Mayor Joe’s Greatest Hits

Many of us have been preoccupied with getting our homes, yards, lives and finances in shape after a visit from a most unwanted guest, Hurricane Irma. Aside from missteps and mishandling of hurricane debris cleanup, with one contractor taking off  the morning the job was to get started, what else has Mayor Joe of Apopka been up to? Well, a quick listing below with follow-up on many of his activities to come in later posts.

Mishandling of and an inability  to secure a bid on a splash pad for our City and not following best procurement practices for such an expenditure;

The various, ongoing and costly problems with the city water treatment facility and also Anuvia;

Several money losing events run by the city of Apopka, including the Annual Old Florida Festival. Taxpayer losses from this event in the thousands of dollars are just shrugged off by the City. And the Orchestra in the Park event, not sure how much this one lost, but I am sure losses were substantial.

Thousands of dollars of RESERVE money going to fund pet projects run by Friends of the Mayor: “Apopka begins and ends with an A” anyone?

Just recently, Mayor Joe played Santa Clause to city employees by doling out thousands of taxpayer dollars in cash bonuses to them for doing such remarkable work during the Hurricane. In the real world, it’s called doing your job.

The costly mishandling from the very beginning of the lawsuit the City filed against everyone’s favorite public trough feeder, Richard Anderson (again, this topic deserves its own blog post, and it will get it). Safe to say, Apopka loses will be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars on this fiasco. What kind of person negotiates a settlement, then votes against it?

One program that is very curious that must and will get more attention, but deserves mention here is that of the new scoreboards at the Northwest Orange Recreation Dept. The item was part of the Consent agenda for the City Commission meeting of March 1, 2017. Even though it was pulled for separate discussion, the end result was that the three musketeers, Mayor Joe, along with the always reliable commissioners Velazquez and Becker voted to spend a total of over $61,000.00 of Apopka taxpayer money as deposit and to install electricity for each scoreboard location. A company called Major Display Scoreboards out of North Carolina was the lucky lottery winner that day after a short presentation of this Scoreboard program by someone named Shorty Robbins. Question: WHERE are those amazing scoreboards, and what exactly does Apopka have to show for expenditure of taxpayer money, gotten from reserves.

As our budget and taxes continue to climb, Mayor Joe views Apopka’s hard earned and well-saved up reserves as his personal piggy bank to be raided anytime he wants to do something that is not part of the bloated budget. He recently told Commissioner Bankson at one of this year’s budget meetings, after the good Commissioner dared speak up in favor of a more robust reserve fund, that the City does not “have the luxury of larger reserves”. Yet, he spends money on fancy sounding do-gooder programs run by friends that produce NO measurable goals or successes. Mr. Mayor, being a wise and frugal steward of the taxpayer money is NOT a luxury, it is YOUR duty and your RESPONSIBILITY to the taxpayers of Apopka! CUT spending and increase the reserves; it really is that simple.

There will be much more analysis in the coming months of these and other missteps our Mayor is sure to make. The blog practically writes itself..

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Mayor Joe’s Greatest Hits

Did Apopka Leaders sucker-punch a Good Business Partner?

The City of Apopka is once again in the news, this time for ongoing, serious problems at it’s aging water treatment facility. Anuvia Plant Nutrients in Zellwood Florida, produces fertilizer utilizing a new method that produces biosolids as a byproduct that must be disposed of. The City of Apopka, after a series of discussions entered into a partnership with Anuvia to accept the waste and process it through the water treatment facility. Agreements were drawn up, over $1 million was paid by Anuvia,  permits were signed and all went well for a time.

In December of 2016, it was reported the Apopka Wastewater treatment facility was running into possible environmental problems. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection got involved and in January made a report of the various issues at the plant. Now, aside from technical and environmental  violations, note was also made of some plant management issues, as well as the age of the facility itself.  The City was fined by the Florida DEP for these violations and ordered to clean up the mess. A clean-up company was called in to begin the cleanup of the bio-solids and removal of sludge from the facility, at a cost of about $100,000.00 to the City. I realize this is a vast oversimplification of the situation but the exact timetable is not the question. The City handling all this is most troubling.

