Apopka Commissioner Scolds citizens during Commission Meeting

It happened right during the most recent Apopka City Commission Meeting. During the public comment section, things got a little heated when the topic turned to the Apopka Historical Museum. People more familiar with that whole business can comment on the exact issues involved; it was right at the end of that discussion that Commission Diane Velazquez chose to make herself heard. Getting on her soapbox, she began with how she felt “singled out” during meetings, and after a short statement about how her husband got involved with the Museum, lambasted the public, HER constituents, with a “I am Commissioner Velazquez, hear me roar” scolding. WOW! Where did that come from?

She went on to say how many people who spoke gave her the passive-aggressive treatment. I do not even know what to make of that psyco-babble statement. She stated, “I can think of so many occasions of how many times I have been berated up here, insulted”. Problem is Commissioner Velazquez, I and many others cannot think of a single instance where you personally have been berated or insulted at City Commission meetings. During the Public Comment Section of the meeting, ordinary citizens, people who voted for YOU, speak their minds to the ENTIRE Commission. If there are instances where people have been rude or insolent, they have been called out and asked to refrain from insults. Is your skin that thin, or is your ego that large?

Velazquez went on to toot her horn with accomplishments and involvements with the Community. There is NO DOUBT that the good Commissioner is very active and involved with our Community, her involvement is part of the reason she was elected. Possibly, the recognition she receives in almost weekly stories in the media and the photos are not enough for Velazquez, she wants more. Again, how much more credit for doing your job does your ego need?

Commissioner Velazquez also addressed criticisms that call her “she” or “her” or “his girl”, “I am no one’s girl up here. I am COMMISSIONER Diane Velazquez; I am a City Commissioner for the City of Apopka..” Perhaps the criticism that she is “someone’s girl” is a bit sexist, although does have a ring of truth to it. Check out Velazquez’s voting record.. She votes with the Mayor a good 90% or more of the time; they serve on several boards, including LANGD’s, together; they even shared the same campaign manager and consultant, and campaign ideas, when both were running for election almost 4 years ago.

Finally,  at the end of her tirade, Commissioner Velazquez demanded respect from citizens, “I am a City Commissioner for the City of Apopka. I just ask each of you to respect me as I respect you”. Really, Commissioner, you respect us? Like when during the Public Comments section of the meetings, most commissioners, including you, are shuffling through papers or checking your phones, hardly paying attention at all to what WE the citizens are saying? Do you mean THAT kind of respect? At least you do not have that classic, combination  sigh/eye roll movement down yet. Respect is something that is EARNED, not demanded simply because one is an elected official. I will ALWAYS respect the office, the office holders earn my respect with their conduct and demeanor.

Perhaps Commissioner Velazquez is feeling a bit smug and superior because as of now, it appears she will be running unopposed for that cushy green chair. Perhaps a good scolding was just what COMMISSIONER Velazquez felt her subjects needed, a reminder that SHE IS COMMISSIONER VELAZQUEZ and we best not forgot that. I am wondering if we should address her as “Her Royal Highness”. What I DO know is that Commissioner Velazquez has a very healthy, even over-inflated sense of ego and self. What I would like to say to the good Commissioner, with all the issues our City faces and with almost constant calls for all to work together for the betterment of our City, is this: If any criticisms directed towards you are too much for you, perhaps reconsider your decision to run for a second term. Otherwise, Get over yourself, Commissioner, knock that chip off your shoulder and earn that respect you so ardently demand. Realize this: It is NOT ALWAYS about you!

