You might think Wes Dumey is impulsive. Deciding to run for the Apopka City Commission the day before the deadline is certainly evidence of that tendency, let alone the fact he has never run for office before.
But Dumey, an Apopka businessman that moved to the area in 2013, insists that is far from the case.
"This isn't something that just suddenly popped up in my mind," he said. "I've long been interested in Apopka and city governance. I keep tabs on things, and my previous leadership roles, I think flow very nicely into a city council-type commissioner role. The fact is that as a commissioner, you're one of the five executives of the city. The mayor is in control, and the commission gives a checks and balances type system. And I think there are certain things that I could do on there that would be accretive to the City in the long term future."
Dumey thinks his education and business background would be an asset to the City Council.
"I have a master's degree in economics," he said. "Building businesses is what I've been doing for my professional life. I built a small business doing software consulting and solution services. It's been fun and challenging, but what I've been able to do is work with a very diverse group of companies, mostly fortune 500. And what people repeatedly come back to me and say is, 'Wes, we like your advice. We like your opinions. We know you're going to give it to us straight, whether it's what we want to hear or not.' There's no greater compliment than that... people hiring you because you're honest."
Despite Seat #4 on the City Commission being an open seat (no incumbent is running), Dumey chose to run for Seat #2 against incumbent Commissioner Diane Velazquez. Dumey believes Velazquez was connected to former Apopka Mayor Joe Kilsheimer's policies during her 2014-2018 term.
"Whenever I look at Diane's record, you know, she came in during the Joe Kilsheimer era. And a lot of the things that I think happened in that era were not accretive for the City. The red light camera is a big one, the second one would be the city center, which is a key plank of my platform. So I thought that would be the best seat to run for."
And although Dumey was complimentary of Kilsheimer's vision, he thinks ultimately it did not deliver.
"I think fiscal responsibility was not happening then [under Kilsheimer]. I think there were a lot of good ideas during the Joe Kilsheimer era. Ideas for doing things differently. And I always appreciate that, but the results haven't really been positives, as far as what's happened to the City revenues versus the City reserves, and also with the City Center."
As he stated, the Apopka City Center is at the forefront of Dumey's platform. It is a topic he refers to in almost every question asked during the interview. It is Dumey's hope that it will become the cornerstone of the community.
"I remember in 2016 seeing signs for city center coming. I didn't know anything about it," he said. "But that's all it was... signs."
But a couple of years later, Dumey received a call from the developer of the City Center.
"In 2018, word got out that I was starting a brewery concept," he said. "One of the guys from Taurus Southern Investments [the City Center developer] called me up. He said 'we're building a city center, and you should really be there."
Dumey passed on the brewery concept, but he did get a look at Taurus' vision for the City Center.
"I talked to them about some of their concepts, and I was thinking ... is this really the best use of what can be the premier city center? Is this really the best use? It's been publicly communicated that having a grocery store, a Starbucks, a nail salon, potentially a couple of chains restaurants.
Dumey thinks the vision can be better than what he is hearing.
"When we have the opportunity we have, make sure you get it right the first time," he said. "Why would you want a generic city center? Look at the Maitland City Center. They have a big condo complex. It went up with some first-floor retail, that's nice. There's an assisted living center. There's a grocery store. A Starbucks. Apartments with ground-floor retail. Nice, but I wouldn't drive from here to go there. But we have an opportunity in Apopka to develop something that will draw people here from there.
Dumey looks at the popularity of Winter Garden and sees the potential for Apopka to have the same - a new Apopka as he describes it.
"People tell me they like going to Winter Garden. They like walking around, and they like the shops. They like the unique restaurants. I like it too. Unfortunately, we don't have that in Apopka because of the way our city is laid out. But we can have a similar look that will be different and unique. Starting along with Station Street and Fifth Avenue, you know, we have the Three Odd Guys and Propagate there. That's a great start. They are in the front seat... they're on the leading edge of the spear of the new Apopka, and there's no better time."
What he doesn't want to see is a dream that ends with a generic Apopka City Center.
"If I were to go to sleep right now and wake up in five years, and I saw a generic Starbucks, a couple of chain restaurants, maybe a Jersey Mikes's, and a Verizon cell phone store, I just don't want to see that."
Despite his strong vision of the City Center, Dumey is not ready to pull the trigger on an economic development department for Apopka just yet.
"In theory, I love the idea... but the devil's in the details like everything else. Are we going to stand up a department that's going to have you know, a $150,000, salary [director] or $75,000 associates? What's the total annual budget going to be for this kind of department? I'm willing to give it another year because the city of Apopka has started a partnership with the Apopka Area Chamber of Commerce. If it doesn't work by the end of this year, I'm certainly willing to revisit an economic development director."
The debate over staffing a fire apparatus was at its peak during the budget workshops and hearings over the Summer. Should the Apopka Fire Department put three or four firefighters on a fire engine, or have two on the apparatus with a two-person squad on a separate vehicle? Dumey thinks it's fiscally wise to leave the two-person squads in place until safety outweighs budget concerns.
