Editor’s Note: This article is a part of the series of features on the candidates running for office in the Apopka municipal elections.
Apopka City Commission Candidate Feature: Seat #1 Suzanne Kidd
When it comes to Apopka, Suzanne Kidd means business. It’s how she has run her campaign for the City Commission (Seat #1), and it’s how she would approach the City Council if elected.
“I am ready to work for the residents of Apopka on day one,” she said. “I believe that by working together we can create a brighter future for our community while honoring Apopka’s beautiful, historic legacy. If I am elected, my priority for the City of Apopka will be to independently analyze the plans and ideas that come before the Council, as well as gathering the input of residents, other commissioners, and experts. I have maintained a productive relationship with the City Council for years by attending every meeting and sharing my own positions and reasoning. I’m certain I can work alongside them.”
Orange County School Board member Christine Moore agrees with the assessment about Kidd and being ready on day one.
“There is no one who comes more prepared,” Moore said before an audience of friends, family, and supporters at Kidd’s opening fundraiser last summer. “If you ever need anything, ask her. There is no one who works harder. No one more qualified than Sue Kidd.”
Preparation and qualification are the cornerstones of Kidd’s campaign. She has been an active participant in her homeowners’ association and at Apopka civic affairs. She attends nearly every City Council meeting, Planning Commission meeting, budget workshops, and has served on numerous City committees, most recently chairing the City’s Visioning Steering Committee. She currently works with Habitat for Humanity to help provide more affordable housing to Apopka and teaches interior design to Habitat homeowners.
“I love Apopka, it’s the place my family and I call home,” said Kidd. “I want to put my lifetime of living, and my years of experience as a designer and educator to work making Apopka the best city it can be for all of our residents. I want to use the knowledge of what our City’s needs are, and the hopes and dreams our residents have shared with me to help our City make the right decisions about growth that will shape Apopka’s future.”
Seat #1 on the Apopka City Commission is steeped in history and tradition. In many ways, it embodies all that is great about Apopka. It was held by two iconic political figures for the past five decades – Alonzo Williams and Billie Dean. Williams served from 1970-1994. He was the first African-American to hold office in Apopka. After his retirement, Dean won the seat and held it for six terms until he announced he would not run for re-election in 2018. Both men championed their causes with a full-throated voice and with passion – particularly as it applied to South Apopka issues.
But just as Apopka transitions from a small town to a city whose growth seems to know no boundaries, change is inevitable on the City Commission. Dean’s presence will be difficult to replace, but Kidd reveres the idea of succeeding Dean and sitting in Seat #1.
“Commissioner Dean is a larger-than-life figure on the Apopka City Council. He has devoted 24 years to the betterment of Apopka, advocating fiercely for Apopka’s youth and for our minority communities. As a lifetime educator in Apopka, Commissioner Dean has made a lasting impact on the lives of his students. If Apopka chooses me to fill Seat #1, I will proudly strive to be as dedicated as he has been to the betterment of ALL of Apopka. It would be an honor to follow his years of diligent service and I welcome his advice and guidance.”
Kidd has been in support of Mayor Joe Kilsheimer on many issues facing Apopka, but points out that does not make her a rubber-stamp for anyone’s agenda.
“I spoke up against the original style of the City Center that the mayor had supported, but the Council ultimately supported it,” she said. “In another example, I disagreed with aspects of the proposed “Welcome to Apopka” signage in July that resulted in sending the project back for revisions. These instances and others have allowed me to work with leaders I disagree with to contribute to a resolution. The issues that come before the Council affect everyone in Apopka, and our residents expect commissioners to put their needs first. I am running because residents’ needs will always be my highest priority. The only reason I would be in lockstep with someone is if I think that’s the right step to take for the betterment of Apopka in the first place. The responsibility of a city commissioner is to look at the issue and analyze it from as many points of view as they can and come to a reasonable decision. I’m an independent thinker and my opinions on issues are my own.”
The fiscal budget and taxes are also important issues that Kidd believes could shape Apopka’s future. She understands why residents are apprehensive to see millage rates increased, but also wants to properly fund the City so it can handle the growth it is experiencing.
“I can completely empathize with anyone that doesn’t want to see their taxes raised,” she said. “I’m an Apopka resident myself, and I don’t want to have my taxes raised any more than anyone else does. At the same time the City… like every city… has a responsibility to address certain core functions – the health, safety, and welfare of its citizens. 62% of the current operating budget is going to police, fire, and EMS operations, which leaves 38% for all the other departments the City has to operate. I took a look at my tax bill, and only 9-10% of the property taxes cover the City’s operating costs. 26% is going to Orange County. That’s a fact that I think people don’t realize, and they think that a slight increase in the millage rate is going to have huge implications when in fact it’s not that significant at all.”
Kidd believes economic development is the answer to Apopka’s budget shortfall.
“At some point, if we’re going to be competitive with the other cities in Central Florida, particularly the ones around the 429, we’ll have to be smart about growing our revenue. We have to go after as much economic development as we can because that’s going to raise the base on where we draw our revenue. That’s where the focus has to be. That will take care of the shortfalls that we’ve had.”
Being a teacher for over 30 years has given Kidd a heart for youth. And it was a specific experience with a group of Apopka teenagers that made her want to champion a project for them that has yet to be realized.
“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.”
Kidd sees Apopka as being in the transitional phase of infusing the values that made Apopka great in the past with the booming growth that is coming at present and into the future.
“Apopka is on the cusp of huge growth, and with growth and change you need a City Council that has a lot of ability to analyze what those changes are and to deliberate about it. I look at my background in design and in attending all of the city functions for the last four years I’ve really learned a lot about the city. But in learning all of that, and seeing where things are going… sometimes you have to step up to the plate. My background always taught me that ‘to those that much has been given, much is expected’. And I’ve really lived my life by that philosophy. I feel I have a lot to give to Apopka in helping to make sure the growth and change is going to be of a positive nature and is going to keep this city moving forward.”