Editor’s Note: Earlier this month, The Apopka Voice sat down with Commissioner Kyle Becker and Mayor Bryan Nelson. The two 90-minute interviews were an informative look at the two candidates running to be mayor of Apopka in 2022. We began this four-part series by analyzing the contrasts between Becker and Nelson. In part two, we compared the approach Becker and Nelson would employ in the potential annexation of South Apopka. Today, we conclude the series with comprehensive features on both candidates, and their plans to move Apopka forward in the coming term.
By Reggie Connell, Managing Editor
In 2016, I described Kyle Becker as a verb in a world full of nouns. I said he was a driven, qualified candidate who is forward-thinking and can focus on the task at hand. And five years later as a member of the Apopka City Council, he has done little to disprove those descriptions.
I didn't give Becker much of a chance to defeat Commissioner Bill Arrowsmith, a 40-year incumbent, but in the 2016 City Commission election for Seat #4, he survived the general election and then defeated Arrowsmith with 55% of the vote in a head-to-head runoff. Now, he's taking on an undefeated incumbent mayor in the 2022 election.
Becker is a data-driven, fact-based decision-maker. He is pragmatic and well-prepared in his approach to a City Council meeting. If someone at Publix asks him why he made a certain decision on the Council, he is prepared to answer.
Oh, did you assume that was some clever writer's device to make a point? No, Becker actually has a plan for those encounters!
"I use this example all the time... it's kind of my Publix litmus test," Becker said. "If I'm in the grocery store, and someone stops me and asks me why I made the decision I made on the, I want to be able to answer that person, and look them in the eye and say, 'here's the decision I made and here's why I made it.' And every night I'm able to sleep well, knowing that I've gone through the same process to come to those decisions."
As I said, he has a plan...
According to his campaign website, Becker has spent most of his 20-year career in the financial and banking services technology industry, serving in various senior-level analyst positions, and most recently as Vice President of Product Development at FIS, a Fortune 500 company. He managed, planned, and executed a capital budget of over $325 million annually for banking product investments. Becker consistently received exceptional ratings during his professional career and was the recipient of the CEO Leadership Award in 2016.
“In my corporate vice president and director-level roles, I’ve been responsible for hiring talent, forming new teams, as well as successfully coaching and developing employees along their career path," Becker said. "I've served as an executive in the corporate world for the past three years now, and before that, I was leading teams as a manager at the director-level position. I've managed staff, I've managed budgets. I've been successful at both, and I've got a proven track record there. From a leadership perspective, I've got that experience."
In a five-person council with a strong mayor format, it's difficult for a commissioner to stand out or point to significant accomplishments, but Becker makes the case that he was the catalyst on several important issues on the Council.
Early on during his first term, Becker recommended that the city reconvene the committee to explore the parking ordinance.
"There was a lot of issues that, for instance, the Piedmont Lakes neighborhood, and others were dealing with at the time in terms of how people were avoiding tickets, and it was becoming problematic," said Becker. "I led the charge to reconvene the committee, and we made practical common-sense changes to that parking ordinance."
Land Development Code
The Land Development Code (LDC) contains regulations for the development and use of the property including zoning, subdivisions, and other related land use activities. Through these regular updates, the LDC will be more responsive to address the City's changing land use issues. Apopka's had not been revised since the '90s. According to Becker, he spearheaded many of those revisions.
"I felt like I was the most engaged in terms of changes, tweaks, and updates to the land development code that we passed," he said. "And there were certain things in there that I fought to have changed to make sure the Apopka area remained what we want it to be. I fought to have the kind of straight, small-lot residential zoning classifications eliminated from that code... and made sure that when we talk mixed-use that it truly meant that a developer couldn't do a straight residential play. We wanted to make sure that we preserve the idea of what mixed-use is all about. We have residential, commercial, retail, all within those same classifications."
Red Light Cameras
Although Apopka Mayor Bryan Nelson not only ran for office on eliminating the Red Light Camera Program (RLC), and was the mayor at the time the program was ended, it was Becker, who in the previous administration, made the case against it.
"I was the original dissenting vote against the RLC when we looked at extending the contract with the provider at the time," he said. "That was a very fact-based decision-making process. I evaluated the RLC program in terms of was it meeting its stated objective? And with the data presented, I came to the conclusion that it was not. I laid the groundwork to understand why we could do away with that RLC program."
In 2021, Becker made a presentation about the dangers of too many dollar stores in Apopka and its surrounding areas.
"We had 12 within the proper city limits of Apopka and I think that's grown by another one and then one in the works," said Becker. "So 14 within the city limits, and then close to 20 within the immediate areas of Apopka. I was successful to position why that can be a burden rather than a benefit to our city. And that led to a unanimous vote [at City Council] for a moratorium, as well as language being rewritten right now for land development code that will put in policy some guidelines about where and how those types of establishments can come into the city of Apopka."
