Decision Apopka 2018

By Reggie Connell/Managing Editor of The Apopka Voice

The Apopka farmworker community lives in the shadows. They keep their heads down and generally don’t make waves, interact with politicians or go to City Council meetings. They do not vote in large “super-voter” blocs or even speak the language in some instances.

But they do a great deal of the work in Apopka, and its backbreaking labor for low wages, limited benefits, and a small voice in the community.

On Tuesday night this hard-working quiet community reached out to the candidates of Apopka. They spoke their minds and asked questions of those running for the city commission and for mayor.  Eight out of ten candidates attended the event, along with about 100 spectators. They packed into the Farmworkers Association of Florida (FWAF) headquarters in Apopka to watch the Candidate Forum sponsored by the FWAF, and the Hope CommUnity Center (HCC).

All eight candidates answered questions selected by the FWAF and HCC, which focused on issues such as City-issued ID cards, health care access, English as a second language, and gentrification.

It was the first time the community got to hear from many of the candidates, including a relative-unknown to Apopka politics – Seat #2 challenger Alicia Koutsoulieris.

Alicia Kousoulieris

“I’m a relatively new resident here in Apopka,” said Koutsoulieris. “We bought a house here about 2 1/2 years ago. The draw was that my family was here, but also the city seemed a little more welcoming. A little more of a hometown feeling as opposed to Orlando. I did grow up in Central Florida. I’m graduated from UCF. I studied political science. I’m working on a Masters degree also in political science. I feel that my background in community organizing makes me a great candidate.”

The first question dealt with the plight of the farmworker community as it relates to being issued government identification. Apopka Mayor Joe Kilsheimer was open to the idea.

“The issue of immigration is an important one to the farmworker community,” said Kilsheimer. “And I’m committed to a city organization that treats everyone with dignity and respect. With regards to an ID card, we will have to sit down and do our homework and make sure we’re doing the right thing and doing everything we can under the law, but I do think it’s a worthy concept that we should explore.”

Apopka Mayor Joe Kilsheimer

Kilsheimer’s challenger for Apopka mayor, Orange County Commissioner Bryan Nelson, provided an alternative to identification issued by the City from a local program that assists the homeless.

“I don’t know if it’s a city function,” said Nelson. “I think it would have to be a county or state issued ID. I’m not sure what it takes, but I know that identification is an important issue in the farmworker community. There is a regional program called IDignity that’s trying to help with homeless people to get them IDs. I don’t see why you couldn’t incorporate that same program to give another group of people proper identification.”

Growth was not a specific question, but it spilled into the remarks of two Seat #1 candidates that participated in the event.

“This is the year that is really going to set the tone for what our city is going to become,” said Seat #1 candidate Suzanne Kidd. “We entered a period of tremendous growth. When I moved here 17 years ago the city had 26,000 residents. We’re over 50,000 now and projections are we’re going to go way over that in the next 10 to 15 years. New growth is going to continue in our area. What does that mean for us? What are we going to be like 10 to 15 years from now? If I were in your shoes, I think I would want to see people on the City Council who had a real grasp of that issue… who has a vision for what the city could become, and are willing to listen to everyone in the city and make sure the city works for everybody… and make sure that the economic growth is going to be spread around the community and everybody gets to participate. In the past, growth and economic progress have gone only to certain people. We can’t let that continue. We have to make sure that every part of our community participates.”

Commissioner Diane Velazquez
Theresa Mott, also a candidate for Seat #1, believes Apopka is in a pivotal position as it relates to growth.
 “Apopka is at a crossroads right now,” she said. “We’re on the cusp of enormous growth and we have a decision to make. We can make a right turn or we can make a wrong turn. And I want to make the right turn, and in order to do that I see us continuing to create a platform that we can grow our city by investing in our economic development… and the way we do that is to attract business that sees the growth we have happening and they want to be a part of it. And when that happens it improves the entire community. It improves the quality of life in Apopka as a whole. People on the campaign trail that I talk to say we need more stuff to do. We need more amenities. We need different types of entertainment options and that’s what I’d like to be a part of making happen in Apopka. But with growth, we know it can compromise our public safety… so we have to continue to invest in our police department, fire department, all of our first responders to keep us safe as this growth continues.”

