Open Letter to Steve Leary:

Please Answer a Few Questions About the “2015 Citizens Survey”


Dear Mayor Leary:

Nearly two weeks after the March 10 election, your mailer entitled “2015 Citizens Survey” went to selected Winter Park households. Some received the survey electronically, others received theirs in the mail. Some did not receive the survey. Both those who received the survey and many who did not had the same question for you:  What is this?

The mailer states that it was paid for and sent by you, “Steven Leary, non-partisan candidate for Winter Park Mayor.” It expresses your thanks to the voters and carries a message that reads in part, “As your mayor, I would like to set priorities over the next 90 days for the first year and beyond and I would appreciate your support and input. . . . Please take a moment to answer this brief citizens survey.” Your mailer requests the answers be returned either to a private email or by pre-paid post to a Park Avenue address.

According to Winter Park Communications Director Clarissa Howard, this is not a document created by the city and has nothing to do with the upcoming Visioning process.

The timing of the mailer – coming two weeks after the election and on the heels of the formation of the Visioning Task Force – had some of us scratching our heads. According to the “Candidate & Campaign Treasurer Handbook,” issued by the Florida Division of Elections, “Once a candidate is . . . elected to office, he or she may only expend funds from the campaign account to” deal with remaining financial obligations, close the office, prepare the termination report and to “Purchase “thank you” advertising for up to 75 days after he or she is . . . elected to office.”To read the entire text, CLICK HERE and scroll down to page 50, “Chapter 17: Termination Reports.”

While some might argue your mailer went a little beyond “thank you advertising,” the Thank You message is clearly stated.

Apparently, the other members of the Commission had no prior knowledge of the survey. When asked for comment, Commissioner Tom McMacken stated simply, “I am stunned.”

Commissioner Sarah Sprinkel wrote in an email, “I believe this was something Steve did on his own– it was not a city initiative so you will have to find out from him.”

Commissioners Carolyn Cooper and Greg Seidel applauded your effort to solicit residents’ input for guidance in your new role as mayor. Cooper added that she hoped you would use the survey results “your own edification and not to formulate city policy.”

The Voice received a number of queries from puzzled readers. Some wondered how your campaign determined which households would be surveyed and what the campaign organization planned to do with the results.

Others found the questions difficult to answer. Long-time Winter Park resident Ann Saurman wrote in a message to Mayor and Commissioners:

Some of the questions had a definite bias.”

“The City maintaining right-of-way trees” required agreeing to an increase in taxes, while neither “Needing more active parks and playing fields” or “Needing ‘lots of improvements’ to Winter Park’s facilities” required any tax increase.

“I hope this is not an indication of how the visioning process will be executed,” wrote Saurman. ”I would like Citizens Surveys to go to all citizens and for the questions to be designed in a fair and honest way so as to produce credible results.” 

The Voice has submitted further questions to you which were based on similar messages from other readers. The questions are below. Although you had not responded as of publication, we welcome the opportunity to publish your reply if you decide to answer the questions in the future.

  • author's avatar

    By: Anne Mooney

    Anne Mooney has assumed the editorship of the Winter Park Voice from founding editor Tom Childers.

    Mooney got her start in New York as a freelance line editor for book publishers, among them Simon & Schuster and the Clarkson Potter division of Crown Books. From New York, she and her husband and their year-old toddler moved to Washington, D.C., where the two ran a newswire service for Harper’s magazine. “We called it Network News,” said Mooney, “because it was a network of the Harper’s writers, whose work we edited into newspaper style and format and sold to papers in the top U.S. and Canadian markets. We were sort of like a tiny UPI.”

    The newswire ceased operation with the death of Mooney’s first husband, but Mooney continued to write and edit, doing freelance work for Williams Sonoma cookbooks and for local publications in D.C.

    In 2005, Mooney moved to Winter Park, where she worked as a personal chef and wrote a regular food column for a south Florida magazine. She took an active interest in Winter Park politics and was there when the Winter Park Voice was founded. She wrote occasional pieces for the Voice, including the Childers bio that this piece replaces.

    The Winter Park Voice is one of a large number of “hyper-local” publications that have sprung up across the U.S. in response to the decline of the major daily newspapers and the resulting deficit of local news coverage. The Voice’sbeat is Winter Park City Hall, and its purpose is to help the residents of our city better understand the political forces that shape our daily lives.

  • author's avatar

Share This