A 3 page fact sheet put out by the City regarding this situation, dated 2/14/17, provides an excellent summary of the issues at hand. Two bullet points in the Fact sheet relate to Anuvia and the future of their relationship with the City. One point reads, “The City considered shutting Anuvia off from our system, but determined that doing so would significantly affect their business operations”. Another point acknowledges  that while there were no violations of the original permit by Anuvia, perhaps the “company’s original discharge permit limits were not stringent enough. These discharge permits are being renegotiated” and new limits might be necessary.  Nonetheless, “Apopka is committed to being a good business partner. Shutting Anuvia down completely would have hurt their business, and prevented a proper evaluation of the problem.”

Fast forward to Friday March 3rd, when in fact Anuvia was presented an updated permit by the City for consideration, as the existing permit would be expiring on Monday March 6th. THEN, on Monday March 6th, Anuvia is served a cease and desist order from the City, forcing the company to suspend their operations. A meeting between the City, Anuvia and the Florida DEP yielded little and the company will be shut down at least another 10 days.

Questions that arise from all this: First, what exactly happened between Friday March 3rd and Monday the 6th to cause the City to go from extending a new proposed permit to issuing a Cease and Desist order. City Administrator Glenn Irby stated, “The plant went into an upset condition”, but did not elaborate what that meant. So, I’m asking, what does this mean exactly? If Apopka is such a good business partner, as stated in the fact sheet from 2-14-17, why did they pull the rug out from under Anuvia, resulting in a shut down of operations, which the City stated would not happen? Whose responsibility was it to not only see if the original permit limits could be met, but to continuously monitor these limits from the start  and to warn of any potential problems or risks to the Facility? Exactly how much money will this policy reversal  on the part of Apopka cost Anuvia? I’m willing to bet millions.. If this is how Apopka is willing to treat their good business partner Anuvia, how will the City treat other good business partners? Especially with the explosion of growth going on all around our City? Can or should anyone trust what our City leaders tell them? The City taxpayers deserve to know the truth behind this Cease and Desist order which  comes only from the very top.

So where does that leave Anuvia? Scrambling, looking for a business partner that won’t sucker punch them. By all accounts, Anuvia did not violate the terms of the original permit, and if the limits were not strong enough, whose fault is that? In the end, this whole situation could result in lawsuits, costing the City taxpayer millions to settle. This could also cost the City the good will of potential new businesses offering the kinds of  good paying jobs leaders say they want. All because the left hand does not know what the other left hand is doing.

 

Did Apopka Leaders sucker-punch a Good Business Partner?

A Tale of Two Faith Festivals

This Saturday, January 7, the City of Apopka will witness first hand what happens when a community, not heavy-handed government, takes matters into its own hands and organizes all aspects of a faith festival. Big name talent is booked, tickets sales are brisk; food and other vendors are in place; and part of the Festival will be an important discussion of the recently released Apopka Community Task Force on Violence. Even the weather looks like it will cooperate.

How did this come about? Last year, The City of Apopka leaders decided they wanted to put on some kind of Gospel Festival and actually set an item in the budget for this event. Apparently, in what seems to be the modus operandi for this City, staff set to work behind the scenes, almost in a bit of secrecy, working with what appears to be Mayor Joe’s handpicked pastors and church, to get things going on a Gospel Festival. According to the Mayor’s report from the City Commission meeting of October 5th, the pastors from New Destiny Christian Church have a production company that was going to work on the event, from lighting to production, to booking talent for their Festival, and were going to receive $60,000.00 of taxpayer money for their efforts. Typically, putting the cart before the horse, the City laid a lot of ground work for this festival then went to the City Commission meeting on October 5th, expecting rubber stamp approval for the event. But alas, questions were asked, with doubt expressed as to the timing of the Festival, which was originally scheduled for 5 weeks after this motion and vote were expected to sail through. In typical arrogant response to a legitimate question from Commission Dean, CAO Irby responded that this project was in the works for several months, and that staff often has conversations on a daily basis about projects or events that are not brought to council until the timing is right (really Mr Irby?? his response is a topic for another day, though). Not to mention why the Apopka Christian Ministerial Alliance and the South Apopka Ministerial Alliance were not involved in planning and only backhandedly told they could participate too if they wanted. Apparently, the timing was off on this project, because the Council balked and Mayor Joe could not even get his closest ally on the Council to make a motion to vote for the approval. Thus no Gospel Festival..