 

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Apopka Commissioner Scolds citizens during Commission Meeting

Apopka Mayor blames citizens for budget woes

Did anyone see the latest angry tirade from Apopka’s Mayor. Joe Kilsheimer lashed out at Apopka taxpayers during last week’s budget workshops, basically blaming Apopka residents and scolding us because he has to say no to requests from citizens. He went on to also blame the last administration (from at least 2-1/2 years ago) for “hiding things” and “keeping things secret” and they weren’t honest with citizens. “We are now, for the city’s history, being honest with people and telling them, ‘this is what it takes to run your city… and this is what it’s going to take”. Does our Mayor really underestimate the citizens of Apopka that much that he has to arrogantly lecture people about how government works? I would like to know exactly what “stuff” the city hasn’t been funding. Because Apopka has a GREAT police department and a top rated fire department. Is it the “feel-good” festivals, or a community theatre group, or some ill-conceived program that put thousands of dollars into the pocket of a good friend, but yielded little if any results.  Hey Joe, here’s an idea, take care of City functions FIRST. Police and fire protection, water and sewage, and other things that basically only a full service City can handle. Everything and I mean EVERYTHING else: fancy splash pads and skate parks, feel-good “festivals”, education programs that yield little positive results, or any other PORK is what happens after all the city functions are paid for. THAT is how a City is run, and that is Apopka has been run, at least till you came on the scene.

People will understand that certain recreation department activities should be user-fee based, not funded by taxpayers. And responsible citizens understand that government is not and should NEVER be all things to all people. But what we don’t understand is the Mayor of Apopka throwing another temper tantrum, stomping his feet, lashing out at citizens and blaming everyone else but himself for the City’s perceived woes. Taxpayers MUST live within our means, and so must any responsible city government. Commissioner Bankson was quite right when he said, “we can’t go into a spiral where we go deeper in debt and there’s no plan to come out of it… Let’s look at it in a frugal manner”. Yet he, along with the other Commissioners and mayor voted for the higher property tax rate anyway.  O well.

Responsible citizens understand this:  NO we cannot nor should we, have it all.. It seems to me that that the Mayor is trying to play more to his cult followers who want everything NOW! Legacies are nice, but leaving the City in a fiscally sound position should be the top priority of our City leaders. There is no reason to ransom our future for the instant gratification of now. Mr. Mayor, most citizens of Apopka ARE patient, and will continue to wait. So stop blaming an entire city for your frustrations. We need true leaders right now, grownups, not petulant children. We understand we can’t have it all now, do you?

Apopka Mayor blames citizens for budget woes

About Highland Manor and Apopka’s City Center

Well, the Apopka City Center, in the making for over a decade is on the cusp of becoming a reality. An array of gathering spaces, grocery stores, upscale sit-down restaurants, medical offices, apartments and a 5 story hotel are part of the forward looking plans. But alas, Taurus Southern Investments, a company who has been in business for decades, with years and years of experience among it’s project managers, planners and others, have come across something that is just too challenging for them to handle: A city landmark and historic house, Highland Manor. Jeff McFadden, managing partner for the developer responded to a question from Commissioner Billie Dean about Highland Manor, “I’m not sure how you keep Highland Manor on this site, to be honest with you… it just sprawls and takes too much of the site”.

Estimates to move Highland Manor from the site, (in fact, it’s 2nd move), run aproximately $1.1 million dollars. No estimates were obtained to simply demolish the property. Emotions are running high on both sides of the house. Many want to preserve the House, perhaps turning into a musuem and/or Bed and Breakfast run by the Apopka Historical Society. Others looking ahead to the future do not attach such sentimentality to the place and ask why it cannot just be torn down. The former president of the Apopka Historical Society, and now mayor of our fine town, Joe Kilsheimer seems to be siding with the group that says to tear it down. Ironic, isn’t it. At a recent meeting, Mayor Kilsheimer responded to an observation by Commissioner Doug Bankson, “These are tough choices. What do the residents of Apopka want? Do they want a gathering place, a city center where people can go and come and have good times.. eat at restaurants, shop at stores, all around Martins’ pond where we’ll have a pedestrian walkway”. There’s little doubt about what the Mayor wants. Out with the old, in with the new.

The legalities of the contract seem standard enough; Taurus is getting a steal of a deal on the land to be sure. And after over a decade of talks, The City Center will be Mayor K’s legacy, his claim to fame and a possible stepping stone to bigger things.Is ensuring a legacy the Mayor’s only reason for pushing the City Center at the expense of an important part of Apopka’s past? It does seem that way.