Alexander Smith, also a candidate for Seat #1, kept his focus on the youth of Apopka.

 “Our youth is our future,” he said. “If we don’t invest in them now we’re going to invest in them later. It’s better to invest in them now and we can do that by working together. It takes a village. And so it’s going to take all of the citizens of Apopka in order to make this a reality to make it happen. Some of these things we need to bring to our city like a YMCA, a Boy’s club, a swimming pool that both high schools can use to train their teams, and the citizens of Apopka can enjoy as well. We also need affordable housing. Everyone deserves an opportunity for homeownership. It’s a struggle. I started out pulling weeds in the nursery, pulling corn in the muck, picking oranges, but eventually with a lot of hard work, determination and support from the community, that’s why I am here today. So I want to give back… to whom much is given, much is required.”
 Commissioner Diane Velazquez, the incumbent in the Seat #2 election, was happy to see the participation among the Apopka community in the governmental process.
 “I have been here as Commissioner for 3 1/2 years and a resident for 13 years and when I first came here what I saw was a lack of involvement from the community. Today shows me how far forward we have come just in your participation and seeing our City Council meetings packed with residents sharing their issues. We are growing, and that means economic development. It means more families investing in our community. And the one thing I want to point out is that as proud as I have been in telling the story of Apopka, we have also invested. And Apopka is as much our home as for everyone else. So whether you’re here one year, 100 years, 10 years 20 years it is our home, and together we should work to make Apopka a family oriented place. We should invest in our youth because they are the future. When they finish high school and go to college I want them to go come back home to Apopka.”
Leroy Bell, also a candidate for Seat #2, warned about unbridled growth in Apopka that he believes could harm the city.
 “I have no problem with growth,” he said. “Growth is good. But it’s fast growth that concerns me. What we’re doing is outgrowing our services, our first responders, and putting more pressure on them. If you bring business here, they have to be a stakeholder in the city. They have to come in and give opportunity, not just take it. My three concerns are financial stability, investing in infrastructure, and safe secure neighborhoods. You know just a few years ago we came in with a surplus, and now for the first time, we are in deficit. We can’t attract new business to help our youth if we can’t balance our budget.”
Kilsheimer closed the Forum with what he saw as a summary of the evening’s issues.
 “The more people we get involved in talking about the future of Apopka the better,” said Kilsheimer. “I think if there’s one big takeaway from tonight‘s format it’s that all the questions were about what can the City do to help people in their homes, in their lives, in their pursuit of a better life for themselves and their families and their children. And quite honestly the truth of the matter is until I was elected 3 1/2 years ago I don’t think you can point to a single thing the City of Apopka actually did to help people. Since I was elected we have hired a grant writer that has attracted $1.5 million to do things like rebuild Lake Avenue Park. We’re going to rebuild the Alonzo Williams community center. We created jobs for students in the Apopka Youth Works program. We established the Apopka begins and ends in “A” program that identifies community resources to help our local elementary schools. One result of that program is the $750,000 grant that will create after-school mentoring and tutoring for kids at Phillis Wheatley and Zellwood elementary schools. All of those things are but a drop in the bucket as to what needs to happen in the City of Apopka. We should come together. We are city and 50,000 residents now. And so we’ve got to rally the city together to help people.”

12 COMMENTS

  1. Was this event advertised to the general public, and was the general public invited to come and attend, to listen? I didn’t know this event was even being held. I think it is shameful what is happening during this election….a mayor’s debate that was scheduled, that only a select number of people could get into the debate, to see it live, and the rest having to view it on video, as the tickets “sold out” the first couple of days. Now a farmworker’s forum with the candidates, that apparently the general public wasn’t even aware of. Nice, and the candidates talk about the whole community needs to be involved in Apopka’s government…..yeah right.

  2. Why weren’t the farmworker people of this community allowed to use the Community Garden when they came forward to the city council meeting in person, and asked to get to use the gardening spaces? I was there at that meeting. I myself know, how much the farmworkers love to grow plants and garden. It was stated there wasn’t any room left at the community garden, but I beg to differ, as there was plenty of room there, and all that needed to be added, was some boards, to board in the dirt beds to add the soil to grow their food plants. However, I later saw in the newspaper that the nuns at the Hope Community Center have been gracious to them, and gave them some space to grow their food crops….The truth!

