March 13, 2015
This election has taught us that we all need to take a serious look at keeping national political parties and PAC money out of our local elections. The national parties, both Democrat and Republican, have their own agendas which have nothing to do with what is best for Winter Park. For much the same reason we have laws which limit individual contributions to $1000. PACs are an easy way to get around that limitation. The result is a distortion of the democratic process – a process that assures equal representation for all Winter Park citizens. If we want a local government which is responsive to our needs and makes its decisions based on what is best for our community, then we need to keep big politics and big money out of the local election process.
That’s Not All
March 13, 2015
By far the biggest money in the campaign came from the Winter Park City Commissioners themselves, misusing money we as taxpayers entrusted to them and diverting it for re-election purposes of one of their own.
Commissioners have approved themselves, by a 5-0 vote each year as they approve the City Budget, Winter Park taxpayer funding for a Communications Department. The Department’s purpose is to make the Commissioners look good by sending residents mailings that flatter the Commissioners, also by talking to the media and other concerned individuals on behalf of the Commissioners and other City officials when they don’t want to, by writing speeches for them, by taking photos and making videos of Commissioners often, staging impressive events for the Commissioners, and generally by making every day at City Hall appear to the residents as much as possible, like just another happy day in paradise.
During this campaign, the $500,000 annual budget of the Communications Department included in part, both a newsletter and a report card to voters during the 10 days prior to the City election.
The City Commission newsletter included a photo and name of only one of the candidates running, Steve Leary, and prominently announced the election day as March 10th, and also included various “feel good” stories over several pages about what is going on in the City. The report card sent a few days after the newsletter was the City Commission’s own evaluation of themselves using carefully selected statistics, which of course were selected because they are the statistics that make the Commissioners look good to the voters. Statistics such as number of trees, number of crimes, number of traffic accidents, total residential real estate tax dollars, number of red light cameras, number of government surveillance cameras, average commute times, number of City ambulance transports to the hospital, etc. were notably missing from the report card, so as to hide this information from the voters just before the election.
While some of us would like to believe that certain Commissioners wear halos on their heads and others horns, their joint effort to persuade the voters during the week prior to this year’s City election with these taxpayer funded mailings, and their unanimous approval of the $500,000 funding for the City Communications annual budget in September, proves that the five Commissioners are more like one another than anyone ever thought. Re-election for each appears to be more important than getting anyone new elected to the Commission that might improve things for the residents.
When one considers the mess Commissioners have made in so many aspects of City government during the past several years and how relatively few of these issues facing our City appeared on any campaign postcards, you have to wonder what deals were made behind the scenes so as not let the voters see everything as it is, but rather to keep everything like a dream – just a little truth, mixed with lots and lots of illusion.
When voters don’t know the whole truth, we get the kind of City Commission we have.
Question about Transparency
March 13, 2015
Speaking of PACs, I’m wondering why neither PAC followed our laws and filed financial reports with the city. It’s the law. Why do they feel entitled to disregard our laws, skirt transparency and hide their contributors?
These same operatives are key advisors to Teresa Jacobs and John Mica.
Editor’s Note: Thank you for your comment. The reporting period for the PACs is different from that of the candidates’ campaigns. PACs report to the county and to the state, and are not required to report to the city. Their reports are not due until mid-April. We cannot, therefore, assume any wrong-doing on the part of the PACs.
March 16, 2015
“Speaking of PACs,….” One of the PACs, Council For Stronger Neighborhoods, is a Realtor funded PAC. Voluntary contributions are made knowing the donation will help candidates around the state. Realtor supported candidates are candidates that support affordable housing, private property rights and a fair treatment of property owners with regard to taxes. A PAC registered with the state is legally allowed to donate to local elections and issue campaigns. There is no nothing underhanded or hidden. The volunteer donors are Realtors. We want brick streets, oak trees, good schools, strong local business environment and reasonable growth within the current Comp Plan and zoning. We want WP to remain special and unique. That’s why I donate to our PAC.
The 3 mailers sent by the Realtor PAC were positive about Steve Leary and never mentioned, let alone criticized, his opponent. No negative campaigning. I can’t comment on phone calls b/c I didn’t receive one
Keeping the political parties out of local, non-partisan races is impossible. Why do we want to quash free speech? The parties followed the law, encouraged involvement. The Democrats asked for volunteers and the Republicans asked for your vote. Isn’t that what we’re trying to do? In an off-year, local election, we had close to 7,000 voters! Each candidate for Mayor raised over $120,000! This is democracy on steroids. Why is anyone complaining?
March 16, 2015
To Thatâ€™s Not All, you are certainly entitled to criticize our City Commission, but as I read your comments I couldnâ€™t help but think of the Ronald Reagan quote, â€œThere you go again.â€ Seems to me that if you really have our best interest at heart, instead of sounding like a sore loser or someone wishing to continue the divisive dialog until the next election, perhaps you could provide some constructive opinions laced with recommendations for how Winter Park residents can become better informed about the day-to-day activities of City Hall. Maybe your suggestions would result in the more “Perfect Union” you allude to. For sure you would get my attention, especially if you included your name as an indication of your willingness to be counted with the rest of us chickens.
WP Fact Check
March 17, 2015
The PAC referred to by the commenter, Council For Stronger Neighborhoods, Inc., sent a postcard to voters, with ta photo of Leary at his desk, and the headline “What Does Leadership Look Like?”
On the flip side, the postcard it says, “While on the city commission, Steve didn’t raise taxes once in the last 6 years…”
In fact, Leary raised property taxes 6%, comparing Winter Park tax dollars in 2011 when Leary first took office to the 2015 City budget Leary voted for in September (source: Fiscal 2015 City Budget, and City Commission minutes).
This misstatement was also repeated numerous times in the Orange County Republican Executive Committee campaign postcards for Leary.
Leary raised Winter Park taxes.
The only thing Leary did not raise was the millage rate. Leaders who truly do not want to raise property taxes, lower the millage rate. Because Leary did not lower Winter Park’s millage rate, he raised Winter Park property taxes. Your Winter Park residential property tax bill and mine was higher this year than it was last. That’s an increase in your taxes, because you paid more this year than you did last for the same property.. No different than if you go to the grocery store and buy a loaf of bread and the price for the loaf is higher – its a price increase for the loaf of bread.
Those affiliated with the Realtor PAC and OCREC, regardless of which side you were on, should complain to them about their deceptive advertising in this campaign.