Just a word of caution, however, about this City Center. EVERY City is building it’s own City Center, from Clermont to Winter Garden and Ocoee, Maitland and Winter Park. Are we building this City Center ONLY for the residents of Apopka, or will the project be marketed to surrounding areas? We still do not have a clear picture of exactly what vendors will be coming to the Center and after the shine wears off, will our City still support this Center?  The location of the Center, away from many of the most popular residential areas such as Errol Estate, Rock Springs Ridge, Pines of Wekiva and several news ones that will be going up soon, near Binion Road and Marsden area near the new Florida Hospital makes me wonder just how many residents will actually climb in their cars, fight traffic and then hunt for a parking space to walk around gathering spaces. NOT to mention the enormous and expensive amount of road work that will need to be done even before the first shovel of dirt on the project itself is turned.

I’m not saying not to build the City Center. But maybe the future of Highland Manor should be decided first. Can it be turned into a B&B, a Museum or even an antiques or specialty shop? OR can it not continue to be a special events venue, that could be marketed as such in conjunction with the Hotel that will be put up. Certainly, the creative brain trust at Taurus have had similar challenges before, in their decades of experience and hundreds of projects; I find it difficult to believe they simply cannot work with the structure. OR maybe they are unwilling to work with Highland Manor and then they should just be upfront about that. Must we really bulldoze our past as we move to the future?

About Highland Manor and Apopka’s City Center

A month in the life of Apopka FL

WOW!! It sure has been a busy 4 weeks in Apopka FL, population about 41,000. It started on Tuesday April 12, when about 5,000 Apopka voters were able to find their way to the one polling place in our City, The Apopka Community Center (Formerly the VFW Hall) to cast their ballots for Seat 3 and Seat 4 Commissioners. Incumbents Sam Ruth (Seat 3) and Bill Arrowsmith (Seat 4) were voted out of office, in favor of newcomers Doug Bankson (Seat 3 Commissioner) and Kyle Becker (Seat 4 Commissioner). Many were surprised by the results and wondered what happened.

The Commission meeting of Wednesday April 20 was well attended and many came mostly to wish Commissioners Arrowsmith and Ruth well, to thank them for their service and hear some closing remarks. But Mayor Kilsheimer was having none of that. After breezing through one of the quicker meetings in the last two years, the good Mayor was just about to adjourn the meeting, when Commissioner Arrowsmith spoke up and asked to deliver some final thoughts. And so, with his patented combination sigh/eyeroll move, Mayor said, “well, I guess we will be here a few more minutes”.. WOW! Cold? YES! Disrespectful? Absolutely!

What follows is a brief summary of what has occurred since that meeting. All these events  are indicative of leadership that seems to have lost touch, a “complete disconnect”, as one person put it, with the Citizens of Apopka. And so, in no particular order…

Recreation Fees: Fall-out from this proposal will be felt throughout the summer months. Many parents do not want these fees imposed and emotional pleas and appeals were made at the City Commission meeting this past Wednesday. Symptoms of a gimmee society?  I must say I agree with Commissioner Billie Dean, who addressed the meeting in part saying “We cannot have our cake and eat it too. This is not the time for the City to say ‘We can give you all these amenities you want for nothing'”. Nothing is FREE. Someone must pay for these services.

Fire Chief Bronson – last seen Tuesday afternoon leaving a meeting, not seen on City property since. No one in City Hall will talk… Must be that transparency thing the Mayor is always talking about. Or maybe a cone of silence, or a gag order.

City Center Development Deal – more delays.  Another 30 day extension granted. Signed early this year with the provision of no more than one 30 day extension, we are now on the 3rd or 4th extension. Said Mayor K – “I’m pushing the staff to say this is a good deal. If this were an easy deal, it would have been done already”. With the recent announcement of the closing of Mosquito Creek, is a City Center REALLY a good idea right now?