It's a difficult question for many candidates, but Becker simply thinks his agenda would be better heard and Apopka better served with him as the chief executive of Apopka.
"So there's been some wins... there's been some losses, but at the end of the day, this is why I'm running for mayor," said Becker. "I feel like as a commissioner, I can be one of five to try and put forth my opinions and the data. But really, I feel like I'm going to be more effective in actually leading the conversation... trying to build consensus from a staff level. I think you have a higher burden of proof as a commissioner versus if you can lead staff and build that business case around why you want certain things done within your city."
At the budget workshops and hearings, there was an ongoing debate among the Council about millage rates. Leaving the millage at 4.2876 would have given the Apopka budget an additional $400,000. Becker was in support of keeping the millage there and utilizing the $400,000 for needs in the city.
"I know that during the course of a campaign like this, tax rates typically get politicized," Becker said. "They get put into the campaign conversation. But our residents have to realize that we have the lowest millage rate for a full-service city in Orange County, but probably in the whole Central Florida area. So to reduce already what is the lowest tax rate by a 10th of a mill makes zero sense when you have critical staff needs today. In fact, I think it's punitive to the taxpayer to reduce a 10th of a mill now when we know that we've got these critical spending needs, and it's going to cost more to do it two years from now at a larger expense than it is today."
Despite Becker's assertions, the Council voted 4-1 in favor of lowering the millage rate 4.1876.
Dating back to the days of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, a leader's first 100 days in office are often the defining moment of his time in office. Becker's plan, if he were to be elected, would be to create a plan in those first 100 days.
"The worst thing that a new leader can do is try and boil the ocean all at once," he said. "It causes stress within the organization. The best thing I can do as a leader is to go in there and try to articulate my priorities through strategic planning... understand what's important to me... inventory the senior leadership team, the department heads as they as they are right now to understand what's working, and what's not working. And then have that input to see where we want to take the city forward."
Another challenge a new mayor would have to deal with is the first 100 days are in the middle of the budgeting process.
"The first 100 days are going to be critically important because of the timing of the election," he said. "If I were to win, that's going to be a late April swearing-in... so you're already two months into the traditional budget calendar. And so that'll be a large focus, getting the budget to the point where it's presentable to Council, and something that would be supportive of my priorities as mayor."
It's equally difficult to project out four years down the road of an administration, but one thing Becker is confident about is a thriving economic development presence in Apopka.
"With my investment in economic development, I think the quality of life offerings within the city of Apopka will be much more robust than they are now," he said. "There are areas where you can create true gathering places for our residents, and for people that visit. Part of my platform is beautification. The idea is to have this kind of cohesive identity about Apopka when you come into our city limits. When you travel throughout our city. It's welcoming, inviting, we utilize public art we utilize our banners throughout our city, our main thoroughfares to welcome people to Apopka... advertise events that we have."
And how will Becker roll out the centerpiece of his agenda? In slow stages.
"It's got to be a gradual introduction of sorts in terms of what that investment will look like for economic development position," Becker said. "But from what I've asked of my colleagues on Council, thus far is just getting a lead or director-level position on staff, let them kind of get the lay of the land in terms of a path to get acclimated, utilize their skill set to start doing some of the things that are in that job description, then reassess, as we enter the next budget year, to see if we need to build out a team, or if there are other investments that we need to do there for that to be the most successful."
According to Becker, the cascading effect an economic development director could potentially have on the community would go beyond getting restaurants and retail stores.
"Over the next four years, you're going to start seeing the natural development of key areas within our city like the downtown area, the hospital area, as well as the Kelly Park interchange area," Becker said. "And I think having an economic development director is going to really help drive that because that person can work in concert with our building, and planning division, to really kind of articulate the message to our external community to say, 'here's our master plan for these areas. Here's what we're trying to do here. We would love to have your type of establishment come here... or someone is selling their land and I know that you're looking for this type of land' and all that plays in concert with each other. So making sure that those three areas are developed and what we're truly wanting to see there. That's going to be huge.
In a small town, the interaction between elected officials and its citizens is essential. But is it possible in a city like Apopka with a population nearing 55,000? Becker thinks so.
"That's one of the first things I pointed out when I was making my speech at the kickoff event was typically when people email me, it's usually within 24 hours that I respond back. I want to be highly responsive to folks, and that would not change if I were to be elected mayor. I mean, I pride myself on that and it will continue. I think the worst thing is when things get squashed at a level that you'd never see. Like if you're a mayor and you have things that get squashed at a staff level that you don't know anything about, it creates this kind of reputational risk for you. Because it may be through no fault of your own. But I just want to always be aligned or be communicative with the people that are represented... no matter how large Apopka gets."
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