  3. Congratulations to Apopka City Council Candidate, and brand new grandpa Gene Knight Jr., on both you and your wife’s new grandbaby. The baby is precious, and I know you both are ecstatic to be first time grandparents!

  4. I read in the Apopka Chief that all the registered voters in the City of Apopka, were mailed out a sample ballot of the city’s election. I didn’t receive one, nor did my husband, and we both are registered voters of the city, who are eligible to vote. We did receive a notice of which precinct to vote at. I mean, we don’t need a sample ballot, but it was just that the newspaper article stated that all of the registered voters of the city got one mailed to them. Well, we didn’t get one…….???

  5. This new stamp price of fifty cents for the forever stamps…..I hope I’m understanding this correctly. I am assuming that I can still just attach a forever stamp to a letter, and that is good enough to pay the postage forever, but that if I go, and buy more of the forever stamps, then I will pay fifty cents a piece, instead of 49 cents, is that correct? It isn’t like I will have to attach an extra 1 cent stamp to a letter, right? People are trying to confuse everyone, I think, otherwise I just mailed out some bills that way, and I don’t want to see them returned for a lack of a penny stamp….surely, it must not be that way, even though one person indicated that the mail- in ballots would need an extra one cent stamp……NO WAY…at least I don’t think so??? Either they don’t understand, or either they are trying to trick someone, or either I am wrong….which is it?

  6. Trump insisting on a military parade like Kim Jong Un, or the French president, makes me not only think of a dictatorship, but also of a little boy playing with his collection of plastic army men and tanks down on the floor, with the exception these are real military men and real equipment, and costs way more $$$$$$ Anyway, is that a good idea to have that much equipment and military men in one area, in case someone plans to bomb the scene of the parade???

  7. Okay, time to put away the computer, as I have caught myself dosing off holding this laptop, and it almost fell off my lap and broke…..time to put Joey Bo Bo Buttafucco to bed. I took him back to the vet this morning, and now he is on two different medicines for his heart, and the vet said to discontinue the other medicine that he was taking, but that he would need to check his kidneys in two weeks due to these meds he is taking now. I have to keep him from spinning as he loves to spin around and show off, and it is hard, because then he overdoes it and gets to choking up and starts coughing, and his rib cage starts quivering. I have had dogs in the past with all kinds of health problems as they aged, but this is a first, this enlarged heart, and its problems that it is causing him. The vet said Joey will need these two medicines the rest of his life, if they work out for him and help him with his heart problem…….

  8. We went out to the Bar-B-Q competition at the NW Complex and walked around, and it was a good walk too. We talked with the fire chief, and looked around, and it was still early, and decided to leave, and I said we can come back later for the fireworks show, but then later, I got sleepy and said I would rather just go to sleep. I intended to go back, had my chairs, mosquito spray, and everything, but just got too sleepy. Sleep apnea, I do believe.

  9. I mean, we could have parked out there and stayed in the truck, and still viewed the fireworks, if I had of brought Joey with me back from the house, but I didn’t want to scare him to death, with his heart like it is. That big retention pond is huge out there, the one that has been dug and has fresh dirt, with no water in it. The heavy equipment parked in the bottom looks so tiny, when looking down into the retention pond that has been dug!

  10. I saw in the Orlando Sentinel on the front page, where Doug Guetzloe passed away unexpectedly at his daughter’s 21st birthday party celebration. That was shocking news to me, to learn of his unexpected death, and of the sad circumstances of his passing, while being at his daughter’s birthday celebration. I didn’t always share his political views, but he was always very polite, and nice to my husband and me, whenever we saw him out anywhere. He was the same age as my husband, and only a year older than me. When I consider the happenings of lately, it really makes me think of how fragile life really is, and of our own mortality. May Doug RIP and prayers to his family at this difficult time.

  11. The roving thieves have reached a new low. They are actually stealing air bags out of cars while the owners of the cars, are inside the churches. This was on the news, and it is happening in Volusia County. Ridiculous!

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