Opinion/Analysis

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.

 I asked that none of you attack another candidate during your responses, and you followed the rules and explained your opinions and approach to the Apopka City Commission. That is why I gave you the questions in advance. I wanted the voters of Apopka to see you at your very best, and I think they did.
 Not only did you not criticize your co-candidates, but several times you agreed with them, and even helped them on occasion, which I’m pretty sure they discourage in debate school. But on these two nights, it was a refreshing change from the negative campaigns that are so prominent these days.
 Yes, I have seen a lot of debates in my life, but the townhalls for Seat #1 and Seat #2 on Wednesday and Thursday night were two of my favorites.
 Here are some of the highlights from the Wednesday night townhall for Seat #1:

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:

 “While participating in the City’s Visioning Project two years ago, a group of middle and high school-aged young people came to meeting after meeting pleading for a skate park so they would have a safe, authorized place to go and enjoy their preferred recreational outlet. They were determined and passionate that the City should realize there was a need for an activity zone for their age group. They pleaded for such a venue on behalf of all the City’s kids who aren’t in organized team sports, or in band, or in other school-sanctioned clubs. It really opened my eyes to a significant gap in our Citywide recreational offerings. Two years later, we still have not addressed this need. It’s time to take up the cause of this group, our future, that comprises more than 15% of our residents. As we continue to add new housing developments, this need will grow and grow. Our young people need safe, affordable, accessible recreational outlets.”
 I asked the candidates what their approach would be at the budget workshops – would they be proactive with ideas to present to the Council or would they operate as an advisor after the department heads have already presented their specific budgets? Alexander Smith proposed a unique step to the workshop process:

 “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. 

4 COMMENTS

  1. Reggie, I know your new rules and one of them says that the comments must apply to the article written, but I really hope you will let me post this, as I wanted to send a message to the mother of the missing 22 year old lady, that worked at Lowes in Apopka, and was later found deceased. I am so very sorry that your daughter was found deceased, and my heart goes out to you. If someone did something to your daughter and caused this, I hope that they are found. I read the message you posted on the Apopka Then and Now Facebook website, and because I don’t have a Facebook account, I wanted you to know that when I saw your daughter’s photos, I said oh my gosh, that is the girl that always checks out my stuff I buy at Lowes, as I go there a lot, and she was always cashing me out at the garden center, and talking about my little dog. We are shocked, and so very sorry, as she was so nice to us always. Prayers to you, as this is heartbreaking to hear. God bless you mom.

  2. I see the Apopka Voice has failed to post anything about the debate. That is debate for Seat 2 I guess the the dog ate the footage or the editorial. So in my opinion Reggie your complicit in trying to deny Mr. Bell a fair opportunity to have the People her his message. You keep his original interview for more than three weeks.
    Yet you found the time to post a photo shot of the debate for Seat 1 to many excuses on your part. Mr Bell owned that debate. The other three had no clue. Like my other post. You take then down God for bid someone gets to read and honest opinion or comment.

  3. Tonight debate was another the smashing success on the debate for Seat 2. Mr. Bell did an excellent job very knowledgeable on topics. My hats off to Journey Church and the Moderators. You truly were fair and neutral.
    Stay Blessed

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