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Seat #3 Forum: Cordial and Substantive



By Reggie Connell

It looked as though the Seat#3 forum session might be contentious. Commissioner Sam Ruth's comments during the days leading up to the Forum suggested he might raise questions of Doug Bankson's connections to "the good old boy network" and his role with the John Land Trust. But those questions never emerged and the forum took on a cordial tone.

Ruth defended his seat with a booming voice.

“My name is Sam Ruth and I AM your City Commissioner,” he said, purposely emphasizing his current status as the sitting commissioner in his opening remarks.

The first question was about the proposal for the City Center.

Alice Nolan, a challenger for Seat#3, responded with a familiar answer.

"We want to continue down the path, but not too fast," she said. This has become a theme of the Nolan campaign on several subjects - a positive move forward, but with a slow and steady pace.

Ruth expressed concerns with the purchase price back in 2006 and in the selling price in 2016.

“We have a deal on the table. In 2006 we paid 20 million dollars for the land,” he said. Now we are selling it for $67,000 per acre less than the appraised value. We will have to take a closer look. The devil is in the details.”

Bankson also expressed reservations, but still supports the project.

“I want to see this move forward," he said. "The city can’t make a restaurant come to Apopka. We can only create an environment that makes them want to come here. But there are 133,000 square feet of commercial space sitting vacant, so we have to grow into this project.

On the question of taxes, Bankson stressed good budget management being the key.

"Taxes should be viewed as and spent on that which benefits all equally," he said. "From public services to parks and street lighting. We must be careful to support the safety, infrastructure, and investment while the community itself supports its individuals in particular. It is ok to seed certain aspects that are deemed worthwhile, but the greatest economic engine for further growth is to keep taxes low.

Nolan echoed Bankson's thoughts on budget management.

We are a city, so we should be able to budget properly," she said. "Why can't we be like everyone else and save? We have to think of innovative ways to stay within our budget. The private sector and churches can do a lot if the city works with them."

Ruth took ownership of the budgeting process and the rate itself.

"I'm the one that drove the lower millage rate," he said. "And I was willing to fight for the millage rate to keep it where it is. We’ve never had a more thorough and transparent look at the budget."

In closing remarks and in comments after the debate, Ruth continued to make the case for his strong leadership, community involvement, and private enterprise.

“Anytime I can champion Apopka I feel great. I am ecstatic. We have this much participation in the elections. We have six candidates running for two seats. In the past it was not this way. It was kind of a closed door. 99 percent of the people here tonight already have a candidate. It’s that 1% that I was excited to reach. Look at this place. The Cooper Center spent 10 million dollars and got this beautiful facility. We spent 20 million dollars on vacant land. I want to be the champion for businessmen like Michael Cooper.”

Bankson was a polished eloquent speaker with a command of issues. He lightly referenced the criticism of him, but stayed positive and on-message for the most part.

"The rumor mill is churning. I am not a part of the good old boy network. Anyone who knows me knows that. I believe we need to stand in integrity.

He also referenced hopes for a future discussion on the budget.

“I wish we had more time to talk about the budget and what’s behind the budgeting choices.”

Nolan remained upbeat about the city she has lived in her entire life and loves.

“I think it went great. All three of us did a great job in sharing our vision of Apopka. It was an excellent opportunity. I’m enthusiastic about the future of Apopka.”

Reggie Connell is the Managing Editor of The Apopka Voice.



Alice Nolan, Apopka City Commission Seat#3, Commissioner Sam Ruth, Pastor Doug Bankson


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