Editor’s Note: This is the fifth in a five-part series about Apopka Mayor-Elect Bryan Nelson entitled “The First 100 Days”. The series will outline the expected path Nelson will take in his first 100 days in office. What are his priorities? How will he lead Apopka? What will the budget look like under a Nelson administration? How will he handle the City staff and who will his department heads be?
Part Five: A change in approach to the CRA
For the past few months, the Apopka Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) has been a hot topic. And although it never became a significant issue in the mayoral race, it is something that a new administration and City Council are almost sure to address.
Earlier this month, the Apopka CRA Board approved an Apopka Police Department initiative that listed Mayor Joe Kilsheimer as its author. In a prepared statement by the Apopka Public Information Office, and described this way:
A police officer will be assigned to downtown – part of Apopka’s central Community Redevelopment Area – to patrol the streets, coordinate security with businesses and residents, promote public safety and discourage unlawful activities. The officer will coordinate with police code enforcement to help clean up downtown properties and work with various civic organizations to address the homeless.
The goal is simple: A safe downtown is more likely to promote business and to attract visitors in the center of Orange County’s second-largest city. With enough positive momentum, the city aims to forever change the long-viewed lackluster image of downtown.”
Both the parking lot and the police initiative plan had its detractors both in print, online and in public comments before the CRA Board. And as it turns out, Mayor-Elect Bryan Nelson happens to be one as well. What he and the new City Council and CRA Board will do about that is still unknown, but Nelson’s approach to the CRA will be far different than the previous board.
“Hopefully in the next 30 days, the county is going to have a no-interest loan program to take down some of these abandoned and neglected houses and then replace them with new structures. To me, that would be a better, more visible way of fulfilling the CRA mission. So what you’re doing is taking the worst house on the block and making it the best house on the block. That is a county program, but we could do the same in Apopka. With funding or low/no-interest loans, you could identify the houses, get them condemned, get them torn down and get some brand new homes put in their place, which helps with blight and slum, which is kind of what the CRA is meant to do.”
“I know the parking lot is already done. I probably would have done that differently. So let’s fix it. Let’s go ahead and fix the parking lot.”
An issue that did show up on the political radar in this election cycle was the UCF Apopka Business Incubator. Nelson supported it during the campaign and renewed that support in his plans for the CRA. He would also like to revise its mission to include more programs that would benefit the community specifically, and possibly change its address.
“One of the things I’d like to do is move the UCF Incubator into the HUB/Enterprise Zone, which is in that area. Keep it close to City Hall somewhere near there so we can keep the mission of the UCF Incubator going. And for our money, we could ask them to do more things. Maybe on a monthly or quarterly basis, they can help businesses qualify for minority or veteran status so they could get contracts. I would expect more from them to benefit the community.”
And while he was skeptical yet resigned about the purchase of the 5th Street parking lot, he minced no words as it applied to putting a police officer into the CRA District.
“I don’t think that law-enforcement should be coming out of the CRA budget. I don’t know if it can be changed or stopped at this point, but that’s the City’s role. That’s not the CRA’s role. To me, the CRA is supposed to improve the area that is the CRA. That’s not going to do it. I would rather spend the money on the Alonzo Williams Park. We’ve got a shortfall there. And I’d rather add a Parks and Recreation person than I would a police officer because that’s actually making a difference. Now theoretically a Parks and Recreation person shouldn’t be in the CRA either, so maybe you do it for a year or two and get Alonzo Williams up and running, have the Parks and Recreation person paid out of the CRA, then move it to the City budget, but a Parks and Recreation person getting a middle school or high school kid off the street playing basketball or soccer is better than putting an officer down there arresting them as an 18-year-old.
“I will have some major announcements in the coming weeks. I will just say it’s going to be quick. I don’t want to drag it out. We want to do it pretty quickly. Employees are already nervous. We have people coming up to me saying ‘I hear my job is in jeopardy’… and I don’t even know who they are or what they do. So you want to do it as quickly as you can so people know where they stand and what’s done is done, so they know that a month from now another shoe isn’t going to drop. So it will be pretty quick.”
Another hot topic post-election has been Nelson’s campaign promise to cut his salary in half from $150,000 to $75,000.
“The first thing is, I will take a 50% pay cut because that’s what the city needs,” Nelson said at the January 31st mayoral debate.
And although the form in which that cut will be made, Nelson still stands behind his pledge.
“Whether I donate back half of my salary or the Council votes to reduce the salary from $150,000 to $75,000, at the end of the month my salary will be half of what Mayor Kilsheimer got. We will figure it out.”
Nelson also committed to working full-time hours as Mayor of Apopka despite owning a local insurance agency.
“My daughter will take over. We have a good staff. They’ll be fine. I may take a call now and then, but otherwise, they will be running the show. The City will get their money’s worth with me. I’ll be making less here than at the county, and that was part-time. I was making $81,000 over there.”
Another point of contention has been the red light cameras. Nelson vowed to turn them off, and many voters in Apopka want to know when that will happen. Nelson thinks the logical approach is to let the contract expire.
“I think we’ll just wait until the contract runs out which is at the end of the year,” he said. “The other option would be to turn them off now and pay the vendor what we owe, but that would be an incredible waste of taxpayer money.”
It is unknown the complete makeup of the Apopka City Commission until the Seat #2 runoff between Apopka City Commissioner Diane Velazquez and challenger Alice Nolan is completed, but what is certain is that this will be a diverse City Council with differing opinions, agendas, and approaches as to how to govern Apopka effectively. If Nolan wins, there will be five first-term elected officials on City Council. But even if Velazquez wins, there will be a total of only eight years experience on the dais. Given these unique challenges, can Nelson lead this Council?
“I can work with anybody. The legislature taught me how necessary that is. There was a guy on the insurance and banking committee that was the polar opposite of me and would almost always disagree, and we were friends. After the session ended, we would go to the pub and have a beer together. You don’t have to vote with me every time. If you do you probably aren’t doing your job, or I’m not doing mine. You expect to be challenged on your beliefs as well as their beliefs, and sometimes you have to compromise. Sometimes issues aren’t black-and-white. Somewhere in the middle is often where you land.”
On April 24th, at approximately noon, Mayor-Elect Nelson will take the oath of office and become the 24th Mayor of Apopka. Then on Wednesday, May 2nd at approximately 1:30 PM he will gavel his first City Council meeting to order and the next step in Apopka’s future will officially begin.