A surprising notice appeared in the Orlando Sentinel's Sunday classified section:
CITY OF APOPKA
PUBLIC NOTICE OF COMMUNITY MEETING
ONE APOPKA OUTREACH & DISCOVERY FOR SOUTH APOPKA
Notice is hereby given that the City of Apopka and the Committee of One Apopka Outreach will host a Community Meeting on Tuesday, February 15, 2022, from 9:30 am - 11:00 am at the VFW/Apopka Community Center, located at 519 South Central Avenue, Apopka, FL 32703.
The purpose of the Public Meeting is to discuss the potential annexation of South Apopka. In addition, one or more members of the City Council may discuss matters that may foreseeably be considered by the City Council, however, no official action will be taken.
Dated this 11th day of February 2022.
Susan Bone, Apopka City Clerk
It's an odd notice for the City to file for multiple reasons. First, what sort of attendance are they hoping to get from an ad in the classified section of an out-of-town newspaper two days before the event and at 9:30 am on a working day? Second, who is the Committee of One Apopka Outreach? Third, is this really the best course of action to have a serious discussion about annexing South Apopka? And finally, "one or more members of the City Council may discuss matters that may foreseeably be considered by the City Council..."? That seems both vague and ominous all at the same time.
It's very unusual language for a notice at a minimum.
The annexation of South Apopka has been a topic of interest on the Apopka City Council over the summer, at the mayoral debate in January, and again at the city commission forum last week. In fact, four of the five members of the City Council called for a workshop on the subject, while three out of four candidates in the city commission elections went so far as to state they would make it a priority, or an initiative.
I reached out to the city commissioners, and other leaders in the community, and it seemed most people were unaware of the meeting or had limited information. All except for the Apopka Area Chamber of Commerce President/CEO Cate Manley.
In a statement to The Apopka Voice, Manley took ownership of the meeting and explained why it was called with short notice.
"Following the two chamber-hosted debates, an increased number of questions have come in from the community asking economic impact questions they want to know answers on prior to the March 8th election," Manley said. "The feedback we are getting is that each of the candidates has mentioned the interest or willingness to participate in south Apopka annexation city workshops, but has not indicated their stance on how they would base a decision for a vote on annexation. Real questions around “costs to the community” are being asked, but to know these answers the city will need to hire experts to conduct an annexation research study, and there is not enough time for this prior to the election."
My recollection of what the current City Council and the candidates for Apopka Mayor, Seat #2, and Seat #4 have said about South Apopka is a little different, but as a general rule, it seemed nearly unanimous that all of them wanted to base their decision from a comprehensive workshop on the subject. Here are three articles where these groups went on the record about South Apopka:
Manley also explained the short notice given for the meeting in her statement:
In an effort to seek out these answers we have a regular chamber event scheduled this Tuesday, February 15 from 8-9 am and we extended our time in the venue to invite people back together from 9:30-10:30 to gather additional feedback and to learn of some of the hard costs people are asking about," she said. "The city started working on our request for a cost breakdown to extend City of Apopka services to South Apopka when I reached out to them late last week, and have agreed to share these with us for our conversation. The public notice was submitted so officials can gather if they are available."
It will certainly be good to get the - very preliminary - details from the City staff about annexing South Apopka. But there is also a good case to be made for waiting until the elections are over and having a more comprehensive workshop on such an important decision. Having a meeting three weeks before Election Day turns the discussion political. But according to Manley, there are questions about annexation that Apopka residents want to have answered.
"As a chamber, we continue to support our community by looking for the answers to your questions and getting the information back to you. We hosted a limited “One Apopka” meeting in July 2021 where we identified ways the chamber can support our whole community through increased local school support, entrepreneurship resources, partnerships, hiring events, and seeking training opportunities for the Apopka area. Chamber efforts will not change after the election. We remain focused on business/community needs.
However, we sense the current community urgency by the questions being posed, as they are specific. One concern is understanding the difference between Orange County and City of Apopka code enforcement on homes in need of repair, and the costs of city code violations for such homes in South Apopka? What if any resources would Orange County stop offering if the City of Apopka annexes them in? How much will my taxes go up at home and on my business if south Apopka is added to the City of Apopka tax base? If community members have additional questions they need help getting answers to, but are not able to attend this round table on Tuesday, they can email me their questions and I will email out a full list of FAQs to those we can get answers to firstname.lastname@example.org."
It would be easy to interpret this as a rushed meeting held during working hours on a weekday with City staff primed to prove how costly annexation would be without measuring all of the elements in play. It would be easy to assume that the"one or more City Council members discussing matters that may foreseeably be considered by the City Council" may be the one(s) running for office and that their discussion may turn political. It would be easy to call for the Chamber to stay in its lane of business-related issues and not wade into what is turning out to be a volatile subject in the 2022 election cycle.
But, I for one, see this meeting as another opportunity to bring light to this subject - one that seems to be prominent during elections, but then falls by the wayside once the budget season begins. I hope that the discussion among the City Council members will be productive and solution-based rather than political.
And I'll take Manley at her word. She heard from a number of residents wanting information on an important issue, and she is providing an opportunity for those residents to get their questions answered. I also believe a Chamber can be more to a community than simply the voice of business. I was excited by Manley's unique resume and described her as a visionary in a position to make a difference in a growing community.
With all that being said, and I say this to everyone involved, please do not turn this into a political event when it is labeled and advertised as a City-sponsored meeting. The subject matter is far too important.
This isn't a debate about beautification, how many concerts Apopka should host, or a phone call that fell into the City's lap about buying Camp Wewa.
Annexation of approximately 6,800 residents, 2,000 homes, and 2.2 square miles of land requires complexity, nuance, proactive strategies, negotiation, creativity, patience, and a full understanding of the factors involved in making the decision. It will require a lot of hard discussions with Orange County, and a search for grants or other possible financial aid from the state or even federal government.
This will take all the efforts of City staff, City Council, and the administration working together. It's a process that will require fortitude and perseverance over time to arrive at the best outcome for Apopka, and South Apopka.
In 1937, the Apopka City Council passed an Ordinance "to segregate the places of residence and business of White and Negro persons. No whites were permitted south of the SAL railroad and no blacks north." It wasn't until 1968 that the ordinance was repealed. There is a history here, and the City of Apopka owes this community the very best due diligence it can muster, and then a brave City Council to ask the right questions and make the best decision for Apopka, and for our neighbors to the south.
My hope is Tuesday can start that process.
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