Candidate Forums and Conspiracy Theories in Apopka

When does an informative City Commission Candidate Forum stop being a forum and start being a conspiracy? When it occurs in Apopka, FL. WOW! Who would have thought a change of one question would give way to conspiracy fears and theories? Here’s the setup.

Apopka has 4 Commission seats, all at-large. Seats 3 and 4 are up for election this March. There are 3 candidates in each race, the incumbent and 2 challengers. The organizers of this Candidate Debate: our local newspaper, our local radio station and a new on-line local news service, split the forum in two; the Candidates for Seat 3 went first, followed by the Seat 4 Candidates. The announced rules for the Forum, aside from time limits for answers, rules for rebuttals, etc., was that each group of candidates would be asked the same questions. Apparently, a decision was made by the moderator during the brief break between the forums, to eliminate one question from the first group and move directly to the next question on the list for the 2nd group. And when the different question was asked, the audience murmured and gasped.  The moderator stated in an interview after the forum, “It was my decision.. The question about live-streaming the meetings wasn’t a great question in my opinion. So I removed it from the list.” Because this 5th question was removed by the moderator,  the original 6th question about department heads leaving the city became that question posed to the Seat 4 Candidates. And because the length of answers by the Seat 4 candidates was shorter than the candidates in for Seat 3, there was time for a red-light camera question before final remarks. To remedy this disparity in questions, the local on-line news service will pose each of these last two questions to all 6 candidates and publish their answers this Monday 2/1.

Should the moderator have announced before the start of the Seat 4 Forum that he decided to change the questions?  Yes. That announcement would have prevented the conspiracy theorists in Apopka from running rampant and posting about hidden agendas where there are none. Because of this change in questions, the underlying divisions between “old” and “new” Apopka have resurfaced. In fact, one person thought this change up reeked of old Apopka politics, and even went so far as to wonder if this was not “dirty politics”. Let’s step away from the ledge for just one moment and think about this. The omission of one awkwardly worded question is not the beginning of a Stephen King novel, it was simply a judgement call by the moderator. The situation will be remedied on Monday as outlined above. Let’s wait to see those answers. I have yet to see or hear concrete proof how this one change of question benefited one candidate or hurt another candidate. Let’s stop seeing conspiracy and dirty politics where there is none. Let the candidates get back to the business of campaigning; when they come knocking on your door, talk to them, ask them anything you want. They are on a 6 week job interview and want US to hire them. So let’s do OUR homework, and stop expecting media sources to do that work for us, then cry conspiracy when their job is not done to our satisfaction.

And a word of advice to organizers for another Candidate Forum: Stick to ALL the rules if you don’t want mountains made of molehills.

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Candidate Forums and Conspiracy Theories in Apopka

Rezoning change of vacant land causes controversary in Apopka

At Wednesday’s Apopka City Commission, the Commission will  consider a zoning change on land that has stood vacant for decades, and caused a ruckus of sorts at the last Commission meeting. The Commission is looking to change the zoning of a 10 acre piece of land off Cleveland street from Recreation to Industrial. The two ordinances sailed through their first reading in December, but somehow caught the eye of several community leaders at the early January meeting, and howls of protest went up. Cries of “not in my backyard or front yard” went up. One commissioner said he did not want “those kind of jobs (ie manufacturing) in those peoples communities”. When asked what kind of jobs he did want, this Commissioner stated, “I’m talking about jobs that aren’t manufacturing”. Commissioner Dean stated also stated during the exchange, “It’s a known fact that anything not worth a damn is put on the south side in a community where it is totally African American”. How can he say that a company with the potential to bring good paying jobs to the area not be “worth a damn”? Equally surprising and also a bit puzzling is a statement made by Dr. Ray Shackleford, another advocate for the betterment of the poorer communities in Apopka. “Jobs for the sake of jobs may not be in our best interest. Be fair to all people… respect the people south of 441”. I wish I even knew what that meant. All I can think is that Dean and Shackleford have appointed themselves spokespeople for South Apopka and have prejudged what “those manufacturing jobs” are and somehow determined these jobs are beneath the residents of South Apopka. They don’t want fast food jobs, they don’t want minimum wage retail jobs. What kind of jobs DO you want for the residents of South Apopka? Or maybe the people of South Apopka should be answering that question.

