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You want fries with that annexation?

Is South Apopka headed to the ballot box?


It's been a few weeks since the last South Apopka Annexation town hall (March 28th) and the April 5th Apopka City Council meeting. That's enough time to push past the emotion and volatility of those two events to reassess what occurred and what should happen moving forward.

But before we do that, imagine this scenario for a moment:

You walk into a restaurant and sit down at a booth. The server approaches you and hands you the restaurant's business plan instead of a menu. 

"Here are all the costs for us to open this restaurant, employ people, pay for food, and stay in business," they say.

Then the manager walks into the center of the restaurant and says...

"Now, by a show of hands, how many want to eat at this restaurant?"

It sounds ludicrous, but it's similar to what the City of Apopka is asking the residents of South Apopka to do.

After two workshops and a town hall meeting, the staff and administration have given two identical presentations dealing with the costs it would incur if Apopka were to annex South Apopka into its municipality. The third meeting was in a town hall format, but the City had already supplied the residents with topics. Finally, with little information to go on as to the benefits of annexation, Apopka Mayor Bryan Nelson asked a surprising question:

"With a show of hands, how many of you are for annexation, and how many are against it?" According to Nelson, the vote was about 50/50, but what were the residents voting on?

At the April 5th City Council meeting, South Apopka annexation was referenced again and discussed by commissioners, who seemed frustrated at the process.

"We've gone to all the workshops... and for me, it's 50-50," said Commissioner Nick Nesta. "It's never clear or decisive one way or the other. So for me, I think it would be worthwhile to pick a date and put it on the ballot. Let's pick the date we put it on and work backward. We can do our own individual meetings with different groups throughout the entire city in both unincorporated and incorporated Apopka."

Commissioner Diane Velazquez echoed Nesta's concerns but wanted to inform the residents about the process and benefits of annexation through print or text rather than verbally.

"During the three workshops we had, it appeared that the south side of Apopka was divided," Velazquez said. "I think some education or information needs to get to them so they can actually sit down, read and understand because every one of the workshops has been verbal. We have yet to give them anything to understand what annexation is."

Commissioner Kyle Becker also supported setting a date to vote on annexation as long as they used the runup period to inform the would-be voters of the details beforehand.

"At the end of the day, if the county and city personnel are not aligned, in terms of the value proposition, it's going to create this weird dynamic... it's going to cause significant amounts of confusion," Becker said. "So anytime there's something on the ballot, there's going to be people advocating for and against it. For all the workshops we've had thus far, I don't think it's hit the mark in taking them down to basics. But these workshops have deteriorated pretty quickly into an off-topic kind of conversation. So maybe that's the resolution to it. Maybe if we get it on the ballot, we force ourselves into educating people about annexation."

Apopka resident Sylvester Hall speaks in favor of South Apopka annexation at the Town Hall meeting held at the John Bridges Center Tuesday night.
Apopka resident Sylvester Hall speaks in favor of South Apopka annexation at the Town Hall meeting held at the John Bridges Center Tuesday night.

It may be time to turn this issue over to the people of South Apopka, but if it's going to be settled by ballot, then treat annexation like an election. Go to the people. Knock on doors. Send mailers, leave door knockers. Explain the merits of annexation. And there is a former campaign manager that could play a key role in its success.

Monique Morris is a South Apopka resident who is in favor of annexation. She had a lot to say at the town hall meeting, and it made a lot of sense as to how to move forward.

"Mayor, you keep saying, 'Who is unhappy?'. It has nothing to do with happiness or unhappiness or what the county is doing," Morris said. "These questions are irrelevant. These questions should not even be questions we should be asking. We need to know the advantages and the disadvantages of annexation into the City of Apopka."

Morris makes a good point. What would the advantages and disadvantages be for South Apopka to be annexed into Apopka? Why has the City spent time and effort on presenting annexation and has yet to be able to answer these questions? It seems simple, but after two workshops and a town hall get-together, advantages/disadvantages is not a topic that the City has addressed.

But Morris stayed focused on what was important to her community, which turns out isn't an Orange County vs. Apopka proposition.