Old Florida Outdoor Festival – Purchasing irregularities? Did the City violate it’s own purchasing rules in arranging for vendors, talent and rentals to put the Festival on? And did this City run-event make even $1.00 back?

3 months to fix a sidewalk.. While the City shelled out hundreds of thousands of dollars without even thinking about it for the OFOF, it is taking 3 months to fix a simple sidewalk for an Apopka family, causing them much inconvenience. The reason remains unclear.

Apopka Begins and Ends with an A – after a lengthy, back-patting presentation of the progress made with this program (spoiler alert: NO discernable results were detected) from the City of Life and the principals of Rock Springs Elementary and Lovell Elementary, it was determined that much more must be done and much more spent before any tangible results could or would be achieved.(Hint: it takes a village to raise a child philosphy was evident throughout). I am preparing a detailed analysis on this program and will  publish it in the very near future.

So, there you have it.. a month in the life of Apopka Fl, population about 41,000.

PS – I am using the photo of City Hall in the hopes Mayor K will not threaten me with a lawsuit or something..

 

A month in the life of Apopka FL

Let’s Be Positive!

As many of you know, I have spent a lot of time during the last 30 years or so, working on and supporting campaigns. It started in 1984, when my husband Phil ran for Milwaukee County Commission. With little support or experience, we ran a campaign the old fashioned way: going to door-to-door throughout the county with a POSITIVE message. And we came within a handful of votes to force a run-off. Over the years, we have worked on or managed many campaigns, from the local and state levels, to  Congressional levels, to being named State Coordinators in 1988 for a Presidential Candidate. After moving to Florida in late 1988, we took several years away from politics to settle in and raise our young family. But we NEVER stopped paying attention.

Over the years, we have watched as political campaigns, on ALL levels go from positive messages and substantive discussion on the issues, to increasingly negative and nasty attack ads, where we find ourselves today. I am unabashedly and perhaps naively, a campaign purist. As a candidate for Apopka City Commissioner myself in 2010, both myself and my opponent, Commissioner Billy Dean, ran positive campaigns. We stuck to the issues and stayed as cordial as two opponents in a campaign could be. THAT is the way campaigns should be run.

I believe firmly in several unofficial rules of campaigning. ONE – Politics is NOT personal, and  candidates must strive to  keep that in mind as this belief will determine your entire campaign plan. TWO – candidates must campaign as if they are the ONLY person in that race. NEVER attack your opponent. Campaign with tunnel vision, talking ONLY about yourself and either YOUR record as the incumbent, or what YOU can bring to the office you are seeking if you are the challenger. THREE – never antagonize potential supporters or voters by attacking them, scolding them, or assuming the worst of them. Even if I do not support your candidacy, remember, IT IS NOT PERSONAL! I am entitled to my opinion and to support whom I want without being challenged or personally attacked. FOUR – and this goes along with Rule TWO – if you are a challenger, NEVER run on your opponent’s records, run ONLY on your own record or your own merits, and what YOU will bring to the office if you are elected.

In addition to the Florida Presidential Primary this Tuesday March 15th, Apopka voters will be electing Commissioners for Seats 3 and 4 on the City Commissioner. While the Seat 3 race has been, for the most part, cordial and issues-oriented, the Seat 4 race has begun to sink to the level of attack mode. Campaign pieces mailed out have become increasingly negative and the forum held Thursday night devolved disappointingly, into a bit of attack mode, on the part of all three candidates.

We are human and  sometimes in contested campaigns, emotions and temperament take the place of reason and issues. But we must strive for civility in our campaigns, for respect, for issues-oriented speech and ads. We all, including me, must keep these rules in mind. Attacks have no place in our campaigns, from the Presidential right down to our local campaigns. American citizens, Apopka Citizens are looking for leaders right now, people who can stay focused on and articulate their stand on the issues and maintain a positive message. We are looking for people who can campaign on their record, or merits, without resorting to attacks. Just one more thing, as we work to support our candidates, by going door-to-door, making phone calls, waving signs, or donating money, remember as voters, we have two even more important jobs. Thoroughly research each candidate and their stands on the issues that matter to you. After that, remember to VOTE for your candidate, using your head and not your heart or connections to that candidate. Apopka deserves nothing but the best.