What exactly does Aero-Tel Wire and Harness do? They manufacture and assembly electronic equipment, boards and wire harness and cable assemblies. Most positions are skilled labor where tools like automatic wire cutters and strippers, crimping tools and dies, marking equipment and heat shrink guns are used. Aero-Tel offers a number of positions including entry level ones that offer on the job training in the use of this equipment and advancement potentials.

I’ve been selling electronic hardware and components for 26 years, and have toured many of these types of facilities. I would like to ask Dr. Shackleford, Rev Richard King (who also protested these jobs) and Commissioner Dean if they’ve toured Aero-Tel’s facility on Silver Star, OR any of the light manufacturing plants in Apopka. If not, maybe they should. They would find these facilities to be clean and quiet, both inside and out. These companies offer employees good pay, benefits and a future; a real opportunity to lift people out of poverty and keep them out of poverty. What’s wrong with that? Employees are learning skills that we need here in America to keep manufacturing jobs from going overseas and that will grow our economy. HubZone classification ensures that at least 35% of employees hired must live in that Hubzone. Again, I am failing to see the problem here.

I agree with Mayor Kilsheimer on this one, who stated, “it’s jobs for South Apopka in a very clean environment”. Approval of the zoning change on a piece of land that has stood vacant for decades is a big move in the right direction for the City and for South Apopka. Having a proven jobs creator move into this area could be the start of real economic improvement in an area of the City that certainly deserves it.  I simply cannot see a downside to this and I have to ask Commissioner Dean, Dr. Shackleford and Rev King: What are YOU really afraid of?

Rezoning change of vacant land causes controversary in Apopka

Apopka Town Center cannot be Rushed through

The City of Apopka is ready to make a move on the much anticipated Town Center. The first real steps towards making this a reality will commence this Friday January 15, 11:00 am, at the Apopka City Hall. In a rather unusual move, a workshop set up by the developers for the Commission to review a land sale agreement will be followed immediately by a vote from the Commission.The 26 page land sales agreement went up on the City website either yesterday or today. That gives the public just 2 or 3 days to review and make comment before Friday’s meeting.

First, after over 11 years in the making, why the sudden rush for a vote, on a Friday, in the middle of a workday when most people cannot attend? Mayor Kilsheimer said it was being done at the urging of the investment group, Taurus Investments. “They were very insistent”.  Since when does any outside entity dictate the City of Apopka agenda or demand what or when matters come up for vote? The City of Apopka is losing $12,000,000.00 on this land deal, paying $17,000,000 in 2006 and now selling it to Taurus Investment for a paltry $5,000,000. In an open letter written today about this land sale agreement, the Mayor urged his readers to look at the long term benefits. Sure, we are losing $12,000,000.00 but it will pay off in the long-term. How long, exactly? It could take up to a year or longer before a final agreement is reached and then several years before the Center is completed.  Who negotiated this sales deal anyway? We really could not get more for the land from this multi-national investment company? And which government entity will be paying for the expensive infrastructure changes that will most certainly have to be done? If it’s Apopka, there goes our long term benefits.

The Mayor also noted the sale of the land is conditioned upon successful negotiation of a development agreement within 30 days of signing the sales agreement, with the option for one 30 day extension (a total of 60 days). If the City does not like the development plans, then both parties can walk away. OK.. I must ask this question. The RFP that started this whole process was awarded to Taurus (apparently the only bidder; I wonder why only ONE bid?) in JULY of 2015. What has this group been doing for the last 5 months? And aside from Taurus being the only respondent to the RFP, what criteria was used make the award? Are we to believe this group does not have anything for the City to review before signing this deal, even preliminary plans? It’s like, hey horse, get behind this cart ok? It will all work out, don’t worry.

I  urge our City Commission to exercise great care and caution when reviewing this sales agreement. Ask the tough questions, and if answers aren’t forthcoming, keep asking till you hear what you need to make a decision. Don’t be pressured or bullied by anyone into making a decision that could be contrary to the best interests of Apopka. Don’t be afraid to ask for more time; Mayor Kilsheimer is right about this: we’ve waited a long time for this town center. Done right, and Apopka could definitely be one of the crown jewels of Central Florida.. but that’s the key, it must be DONE RIGHT! No rushing, no pressure. We’ve waited 11 long years for this Town Center; let’s get this right!

