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Room for Optimism if Single Member Districts Reaches City Council


Change is never any easy thing, but the South Apopka Ministerial Alliance's effort to change how Apopkans elect City Council representatives seems to be gaining traction.

In order to switch Apopka from an “at large” to a “single member district” voting format, the City’s charter would have to be amended, and the fastest way for that to happen would be for the City Council to first vote for the initiative.

But what is the likelihood of that vote going their way?

After speaking to Mayor Kilsheimer and the four City Commissioners, The Apopka Voice has learned that there is reason for optimism. While there is guarded skepticism, there are also two potential “yes” votes, one of which was an outright “no” just one month ago.

Commissioner Billie Dean is a recent convert to the single-member initiative. But in December he was far from it.

Dean said this to the Orlando Sentinel when asked about single-member districts just one month ago:

"Hell no! The idea might sound good, but in reality, it's unlikely that south Apopka has enough voters to elect its own representative,” he said.

A month later, Dean’s views have changed. He emailed this response to The Apopka Voice…

“After researching cities similar to Apopka and speaking with citizens of Apopka and elected officials from cities similar to ours, I have had a change in my support of single member districts. Apopka has grown and is now the second largest city in Orange County. With the housing boom and considering future growth, I do see how single member districts could be beneficial. Therefore, I will support the Ministerial Alliance's stand on creating single member districts. However, my biggest fear is that single member districts can dilute the accountability of representatives and the relationship between representatives and voters. Personally, I enjoy the relationship that I have with most members of our community, no matter where they reside. Most know that I am "a man of my word, and that I say what needs to be said! We don't always agree, but, in the end, we are, "One Apopka"!”

Commissioner Bill Arrowsmith is also in support of moving the initiative forward.

“I think it’s something that should be considered,” he said. “I always felt like I needed to represent the entire city, and not one particular area. But if you have people who don’t feel represented, this is what you get. And it’s obvious that a certain amount of people feel this way. I’ve always tried to make sure if they came to me that I was available to address their issues.”

Arrowsmith favors adding this initiative to the February City Council Meeting’s agenda as requested by Pastor Bradford in his letter to Mayor Kilsheimer.

“I think it should be put on the (February City Council meeting) agenda. I don’t think the five of us (City Council) should determine the outcome when there is a group that’s coming forward that thinks this is necessary. I think we should move this to the next level and let the voters decide. I would vote yes if it were put to the City Council.”

Others on the City Commission have left the door open to this idea, but think it needs further study or a clearer path.

Commissioner Diane Velazquez sat on the Apopka Charter Review Committee from November of 2013 to June of 2014 that studied and voted 7-0 against single-member districts. She is still skeptical of the initiative.

“I am still researching statistics regarding districts,” she said. "I need more information, but by all accounts society classifies me as a minority - Hispanic. I do not want to be tagged as an elected official representing Hispanics only. I did not run on that platform. And districts will be counterproductive for minority candidates and/or elected officials.”

Commissioner Sam Ruth leaves the door open for change, but thinks there are other issues to address first.

“I like the district concept, but there is a lot of work to be done. We have a population of 50,000 in Apopka. 20,000 are registered voters but only 3,000 turn out for these elections. That’s a bigger problem than districts. We need to figure that out first.”

Mayor Joe Kilsheimer also has doubts as to the effectiveness of single-member districts.

“I’m not sure what they’re (The South Apopka Ministerial Alliance) asking for accomplishes what they want,” said Kilsheimer. “I have spoken to Pastor Bradford. He says he wants someone he can hold accountable. We have an election on March 14th. That’s the best way to hold someone accountable. We’re (Apopka) not a big city spread out across a large amount of land. I don’t know how we aren’t accessible. He can hold us all (City Council) accountable.”

Kilsheimer acknowledged receiving Pastor Bradford’s letter, but did not confirm the single-member initiative making it on the February agenda.

“Everyone is welcome to come and speak,” he said. “But I’m not sure exactly what they are asking for. If we were going to change the charter, it would have to be voted on by the citizens of Apopka. Which election would we choose to do that? The November ballot will be filled and this amendment would get lost.”



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