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 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.
Theresa Mott proposed a gradual increase in the general fund reserves. When I asked her how she would get there, this was her response:
“The City’s general fund reserves are not too high, nor too low. And yes, a two-month operating expense baseline is fine. In fact, The Government Finance Officers Association’s (GFOA) standard for reserves is 16% and we are charting 18%. It’s Council’s responsibility to be great stewards of taxpayers’ finances. The 2018-19 budget workshops were in excess of 20 hours, which yielded an in-depth and transparent budgeting process. The 2018 budget is $124,672,709 for all funds, which represents an increase of $20,589,193 or 19.8% over the 2017 budget. I am extremely concerned about our financial sustainability, because of yearly budget increases. This leads me to aspire for 20% reserves over the next three years through budget cuts and re-appropriation of funds.”
I asked the candidates what they might push for if they had been on the City Council during the 2017-18 budget workshop. Suzanne Kidd responded with a program she wanted to see for Apopka youth:
“My approach would be to have a series of strategic planning sessions prior to the budget workshops with the public. The purpose of the planning sessions is for commissioners to establish priorities, inform the public of the current level of service for each department and its associated cost and to have the department heads make recommendations as to how services and programs can be improved. These strategic planning sessions will frame the budget for the upcoming budget workshops.”
Editor’s Note: Seat #2 highlights are coming in a separate article to be published this weekend.