Apopka Town Center cannot be Rushed through

Apopka Town Center Agreement can’t be rushed through

barbzack

The City of Apopka is ready to make a move on the much anticipated Town Center. The first real steps towards making this a reality will commence this Friday January 15, 11:00 am, at the Apopka City Hall. In a rather unusual move, a workshop set up by the developers for the Commission to review a land sale agreement will be followed immediately by a vote from the Commission.The 26 page land sales agreement went up on the City website either yesterday or today. That gives the public just 2 or 3 days to review and make comment before Friday’s meeting.

First, after over 11 years in the making, why the sudden rush for a vote, on a Friday, in the middle of a workday when most people cannot attend? Mayor Kilsheimer said it was being done at the urging of the investment group, Taurus Investments. “They were very insistent”. …

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Apopka Town Center Agreement can’t be rushed through

Apopka residents short-changed by 3 candiates

I have to say, I am disappointed that three of the six candidates for Apopka City Commission have elected to drop out of tomorrow’s upcoming candidate forum hosted by the Apopka Chamber of Commerce. Sam Ruth, incumbent for Seat 3, and the two challengers for Seat 4, Kyle Becker and Young Kim cited various reasons. Both Sam and Kyle cited the fact that with the upcoming Town Center meeting this Friday and not being able to take two days away from work, they would rather take the time for the Town Center meeting. Young Kim stated objections to the format and pricing of the Chamber event as his reason for leaving the forum.

Here’s the thing. As a former candidate for City Commission myself, if an opportunity to appear in public to state your position on the issues, you take that opportunity. You make it work. The group hosting the event is free to determine the format, and any charges to attend this event. Members of the Chamber are not only members of the Apopka business community, but many are also residents of the City.

The whining by many about the closed nature of this forum and the perceived exclusion of many does not hold water.  In a city the size of Apopka,  there will be people associated with one or more of the candidates at any scheduled forums. Anytime you have two people that agree on something, that group can be classified as a special interest group. There are various ways for people to be informed of candidates’ stands on the issues: their websites, their facebook pages, twitter feeds, etc. By hosting this candidate forum this early in the campaign, The Chamber is showing good judgement in helping residents make informed decisions.  I hope the three candidates who have dropped out of the forum reconsider and attend the forum. In order to make an informed decision, members of the Chamber and general public, need to hear from all six candidates.

Apopka residents short-changed by 3 candiates

Apopka Town Center Agreement can’t be rushed through

The City of Apopka is ready to make a move on the much anticipated Town Center. The first real steps towards making this a reality will commence this Friday January 15, 11:00 am, at the Apopka City Hall. In a rather unusual move, a workshop set up by the developers for the Commission to review a land sale agreement will be followed immediately by a vote from the Commission.The 26 page land sales agreement went up on the City website either yesterday or today. That gives the public just 2 or 3 days to review and make comment before Friday’s meeting.

First, after over 11 years in the making, why the sudden rush for a vote, on a Friday, in the middle of a workday when most people cannot attend? Mayor Kilsheimer said it was being done at the urging of the investment group, Taurus Investments. “They were very insistent”.  Since when does any outside entity dictate the City of Apopka agenda or demand what or when matters come up for vote? The City of Apopka is losing $12,000,000.00 on this land deal, paying $17,000,000 in 2006 and now selling it to Taurus Investment for a paltry $5,000,000. In an open letter written today about this land sale agreement, the Mayor urged his readers to look at the long term benefits. Sure, we are losing $12,000,000.00 but it will pay off in the long-term. How long, exactly? It could take up to a year or longer before a final agreement is reached and then several years before the Center is completed.  Who negotiated this sales deal anyway? We really could not get more for the land from this multi-national investment company? And which government entity will be paying for the expensive infrastructure changes that will most certainly have to be done? If it’s Apopka, there goes our long term benefits.

