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
I’m not surprised. The same group voted for the YMCA expansion ignoring the developers agreement that came from the first expansion.Our neighborhood is full of traffic, the speeding problems on Lakemont and Palmer are the worst in 30 plus years. No vote for Sprinkel from my house.
Great commentary. I believe the city of Orlando has used OUC as a piggy bank for years. Let’s hope Winter Park doesn’t go down that path.
And please do not forget that the $1.2 Million Weldon and Sprinkel doled out to Ravaudage/Bellows for infrastructure was a biggie, too.
Weldon and his political ally Ms. Sprinkel had no problem with that number. Seems to be a real case of selective amnesia on former commissioner Weldon’s part.
Sandy, you misunderstand the deal that was made regarding Ravaudauge road improvements. Please see: https://winterparkperspective.org/2019/02/18/ravaudage-road-deal-good-for-winter-park/
Unfortunately for you Pete, that’s not me . LOL
Yes I understand that the delayed completion of undergrounding is a result of reallocation of funds to other projects. This occurred on Commissioner Sprinkel’s watch and to the best of my knowledge she supported it. Furthermore, the arrogance and disrespect Dr. Johnson describes experiencing in a public meeting was not uncommon with some previous Mayors and Commissioners. It is time for fresh leadership and we are happy to support Phil Anderson.
Pam, you will find that the original under grounding expectation from 2005 was that the program would take 20-25 years to complete. The current expected completion is in 2026, 21 years after we took control of the electric distribution system. To state that the under grounding program was delayed and that the cause of such delay is related to the 1/4% funding for outside organizations is not true. Further, people you supported have been on the commission over this time frame and none of them have initiated any discussions to change the 1/4% funding policy. See: https://gis.cityofwinterpark.org/electricundergroundingstatus/
Well, almost of interest.
I publicly disagreed with the decision to commit $1,000,000 over ten years to the Dr. Phillips Center, but support the commission’s discretion to allocate funds to the Dr. Phillips Center each year as they see fit, along the their annual support for other outside organizations.
Ms. Johnson is concerned about a policy established about ten years ago that allocates 1/4% of the gross revenue from each of the three major funds: General Fund, Electric, and Water & Wastewater to outside organizations each year at the discretion of the commission. This policy was put in place to establish a consistent funding mechanism to support outside organizations. This year’s budget contains allocations for the following outside organizations: Mead Gardens, Historical Association, United Arts, Performing Arts Center, Winter Park Day Nursery, Polasek Museum and Blue Bamboo Center for the Arts.
I note that this policy has not been changed for years during the terms of many different commission members.
Residents should know that our utility funds are currently financially strong and that the outside organization funding policy has not proven a burden.
We should thank all past and current members of the utilities board along with city management for the effective over site of our utility operations. We should also thank our past leaders who had the fore site to acquire both the water and sewer operation and our electric distribution system.
It’s foresight, not “fore site”, Pete. You have developer-on- the-brain syndrome !
Thank you Dr. Johnson, excellent commentary.
Mr. Weldon is throwing everything from the kitchen sink on the wall, hoping something will stick so that no one will be looking at Sprinkel’s lousy record.
Thanks for a glimpse into the facts.
Pete Weldon has run for commission three times. He was successful only once.
He lost to Phil Anderson in his first run.
He beat Tom McMacken in his second.
He lost to Todd Weaver (twice) in his third run.
Judging by his e-mail blasts he is literally guzzling the very bitter
wine of sour grapes. And he won’t stop until we all share a cup of the nasty stuff with him. I’m placing my flattened hand over the top of my glass. Enuf Weldon whine already. A Sprinkel win will simply enable and embolden him further.
“And he won’t stop until we all share a cup of the nasty stuff with him”.
Thanks for the chuckle. Winter Park politics sure is something else.
This reminded me of a line from the war film Full Metal Jacket. A Commander tells his men: “It’s a big &%$# sandwich….and we’re all gonna have to take a bite”.
Good thing we aren’t new recruits and can decline the invitation should we so choose.
With all the opinion pieces and emails that Pete Weldon is sending out on behalf of Sarah Sprinkel, I think one can assume that it is his voice we will hear should she be elected. Pete was voted off the commission by the voters because The voters did not agree with him and did not want to hear him anymore. Think about this and vote for Phil Anderson.