By Reggie Connell/Managing Editor of The Apopka Voice
I love a good debate.
I have probably seen every Presidential debate since Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter squared-off in 1980. I have attended dozens of debates and townhalls and watched hundreds on television and online. Political campaigns are often a singular process where candidates typically run in their own lanes, knock on doors and give speeches without the presence of their opponents, but in a debate, there is no hiding. It’s where the swords clash into one another, and the truth is often discovered.
The Apopka Voice held its first two townhalls last Wednesday and Thursday night for Seats #1 and #2 of the Apopka City Commission. And while I may have seen a lot of debates and townhalls, moderating one is a completely different experience than watching from the audience I must admit.
I will never be critical of a moderator again.
Denise Badger (who was the facilitator both nights) and I would like to commend all eight candidates who participated in the two townhall events – Leroy Bell, Suzanne Kidd, Alicia Koutsoulieris, Gene Knight, Theresa Mott, Alice Nolan, Alexander Smith, and Commissioner Diane Velazquez.
All eight of you conducted yourselves professionally and in my opinion flourished under a rather unusual format. All of you made your points well, explained your approaches to governing effectively, and illustrated your ideological philosophies to the point that any undecided voters in attendance left with enough information from these townhalls to make a decision.
And isn’t that what townhalls/debates are all about?
I think the voters were better served by making this an opportunity for each candidate to go deeper with their ideas, philosophies, and plans if they were to be elected to the Apopka City Commission.
Diane Velazquez was asked to define her role as a city commissioner:
“It’s more than just reviewing and deciding on new city projects, proposals, city charter changes, and any other issues the city and its residents may face in the ever-changing future of our city. Additionally, the role of a city commissioner is to make decisions on facts and taking into consideration the needs of the community at large. When I say, “More than just decision making,” It’s my opinion that commissioners need to be in contact with the community at all times. A commissioner needs to attend community meetings, attend organizational meetings and gatherings, attend school functions and church services. I have been invited to many church services in our community and I have attended almost all the services that I was invited to. Staying in touch with the residents, business people and others that visit and are in contact with our city is a very important part of being a city commissioner.”
Alicia Koutsoulieris was asked to explain why she wanted to be an Apopka City Commissioner even though she was relatively unknown to the community:
“My job as a City Commissioner is to inform the citizens on what is coming up to the
Council and implement what the citizens want their city to be. I would sit down with citizens to see why they felt different. Usually, in these situations, someone has more information than the other, in the end, though, my job is to do the will of the people.”
Leroy Bell was asked about the budget and the general fund reserve. He explained why he would want to increase the reserve:
“After doing research and looking at cities outside and in the area I think 25% is about right. And I think to get there we need to go through the budget and cut all the fat out of it. And secondly over time when we get the reserves back together, not to fall into the same rabbit hole again, what I think we should do is put policies in place as to when we can use the reserve so that we don’t go back to where we are today. We don’t have to raise taxes. There is a lot of fat in the budget we can cut, and we can start now. We can go through the budget line by line and I think we’ll be on our way.”