The Mayor also noted the sale of the land is conditioned upon successful negotiation of a development agreement within 30 days of signing the sales agreement, with the option for one 30 day extension (a total of 60 days). If the City does not like the development plans, then both parties can walk away. OK.. I must ask this question. The RFP that started this whole process was awarded to Taurus (apparently the only bidder; I wonder why only ONE bid?) in JULY of 2015. What has this group been doing for the last 5 months? And aside from Taurus being the only respondent to the RFP, what criteria was used make the award? Are we to believe this group does not have anything for the City to review before signing this deal, even preliminary plans? It’s like, hey horse, get behind this cart ok? It will all work out, don’t worry.

I  urge our City Commission to exercise great care and caution when reviewing this sales agreement. Ask the tough questions, and if answers aren’t forthcoming, keep asking till you hear what you need to make a decision. Don’t be pressured or bullied by anyone into making a decision that could be contrary to the best interests of Apopka. Don’t be afraid to ask for more time; Mayor Kilsheimer is right about this: we’ve waited a long time for this town center. Done right, and Apopka could definitely be one of the crown jewels of Central Florida.. but that’s the key, it must be DONE RIGHT! No rushing, no pressure. We’ve waited 11 long years for this Town Center; let’s get this right!

Apopka Town Center Agreement can’t be rushed through

Envisioning more expensive studies for Apopka

I was cruising the Apopka City website the other day and found something interesting. Under the Business Tab of the home page, I went into the RFQ/RFP section and was surprised to see RFQ 1 there, “Request for Qualifications: Retail Development Strategy and Marketing Services”. The RFQ is due tomorrow, January 4th at 3:00 pm from bidders and negotiations with the selected consultant are to begin on Friday Jan 8th. Apparently, the City is looking for a vendor to conduct  a retail market analysis and development strategy that will mesh with the City’s adopted vision from the visioning process.  Three areas of our City are to be included: The Wekiva Parkway area (Kelly Park); the area near the new hospital and yes, the Downtown area (the Apopka Town Center).

Now according to the RFQ for the Visioning Process that was went out last March, within the Scope of Services section of that RFQ, was an expectation for the consultant to prepare a Strategic Plan to include a 5 year action plan guiding  City resources and  organizational priorities. This 5 year plan is referenced several times within the RFQ.  I have not seen the final contract for the Visioning process so, I do not know if this 5 year plan was included in the final contract. I do remember the general conclusion of this expensive process was that citizens of Apopka want nice restaurants and shops and were sick of dollar stores, auto parts stores and Taco Bells. It took $125,000.00 of taxpayer money to come to the same conclusion that swept  a new Mayor and two new City Commissioners into office in 2014. That same section of the RFQ promised a workshop to review the results, which was held December 9, and a 2nd meeting or hearing be scheduled so the City could adopt the final vision statement and Strategic plan. To my knowledge that 2nd meeting has not taken place yet, nor is it on the January 6th meeting agenda. So back to the RFQ noted above, how can a request for services to build on the adopted visioning strategies be made when it does not appear the Visioning Plan has  actually been “adopted” by the City Commission?

Key on this RFQ is the Compensation section found on pg 4. I quote, “Initial tasks may be based on work less than $25,000.00 to comply with purchasing requirements”. As we found out with the “Apopka begins and ends with an A” project, the Mayor can expend up to $25,000 of City funds WITHOUT having to come to Council (ie. elected taxpayer representatives) for approval. Hmmm.. According to the Tentative Timeline of the RFQ, the finalist will be announced and presented to the City Commission at the January 19th meeting, presumably after the first $25,000.00 check has already been cut, very similar to the way the Mayor’s education program was handled just a few months ago.  Is the City skirting the dollar limit to avoid having to answer questions? Are we seeing the beginnings of a new strategy the City will employ to avoid taxpayer scrutiny?

Other questions:  Why the rush on this? What will be the final price tag for THIS project? Where in the budget is the money coming from? I thought for $125,000.00, we were supposed to get this retail analysis and strategy via the consultants from the visioning process. Was I wrong? As a taxpayer, I gotta ask these questions. Because right now, the only thing I am envisioning for our City is parade of never ending expensive reports, studies and consultants, while only giving the illusion that things are getting done.

 

Envisioning more expensive studies for Apopka