" That's the best benefit," Morris said. "Not 'are you happy with the services of Orange County?'... like we're throwing shade at Orange County. It's not about that... it is about what we want. If we are annexed into the city, we're not going because Jerry Demings hasn't been over here. But [in Apopka], we can go up and see our mayor, we can talk to our commissioners... we will probably get districts then if we're annexed into the city, we can go and have great activities at different locations, the recreation centers... if you live in the county, you pay more money than the people that live in the city. If somebody in your family dies, and you want them to be buried at Edgewood Cemetery, you're going to pay more money than someone in the city. But what I'm saying is that we need to know what are our advantages... what are our disadvantages? We need to stop talking about it, and we need to do some type of windshield survey. We need to go door to door to these people. We need to create a brochure for the people that don't understand this."

The one-issue reason for South Apopka annexing into Apopka has always been the idea that Orange County had neglected them, but Morris goes well beyond that simplistic idea. She also took aim at why the John Bridges Center wasn't at capacity for an annexation town hall so critical to the community.

"This is why this room is not full. Do you want to know why? Because people don't know what annexation is. We need to go and knock on these doors. We need to talk to these people. We need to create a brochure. We need to get a petition going. All of this stuff needs to happen in order to see this go forward... in order to see if they want it to happen. Yes, I want to be in the city. Yes, I have tried to annex into the city, and I have been denied twice. So we need to make sure that we are providing the information."

Despite being turned down, she still yearns to unify the two communities. 

"Can we be one Apopka? Morris asked. "It's all about coming together... about being one Apopka... stop being divided, stop being separated."

If there has been an underlying theme, it's been the concern about raising taxes to cover the cost of annexation. Morris is sensitive to this issue, but it's probably too early to know where that would fall.

"No, people don't want to pay the extra money," Morris said. "No, they don't want to do that. But you have to break it down. A lot of people think that it will be a huge amount of money that we will have to pay. So a lot of people just don't know. But when nobody knows what's going on in South Apopka, when nobody comes down here, when nobody's doing that windshield survey, and riding around seeing what's happening... and that's all I have to say."

Well, you said a lot, Ms. Morris! 

Monique Morris receiving the 2018 Orange County District 2 Citizen of the Year award.
Monique Morris receiving the 2018 Orange County District 2 Citizen of the Year award.

This isn't Morris's first recognition as a leader in her community. In 2018, she was named Orange County District #2 Citizen of the Year. 

Here is what they wrote about her after that award:

"Monique Morris is a force of nature. There is simply no way to stop her crusade for good. In the classroom, at churches, sitting on executive boards, speaking at charitable events, and even on the campaign trail, she has made her mark and, in the process, made Apopka a better place."

Commissioner Alexander Smith, who is also an advocate for annexing South Apopka, chose Morris to run his 2018 campaign. He, too, is impressed with her commitment to the community.

"Wherever there is something positive going on in this community, you will find Monique's handprint on it," Smith said.

Morris would be the perfect bridge between South Apopka and Apopka. She is a resident of the community. She has attempted annexation on her own. She knows every City Council member. She's been on City committees. She's run a campaign.

And in this instance, campaign experience might just be the secret sauce that's called for to get South Apopka across the finish line.

Editor's Note: Apopka resident Sylvester Hall rented the John Bridges Center on Saturday, April 15th, from 2-8 pm for anyone wanting to help plan the future of South Apopka. Everyone is welcome. 

Opinion, Apopka, South Apopka, Apopka City Council, South Apopka Annexation, John Bridges Center


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  • JimNisbet

    How much time, money, and effort are we going to waste on this? Didn't we determine at meetings months ago, after a cost benefit analysis was completed, that annexation is not favorable to the City or South Apopka? This is activism. A minority (not 50/50) want annexation, and they won't stop making noise until they get it. Well, the cost benefit analysis was clear. Until someone can prove the benefit to both communities, and prove that it's worth the funding, I'd vote no.

    Friday, April 14, 2023 Report this

  • richardm

    I think JimNisbet summed up the article nicely, albeit unintentionally perhaps.. Until there is a clear explanation of the costs and benefits of annexation, the decision should be delayed. Apopka is going through a period of tremendous growth and expansion, and that could be a great financial windfall to the property owners in South Apopka- but could also bring about rapid gentrification to that area and thereby push out many lower income residents. Prior to annexation, a growth and development plan specific to South Apopka should be created by the city to ensure that future development in that area would be required to produce low-income housing opportunities at the same time the planned development moves forward , and also would provide assistance for existing small businesses to help them apply for loans and grants to make needed improvements so they aren't simply crushed by new commercial and retail development.

