; strengthen city partnerships with Rollins College and Valencia; have “courageous conversations” about transportation, traffic, biking and accessibility, and encourage “healthy business and entrepreneurship.”
DeCiccio, 63, a lawyer, has lived in the city 37 years. She was inspired to run while serving on the planning and zoning board, she said. “The issue of the library came up, and there were so many unanswered questions” related to such issues as parking, drainage and size. She became worried about all the development happening in the city, she said, and realized, “we’re either going to look like the great wall of Maitland or we’re going to preserve our charm.” Besides the planning and zoning board, DeCiccio has served on the city’s Economic Advisory Board, the Code Enforcement Board and the Orange Avenue advisory steering committee.