Enter several prominent leaders in our City, including businessman Rod Love, Pastors Hezekiah Bradford and Darrel Morgan, Orange County Commissioner Bryan Nelson and Mr. Ray Shackelford. This group realized they had the potential for a true Community and Faith Based Festival and set to work, organizing what will now be held this Saturday, the Apopka Faith, Family and Food Gospel Festival. Obstacles needed to be overcome, such as booking, then paying for the venue, the Apopka Amphitheater. After some legally challenging issues were discussed and resolved, the John Land Community Trust Fund came through with a donation to pay for the vendor and become one of the Event sponsors. Many in our community volunteered many hours of sweat equity, talent and expertise to make this Festival a reality.

Right now, I have no doubt of the success of this Festival, which hopefully will become an annual event. Time and again, it has been the Citizens of Apopka, not it’s heavy handed government leaders that have taken lemons and made the most delicious lemonade. And as we begin 2017 with this Faith Festival, I see much promise  that is when the Community comes together, works together to make our City a better place. Do we really need fancy, expensive visioning studies and heavy-handed, cleverly named government programs that offer little except more government spending to keep them going?

2017 will be an exciting year for Apopka, full of promise and growth. And as this Festival shows, it is the Citizens of Apopka that will fulfill that promise and lead that growth, not heavy-handed government that like to operate in a bit of secrecy.  Thank you to the organizers of the Apopka Faith, Family and Food Gospel Festival for starting the year out right, and showing the way for the rest of us.

A Tale of Two Faith Festivals

Enough Budget Disappointment in Apopka to go around.

Before I go further with this post, I want to make clear that I have not extensively reviewed the budget put forth by the City of Apopka for Fiscal year 2016-2017. As many of my readers know, my husband Phillip had a major medical emergency in August, and we have been dealing with that since. But I have read several accounts of the first budget approval meeting and of comments made during that meeting, and am aware also of some of the concerns about the budget and the property tax increase raised during that meeting and before and it is on these aspects I will comment.

It seems that Apopka Commissioner Velazquez is disappointed in two of her fellow commissioners, Dean and Bankson, for their NO votes for both budget approval and for the proposed property tax rate increase. This year’s budget topped the $100,000,000.00 mark for the first time in our City’s history, over $14 million more than the budget for 2015-2016. In scolding her fellow Commissioners, Velazquez lamented how much time she dedicated to the budget, hours and hours as well as 5 budget workshops, and “here we are today with a 3-2 vote. I’m disappointed. I’m very disappointed right now.” Velazquez is disappointed in two commissioners who did not draw the same conclusions as she did on the budget and property tax increase, but instead did their own thinking and decided to stand up for the people they represent instead of rubber stamp a budget filled with pork? The good commissioner DOES know that fellow City Commissioners serve at the Voter’s pleasure, not hers, right? I am disappointed too, Commissioner Velazquez, in YOU, Commissioner Becker and Mayor Kilsheimer, for NOT standing up for us taxpayers.

Commissioner Becker, while waving a copy of a 728 page city budget (what’s wrong with THAT picture), arrogantly chided that  people had plenty of time to come during the workshops, but few made the effort. For one thing, the workshops were scheduled during the day, when most people were at work, and secondly, the public was not allowed to speak at these workshops anyway.