Let’s Be Positive!

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

Invocation Policy or Moment of Silence: City of Apopka faces a tough decision

Another week at the Apopka City Commission meeting, and the issue of invocations refuses to go away. More than likely as a response to the “invocation” read at the last meeting by a member of the Central Florida Freethought Community, the City has placed on this week’s agenda, for Public Hearing,  Resolution 2015-24 – Invocation Policy for City of Apopka Meetings. The 5 page resolution ‘s title includes:  “regarding a ceremonial opening invocation and recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance at Council meetings”. Claiming to seek a diversity of viewpoints, faiths and ideas, and inviting speakers to reflect upon shared ideals and common end and offer inclusion opportunities for all faiths and non-believers, the Resolution sets forth policy and procedures for the one minute invocation item leading off each Commission meeting.

As it turns out, many government entities across Central Florida are facing this same dilemma, because the CFFC, emboldened by a 2014 Supreme Court Ruling, will not go away. Their bullying tactics have led many cities to review their invocation policies; several have offered different approaches. After a Winter GardenCity commission meeting in September of 2014, where the Mayor forcibly ejected a man from the meeting for not standing during the Pledge of Alligence, the City was forced to adopt an invocation policy in March of 2015. Their policy is nearly identical (in fact word for word except for the name of the City) to the policy being reviewed by our City this week. And these two policies are similar to policies developed by cities across the country.. I guess it’s some kind of legalise template.

Another approach was taken by the City of Maitland. The CFFC approached them about offering an invocation. At first the City offered no response to the group, but after a more strongly worded request and possibly a thinly veiled threat of a lawsuit, Maitland City officials choose to forego their invocation, opting for a moment of silence, while they take some time to re-evaluate their invocation policy, on the advice of their city attorney Cliff Shepard, who is also Apopka’s city Attorney.

The thing is, with cities and other government entities now scrambling to develop inclusive invocation policies that celebrate diversity (now there is a phrase only a liberal could love), they are now dancing to the tune of these humanist, atheist, bullying groups and taking precious time away from PRESSING city business. These policies don’t see the forest for the trees, and in fact, can be like ringing the dinner bell for every group out there to come in and have their say.  Who is actually prepared to listen to an invocation from a Satanist group (like they did in Lake City FL last year), or from a Wicaan group, or from any fill-in-the blank group? Because if you support these policies, then you MUST be prepared to defend their right to have their say, no matter how hateful, despicable or deplorable you find their words. And if you are not prepared to defend their rights and still want a policy, you better brace yourself for a full assault of lawsuits and bad publicity that will surely follow, such as what Brevard County is now facing.

I have to ask, is any government meeting the proper venue for some social experiment on diversity or inclusion or to show the world how tolerant we can be? I’m wondering if those government entities that simply offer a moment of silence to begin a meeting, followed by the Pledge of Allegiance, aren’t on to something. I can’t imagine how many man hours will be devoted to crafting and maintaining  a database of groups and their representatives as outlined in the Resolution. We all have the right to be offended, and who is to say that the Christian won’t be offended by the muslim prayer, or the Buddist won’t be offended by the Jewish prayer. The chilling City guidelines as to what the invocation should say as part of the resolution sickens me to my core.

What I would like to ask is that the City postpone voting on this Resolution until both citizens and City officials have more time to really study this one. Would two more weeks really make that much of a difference? The implications of a rushed decision or knee-jerk reaction to bullies will be far-reaching and could, in the long run damage this City.  Perhaps offering a moment of silence while this issue is being researched is not out of the question. What do YOU think?

Invocation Policy or Moment of Silence: City of Apopka faces a tough decision