City Funding Decisions – Let’s Set the Record StraightEditor's Note: Articles written by citizens reflect their own opinions and not the views of the Winter Park Voice.
Guest Columnist Dr. Katherine Lee Johnson / January 31, 2021
In his latest missive to Winter Parkers, former Commissioner Peter Weldon chides members of the current Commission for redirecting funds to repair City parks.
If we are going to start casting aspersions on Commissioners who direct City funding to specific purposes, then we need to start looking at how and when this policy started. It began in 2015, when Mayor Steve Leary and Sarah Sprinkel, the Vice mayor at the time, committed $1 million from the Municipal Utility budget to support a non-Winter Park charity.
For those who may not recall, Mayor Leary committed the City of Winter Park to a $100,000 annual donation for the Dr. Phillips Performing Arts Center (DPAC) for ten years. This action occurred in 2015 when I served as the Chair of the Utility Advisory Board (UAB).
The UAB members were gravely concerned about the long-term ramifications of his decision. When the City purchased the utility from Florida Power & Light (now Duke Energy), the infrastructure was in disrepair and badly needed service and upgrades. During my tenure on the UAB, we focused our energies on the need for new equipment and began implementing utility undergrounding to improve overall system reliability.
In 2015, thanks to staff’s careful management, the Utility had a surplus in its annual budget. As stewards of this utility, the UAB wanted to use those funds to pay for additional operations and badly-needed maintenance. More fundamentally, we wanted these ratepayer dollars used for the utility, to benefit the ratepayers, rather than having it siphoned off to an out-of-town charity.
When I voiced my concerns at a Commission meeting that this approach could set a dangerous precedent, Vice-mayor Sprinkel publicly reprimanded me in an open meeting for wanting to share this information with the utility ratepayers.
For the past 30 years, I have worked as a consultant with utility companies to establish and evaluate energy efficiency programs—and so I am well-versed in the long-term consequences when utility funds are redirected for political purposes. It happened in several jurisdictions as early as 2010 (see link: Governors Raiding Utility Funds), and I certainly didn’t want this to happen in Winter Park. I worried the DPAC donation could set a dangerous precedent.
Isn’t it ironic that Weldon now supports donating $1 million from Winter Park ratepayers to support a charity in Orlando, but bristles when Commissioners allot funding for City parks and playing fields that will directly benefit the residents of Winter Park?
Let’s set the record straight. Ms. Sprinkel has always supported redirecting funds for whatever political purposes the Commission deems appropriate. If we are going to revisit previous Commission funding decisions, let’s be sure we air all of the facts.
Dr. Katherine Lee Johnson is President, Johnson Consulting Group. She served as UAB Member and Chair (2010-2016; Chair 2013-2016).
Rollins College, The Crummer School, MBA 1990
University of Southern Queensland, Australia, Ph.D., Organizational Change & Strategy 2010