Is Apopka becoming a Haven for Community Organizing?

“Focused discussion”; “holding people accountable”; “goal-setting”; “identifying resources”; “facilitated discussion”; “bringing together resources”; “moving the needle”. Today’s buzzwords that sound like great intentions and imply real action. Have these phrases sounded similar to what our Mayor has been using these last couple of months to justify expenditures on several high priced programs to help our community? Welcome to Community Organizing 101.

Who can argue with the basic tenant of Community Organizing? A group or person identifies a need, works to bring together a community behind the chosen need, then works to identify and harness resources working together to end the need. You hold meetings with focused discussion, you state a “goal” for each meeting and “identify resources” to achieve that week’s or month’s goal. And you have a professional facilitator to guide these discussions. You need a professional because regular folks who live in the community don’t have the proper training or education to do any this on their own. Most community-organization type groups are non-profits who rely on private donations, or a mix of public/private donations to keep them running and achieving their goals. Most goals are so generic or filled with buzzwords they are almost impossible to achieve and with little or no concrete baseline for success, or even program termination dates, the money keeps flowing while hands are wrung and more grandiose plans are announced.

We have seem to a have proliferation of organizations/consultants or individuals for hire who’ve found a home here in Apopka, turning our town into a Community Organizer Haven, with a Mayor who is all too happy to open the City’s checkbook to them. How’s that working for Apopka so far? Lobbyist/Consultant Richard Anderson, former Chief Administrative Officer for our city: Retired, taking 2 pensions, plus $350,000.00 for unused sick and vacation time, and now being paid $23,000/month by our city to Lobby and consult. What has he done for us lately? We will probably never know because he considers himself to be unanswerable to the taxpayers who pay his exorbitant salary. What was that about accountability, Mr. Mayor?

We have a professional consultant group conducting the Mayor’s Visioning process, a process that allowed citizens to say “I want, I want”.  $125,000 spent so well, two more special “listening” sessions must be conducted this month. Will these consultants be held accountable for any additional expense here, or delays in their report?

And now $20,000.00 of taxpayer money being spent with a friend of the Mayor’s to fix our schools through another program of meetings, finding resources, setting goals and having more meetings. And even more money to be spent in the coming years. Let’s be honest, this one could go for years, but it’s for the kids, so how cold and cruel of anyone who dares question or complains.

What is really going on here? Our city is being community organized to death. We are becoming a city of, by and for paid outside consultants and lobbyists. The Mayor said in an interview with the Apopka Chief,  “You can’t just ask people to do things on a volunteer basis”. WHY NOT? Our City’s Clubs and service organizations, not to mention parents groups in the schools are all RUN by volunteers and they do an outstanding job. He went on to imply that only a CAT team with a $10,000/school facilitator can conduct a focused meeting that sets goals and holds people accountable. Wow, the smug arrogance of a Community Organizer who apparently does not think enough of the citizens who elected him to handle this for ourselves.

Here’s the deal, Mr. Mayor. Apopka is a GREAT town filled with smart, savvy citizens and business owners who are capable of so much more than you are willing to give them credit for. We DO NOT NEED fancy, high priced outside consultants or consulting firms, or a lobbyist to do the work of our City. We do not want or need to be community organized. The Citizens of Apopka know what needs to be done in this town, we LIVE here, we SEE it every day.  Why don’t you just try asking US for help first? Throwing money at a problem and community organizing it to death will NOT solve the problem.

Is Apopka becoming a Haven for Community Organizing?

Responding to Humanist Group’s Invocation at Apopka meeting

Perhaps one of the most challenging Apopka City Commission meetings we have seen in a long time will be held next Wednesday Oct 21, at 7:00 pm. And the challenge will occur within the first five minutes of this meeting. That challenge will be presented by the Central Florida Freethought Community in the form of an invocation as the first order of business. The group’s motto is “for the separation of church and state”, but a reading of the various tabs on its website indicate this group is a secular, humanist, atheist organization. Reading through some of their invocations is sad indeed. There is literally no belief system in something higher than themselves. One invocation prays to “mother earth.” Most of the invocations are innocuous enough and appeal to a common good or goal. The Apopka Chief reported last week that the  group approached our Mayor with a request to give an invocation to open a Commission meeting. Mayor Kilsheimer had little choice but to grant the request, in light of the 2014 US Supreme Court ruling Town of Greece v. Galloway. The decision made clear that governments who include invocations as part of their meeting agendas must have non-discriminatory invocation policies. In the CFFC’s mind, this means a humanist cannot be denied the opportunity to offer an invocation if citizens of other faiths are also allowed to do this.