"Right now we have a smaller truck that goes out with two people, maybe a captain and whoever else - a crew leader, following the bigger truck. So let's kind of break this down into two pieces. The first piece is if it can be handled in a small truck, from a taxpayer perspective, I want to see it handled in the small truck. Right now the situation seems to be working pretty good. We have the small truck and the big truck and people working together. Now if we go back to the fire department, and the chief says, 'we have to have three people on for safety reasons. It's the right thing to do.' He's a highly paid professional because he knows his job. I'm inclined to defer to that as long as we talk about whether it's necessary versus nice to have. And as long as he says it's necessary, and we can make it happen then we should make it happen. But if it's not necessary, but it's nice, then it needs to be prioritized among all the other competing interests."
The golf course lands at Errol Estate and Rock Springs have also been in the news prominently in the last couple of years, but Dumey has some hard news for those neighborhoods.
The golf courses aren't coming back," Dumey stated. "That's the bottom line in either one of those subdivisions... but what they can be is parks for the subdivisions.
Dumey would even go as far as to loan the HOA's the money to buy back the lands, or co-sign with them on a bank loan.
"I think I think if the numbers work, absolutely. But you know, we have to see the numbers... how it's gonna work. Because the thing is, whenever you back a loan and the HOA backstops it, I think that would be a pretty secured loan. Given it's an HOA. And I think the city at that point would say, maybe we could backstop that payment? I think the city should if they can. I don't know enough about it to say whether they can or can't."
Dumey has heard complaints from residents and commissioners alike about beautifying Apopka. He thinks that should be a city-wide effort to clean up Apopka, and an opportunity to trigger civic pride.
"I love this town. But sometimes you hear people say 'I moved to Apopka because there are new houses being built, and the houses weren't that expensive.' Yes, good. Welcome. We're glad you're here. But I also want people to say 'I love Apopka. It's a natural town with a lot of trees, beautiful parks, open spaces, Rock Springs, Kelly Park, Wekiva Springs nearby.' And helping clean up the town, making medians nicer, cleaning up trash, and stuff like that would show civic pride. That's what I'm interested in, helping drive that. All of that doesn't have to be involved in spending a lot of money. If people are happy and they love their community, they'll stop and pick up trash. Somebody that lives across the street here sees trash out in the gutter, maybe they'll start because they have pride and they love the town. But that's the kind of stuff that I hope that we can do to improve the quality of lives."
The debate about the millage rate being lowered from 4.2876 to 4.1876 took $400,000 out of the City's general fund but gave taxpayers a modest discount in their property taxes. Dumey wants to keep taxes low, but if there is a project that requires a higher millage rate, he would endorse it if it makes sense for the community.
"The difference between 4.2876 and 4.1876, for me personally, is about $150," he said. "That's not a big deal, and I'm willing to pay that. But there are people who feel differently. If we're going to go to 4.2876 versus 4.1876. what are we going to do with that money? If we can answer that to the citizens and show them that the money is going to be spent in a reasonable manner that's beneficial to the community, then I don't see a problem with raising the millage rate. In general, I'm a fan of lower versus higher [taxes]. But I think that's because governments haven't always been good stewards of the public's money. Apopka has and hasn't been in various administrations. But if we can show that raising the millage rate is going to benefit the community, then yeah, let's do it. But I will always default to the lower rate."
Specifically, in the case of the Apopka budget cycle, Dumey said he would have voted for the lower rate.
"I would have voted to lower it because I haven't seen a plan on why we would raise it or why we would keep the extra $400,000," he said. "I didn't see what they wanted to spend that money on. If they, say, wanted to use that to fund a new swimming pool at Camp Wewa... there we go. We have a plan. I think that's something that would be good. If they wanted to use that to study whether or not we should plant perennials versus annuals in our city medians... that's a waste of money. No, absolutely not.
Another part of Dumey's platform is what Dumey calls smart growth. It's a term used often and can be vague, but Dumey has a specific answer to that label.
"Smart growth means having a plan, not just approving anything that comes in. And let me say this... with the experience of having gone before the Development Review Committee for my brewery, I was impressed beyond all belief sitting in there listening... because I was able to attend a meeting where there was somebody presenting a plan for development, a small subdivision, and the questions of the community development, the questions of the police officers, the questions of firefighters, the questions of the planning review committee, they were all good questions. And my takeaway from that meeting is these are people who genuinely want to see the best for Apopka. But the thing is, with growth comes growth. And people say, 'oh, there are more people moving to Apopka.' So now there are more people wanting to move to Apopka... more land, that people want to build on, people want to sell and pay for their retirement - whatever. We've got to make sure it's smart growth. My default answer is if somebody says 'I want to build, take down 40 acres of trees with zero lot line homes... I would push back and reset. Let's build stuff with trees. Let's build stuff with walkable communities. Let's take advantage of the natural landscape. That's smart growth to me. Smart Growth isn't just bulldozing everything. That's not smart growth. Smart growth is not high density. Smart Growth is helping Rock Springs Ridge get their golf course back, to prevent somebody from buying that and putting in wall-to-wall condominiums. That's high-density development. And you see that all over the country with that same kind of thing. I don't think it should happen here in Apopka."
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