    The city could create a small and temporary department to research and create educational materials. This team could perform a door-to-door canvas of the area to learn how many residents are property owners versus renters, the number and types of small businesses and if those own or rent, etc.. The city should also consider putting some additional impact fees in place on new developments throughout the city- to help fund needed improvements to South Apopka (if annexation is approved in the future). You don't want to stop development, but there isn't any reason that current developers can't pay reasonable fees to benefit a local area that truly needs help.

    There is no doubt in my mind that Apopka is going to continue to expand, simply due to the convenience of the expressways now connecting this area. That growth will continue to push north and east towards Lake and Seminole counties. The question is simply if the city and its residents want to allow one small central area to remain stagnant and be a focus point for poverty and crime- or if they want to actually have a plan in place to help that area move forward into the future as well.

    Friday, April 14, 2023 Report this

  • MamaMia

    Oh yeah, I remember the words, " we have to start somewhere" before the 3 city commissioners voted to terminate the COA attorney, at the last city council meeting....so this seems like a good place to start, gotta start somewhere, you know, and say that Michael Rodriguez, the City of Apopka attorney, is not the FORMER city attorney, nor the FORMER DISGRACED city attorney. Someone must have gotten Mr. Rodriguez mixed up with one of Mr. Trump's former disgraced attorneys. Yeah, that must be how ya'll all got so mixed up....

    Friday, April 14, 2023 Report this

  • MamaMia

    I was sleeping so good, then that weird alarm went off on my cell phone, next to the bed, and I thought it was a tornado warning, after that bad lightning storm yesterday, that came out of the blue, but no, it was an Amber Alert, a child kidnapping. A little black boy, three years old, 30 pounds, with his hair in cornrows, wearing a green and yellow teenage mutant ninja turtle t-shirt, out of Miami. His name is Oliver Williams, last seen with an unknown black male. I hope they can locate him, and that he is unharmed. He is cute in his photo. The alarm sounded off at 5:54 this morning.

    Saturday, April 15, 2023 Report this

  • Richard

    Put it on the ballot and let the voters decide. Simple as that. No more smoke screens, manipulated data, or opinions. Or is Commissioner Smiths vote just ceremonial also ?

    Saturday, April 15, 2023 Report this

  • MamaMia

    Richard, I agree with you that the annexation of South Apopka needs to go to a vote via ballot, without manipulation via flyers, going door to door, and hiring consultants, to brain-wash the residents. I do think that it should be held at the John Bridges Center for the South Apopka voters, and the VFW for the already in the city voters, as it is my understanding both sides have to approve it to happen. Let the people decide, does not matter what the Apopka City Council wants. Only thing is, I don't think it should be vote by mail, unless someone requests absentees for voting by mail because of disability, or serving our country, as in the military. Really weird, that the property owners who live elsewhere, can't vote, but registered tenants, who are renters, can vote, but that is how it is! Yes Richard, Commissioner Alexander Smith's vote to keep the city attorney, Michael Rodriguez was indeed, ceremonial, just like the 3 others votes to terminate him. Their votes, all meant nothing, because only the mayor can fire department heads, and he does not want to fire the city attorney.

    Saturday, April 15, 2023 Report this

  • MamaMia

    I don't believe there has been an official formal cost analysis study done on the costs of annexing South Apopka into the City of Apopka. I have heard estimates. I believe I heard 2 million more a year according to Mayor Nelson, and Commissioner Alexander Smith estimates $14.00 more per household. I have listened to various department heads as to what they say will be needed additionally for annexation services, and it seems to me, those cost estimates by the mayor and Commissioner Smith, seem too low to me, but I could be wrong.

    Saturday, April 15, 2023 Report this

  • MamaMia

    I have been reading Apopka Critic's website. I see Christine Moore is offering her 2 cents on the City of Apopka issue of the 3 to 2 vote to fire the city attorney. Well Christine, you are neither an attorney, nor a judge, or a City Apopka resident, so know your place, Christine, and take care of Orange County issues, and quit taking sides with our city commissioners, Becker and Velasquez, for who you were their campaign managers, when they ran for our city council election.

    Saturday, April 15, 2023 Report this