The group’s main focus of the separation of church and state battles appears to be within public schools, as a listing of what they call their “dirty dozen” includes: school events may not include prayers; school clubs may not have a “chaplain” or religious counsel; schools may not teach religious doctrine such as creationism (curiously enough, they have no problem with the teaching of darwinism or evolution). Schools may not allow religious displays on school property. One wonders what these people are so afraid of, but that is for another post.

The First Amendment to our Constitution, reads in part, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof..” The Constitution was written to place limits on what the Federal Government could do, NOT what local governments could do. NO WHERE in the Constitution will you find the phrase, “separation of church and state.” In fact, this phrase was found in a letter written by Thomas Jefferson in 1802, years after the Ratification of the Constitution,  to the Danbury Baptist of Connecticut, where he clarified his understanding of the First Amendment as building a wall of separation between Church and state. And while the Constitution does “separate” church and state, it generally allowed for general displays, encouragement and support of religion in public laws, in public speeches, on public property and even in schools. Its has been only in the last 125 years or so, that judges across the land have seized upon a phrase in a letter as an excuse to expunge all vestiges of religion from the public sector.

Many are disturbed by the appearance of this group at our Commission meeting. CFFC has given invocations at many government meetings across Central Florida in the last couple of years, emboldened by the Supreme Court decision cited above. One very important part of the First amendment reads, “Congress shall make no law… or abridging the freedom of speech”. In other words, we must defend the right of this group to have its say, not matter how utterly disagreeable or detestable we find it. That said, we also have every right to respectfully disagree with that speech.

So the question is, how will we approach the first five minutes of our meeting next week? Each of us should answer that for ourselves. Some have suggested leaving the meeting room during the invocation and praying in the hall. I for one, will not leave a room I have every right to be in. I plan to sit quietly during the invocation, in prayer,  with my Bible raised over my head. I intend to let the presence of my Bible do my talking for me. The group’s assumption is that up to 20% of attendees at any meeting where an invocation is given are non-believers and made to feel very uncomfortable by being asked to stand and bow their heads. Let’s prove them wrong. Let’s show them Apopka is a faith based community. We should not be afraid or dismayed by their appearance at our meeting. Instead, let’s welcome them in the Spirit of our God and show them just how wrong they are.

Responding to Humanist Group’s Invocation at Apopka meeting

Citizens of Apopka: YOU need to know!

With the lofty and ambitious goal of “All schools in the Apopka Community will achieve an “A” rating from the Florida Department of Education”, Mayor Joe Kilsheimer announced the launch of the program “Apopka begins and ends with an ‘A’”. In fact, Mayor Kilsheimer is so laser-focused on achieving this, he is calling on all of Apopka to join with him to set a community-wide goal that every Apopka area school achieves and maintains an ‘A’ rating. Two Apopka schools, Lovell Elementary and Rock Springs Elementary have been identified as the first two schools in this program. In his zeal to achieve this goal, Mayor Kilsheimer is proposing a program that will cost the city of Apopka, $20,000 this year, $10,000 per school. Working with a group called the City of Life Foundation, who will supposedly come in with their Community Action Team, hold meetings in the schools and community, identify and facilitate resources that might help our City attain this lofty goal. Sounded like another one of those feel good programs, long on “It takes a village to raise a child” rhetoric but short on any specifics or real concrete measure of success. Wanting to learn more about a group I’ve never heard of, I did some research; here’s what I found.

I found a 2015 Florida Not for Profit Corporation Annual Report for this group filed with the Florida Department of State dated 4/30/15. It lists Joe Kilsheimer as the President of this organization. I also found that the Mayor has been listed as President of this organization since 2013, and that his involvement with this organization goes back to 2006, when he served in various capacities on the Board of Directors. I could not find evidence that the Mayor disclosed this close relationship during two interviews with the Apopka Chief, nor in a thorough reading of the Commission Meeting minutes where the Mayor announced this program. Even if this information has been disclosed to someone,  I have 4 words for Mayor Kilsheimer: MAJOR CONFLICT OF INTEREST! Even if it is “for the kids”.

Even if we overlook that fact that the Florida Standards Assessment, a key component that will determine a school’s grade is embroiled in controversy, disarray and confusion. Even forgetting for a moment that like the constantly changing test criteria, schools’ grades change from year to year. Will we keep throwing $10,000.00/year per school at each school till the end of time? Never mind that there are plenty of private organizations and service clubs already in the Apopka area that won’t charge $10,000/school to set up these programs and in fact, many already work within the various school communities. Until Mayor Kilsheimer clarifies his relationship with an organization he wants to give $20,000.00 in the first year of an unproven program, and continue to feed this program a steady diet of taxpayer money till who knows when, I believe the taxpayers of Apopka need to put a STOP to this expenditure.

Citizens of Apopka: YOU need to know!