Decision Apopka 2018
Apopka City Commission Candidate Feature: Seat #1 Gene Knight
By Reggie Connell/Managing Editor of the Apopka Voice
Gene Knight is a crusader. He is a voice crying out in the wilderness. For years, Knight says he has battled with the City of Apopka for action on a multitude of issues both big and small, but he may have found a unique way to enact change from within.
Knight is running for Seat #1 on the Apopka City Commission against Suzanne Kidd, Theresa Mott, and Alexander Smith, but his true opponent seems to be City Hall.
“I’ve had to fight to get things done like lighting, sidewalks, and trees taken down in certain areas,” he said. “But there are still trees down from the hurricane. There are potholes that haven’t been fixed. I know what the people of Apopka want, and a lot of issues are going unheard. I’m out there day-to-day and I see their needs. You shouldn’t have to push the issues to get someone to take care of it. I want it to be that everyone matters and everyone’s voice is heard. They (the City Council) are listening to us talk, but they’re not hearing us. I want to change that.”
Knight is a lifetime Apopkan. He went to school at Lovell Elementary, Lockhart Middle School, and Apopka High School. He worked at local companies his entire adult life and even lived in Apopka while serving as an Army reservist for nine years. He has a lot of thoughts about the city he loves, the mayor, the City Council, the budget, and how to make things better for ordinary residents.
“We’re too divided,” said Knight. “We need to concentrate on all of Apopka. A lot of it is going downhill, and eventually, those areas will create crime and diminish Apopka’s appearance. I believe we are concentrating on one area of Apopka and not all areas.”
He described that one area as Rock Springs, Errol Estate and the northwest corridor of Apopka in general. Knight sees the big picture, but he also wants to take care of small but important details.
“I’ve been in Apopka my whole life. I’ve seen the good and the bad. It’s grown over the 50 years I have been here. New people don’t see that. I think it’s growing too fast. We need the necessary infrastructure in place before we grow. Every school is overcrowded. We can’t overgrow if we don’t have things in place. I do want to see Apopka grow, but I also want to see sidewalks for children to walk on. There should be more of them, and we should manage our growth better.”
He also believes the budget could be managed better, in particular, management of the General Fund reserves, which he believes Apopka Mayor Joe Kilsheimer used to balance the budget.
“I disagree with the way he (Kilsheimer) handles the reserves,” Knight said. “Reserves are for emergency purposes, not to make your budget. I’d like to go through the budget line by line and pull out things that aren’t necessary at this point. Our budget definitely needs to be managed better. We spend a lot of money on studies. I think it goes overboard. Like the City Center study. I think that was way overboard and it didn’t accomplish anything.”
He is also critical of Kilsheimer about the sale of the property in which the City Center will be built, and the amount of time it is taking for completion.
“I disagree with the way the City Center was handled. I think we sold the property for too low a price. We should have gotten more money and it’s taking too long. His term is almost over and there is still nothing tangible to see.”
Knight is running for Seat #1, which Commissioner Billie Dean has held for six terms. Dean announced his retirement in 2017, but Knight doesn’t believe the seat belongs to anyone in particular.
“I believe (Commissioner) Billie Dean is a good guy. I don’t believe in all of his policies, but I don’t believe in all of anyone’s policies. But this seat isn’t Billie Dean’s, it’s the people’s seat.”
Knight acknowledges that Dean was the biggest proponent for South Apopka on the City Council, and he wants that to be a priority in the coming term if he is elected.
“We definitely need to look into South Apopka. It’s talked about, but I don’t see anything being done to improve it. We all should be equal. Our concern should be for everyone, not just an area or two.”
After two polls conducted by The Apopka Voice, Knight placed second in both behind Kidd, who also leads him significantly in fundraising. However, this isn’t thwarting his efforts. In fact, it almost sounds like that’s part of the plan.
“I’m the kind of person that when I take on something, I take it head on,” he said. “I want to get the word out there myself. Of course, I’ll need some money to get signs and things, but I want to go out and meet the people door-to-door. That’s the way to get people out to vote. I’m not running for the office, I’m running for the people.”
Knight had no fundraising goals when he began his campaign last March, but he does have access to nearly 5,000 members on the local Facebook page Apopka Then and Now as its founder and administrator. Knight has taken a traditional campaign approach that includes knocking on doors, modest signage, and believes the passion he has for Apopka will make the difference.
“I think I can speak more for the citizens of Apopka. I see where they are coming from. I’ll be a voice for all citizens, not just one particular area. When someone has a problem, they should be able to talk to a commissioner. I don’t see that happening now. They don’t see the problem areas. Some aren’t listening, but I am.”