Here’s the thing. A city’s functions are to provide a safe environment for it’s residents: police, fire, water and sewage and roads where applicable. THESE are items that should take top priority in any City budget and where the bulk of expenditures should be. Anything else is icing on the cake. In order to spend on the extras, property taxes should not be raised, nor should the City reserves be tapped to balance a top-heavy budget filled with “I wants”, and funding for programs run by friends of the Mayor that have yet to show any discernible results. Commissioners Bankson and Dean should be commended for asking the tough questions about this budget and tax increase and what our City’s priorities should be and for representing the best interests of city taxpayers. On the other hand, Commissioners Velazquez and Becker, along with Mayor Kilsheimer are the ones WE taxpayers should be disappointed in. Mayor Kilsheimer had a tantrum several weeks ago and blamed citizens for the City’s budget woes, and it seems Commissioners Bankson and Dean are now getting the blame for those same woes. Kilsheimer, Becker and Velazquez should look in the mirror and express disappointment in themselves, for not being good stewards of the taxpayer money.

It is good indeed to see so many citizens involving themselves in the budget and other City business. Continue to ask the questions, do the research and challenge our Commissioners to justify the optional and irresponsible expenditures in our budget.. That is my intent.

Enough Budget Disappointment in Apopka to go around.

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

Being Mayor of Apopka is Hard Work

Being Mayor of a City of 45,000 people is apparently MUCH harder than anyone could imagine possible. Just ask the Mayor of Apopka, Joe Kilsheimer. During a budget workshop last week a line item in the budget calling for the hiring a Chief of Staff was discussed. When asked about this request, Mayor K replied, “It is a struggle on a regular basis; all things come to the mayor’s office. Just the routine kind of handling situations, and then there are extra requests for meetings, places to go”. WOW, really Mr. Mayor, the job of mayor is a struggle? With all due respect, what  did you think the job was going to be? Attending ribbon cuttings, making speeches at events, polishing your own public image? Did you think it would be all play and no work? At $150,000.00 of taxpayer’s money a year, the job should be MOSTLY hard work, very little play.

The proposed Chief of Staff salary (including benefits) would have been $119,687. Our Mayor’s salary, among the highest in Orange County Florida, is $150,000.00 per year. I did not see anything in the story from the Apopka Chief indicated that Mr. Mayor was requesting a corresponding decrease in his own salary. And a Chief of Staff, really, Mr. Mayor?? You are a MAYOR, not a Governor, President or King. We already have a Chief Administrative officer…isn’t he already performing the job of Chief of Staff?

The reason for the request for Chief of Staff is revealed by The Mayor’s request for travel expenses/budget ($16,870), to cover attendance at various legislative and congressional conferences in DC, Tallahassee and Miami. When questioned about this line item expense by Commissioner Doug Bankson, the Mayor defending several of the proposed conferences that “he feels strongly about” attending…. “It’s about making connections on behalf of the City of Apopka with important decision-makers in Washington”. Wondering exactly what type of connections and which decision makers the Mayor is referring to? I mean, yes, in order to get the Mayor’s signature City Center going, Apopka will need some MAJOR funding to re-do the roads leading to the City Center. But what other connections?

I must admit, when I read this story, I laughed my head off. I thought it was some kind of joke, but Mr. Mayor your administration has been the joke, mostly from day 1. The overall City Budget tops at over $100,000,000.00, when just three short fiscal years ago the budget topped at somewhere around $60,000,000.  Some of the expenditures are justified: the new fire station for instance, and the hiring of fire personnel to staff it. And requested police expenditures. A city’s first responsibility is the SAFETY of it’s residents. But I guarantee that a close reading of the proposed budget will reveal a lot of PORK spending in order to justify the expense of last year’s Visioning Process.

Mr. Mayor, may I respectfully suggest that if this job is too hard for you, consider your future. Being Mayor is not a glamour job, but tough, roll-up your sleeves work, as is the job of the City Commissioner. It seems this job is beyond your comfort zone, and maybe a return to cushy private public relations consulting is just the ticket for you.

Being Mayor of Apopka is Hard Work

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