Editor’s Note: This is the second in a five-part series about Apopka Mayor-Elect Bryan Nelson entitled “The First 100 Days”. The series will outline the expected path Nelson will take in his first 100 days in office. What are his priorities? How will he lead Apopka? What will the budget look like under a Nelson administration? How will he handle the City staff and who will his department heads be?
Part Two: Workdays and unexpected expenses
By Reggie Connell/Managing Editor of The Apopka Voice
By any measurement, the 2018 mayoral election maintained a level of negativity and attacks not seen by Apopka for some time – if ever. Perhaps it was because both candidates announced their intentions to run a year before election day that caused things to get ugly early. Maybe it was a trickle-down effect from the national political scene. Or possibly it was because elections involving an incumbent and a challenger demand that opponents compare and contrast themselves, which tends to lead to ugliness.
Despite the tone of the election, Apopka Mayor Joe Kilsheimer and Mayor-Elect Bryan Nelson have communicated cordially since the results were known. There have been two conversations between them – one on election night, and another to discuss the transition.
“They were nice discussions,” said Nelson. “He wanted to know if I was supporting some things that were ongoing between the end of his term and the beginning of mine. He also called me on election night and congratulated me.”
Nelson also said this on his Facebook page after his initial visit with Kilsheimer:
“Mayor Joe Kilsheimer invited me to City Hall to catch me up on pending issues that will be facing the city over the next several months. We had a great discussion and I appreciate his help in the transition. We need our community to work together for the betterment of Apopka. Thank you Mayor Kilsheimer for reaching out and for your time.”
But setting cordiality aside, according to Nelson, he was informed by Kilsheimer of two upcoming expenses that will definitely impact the next budget, and perhaps every budget in his first term.
“I’ve got some interesting expenses coming up that I was not planning on like $15-million to replace 40,000 water meters and another $1-million to replace a fire truck. I heard there were some issues with billing and with the meters, but I didn’t know to what extent, so that was somewhat of a shock.”
The Apopka Voice reached out to the City about the water meters and the replacement fire truck, requesting details and a statement from Public Services Director Jay Davoll and Apopka Fire Chief Chuck Carnesale. In response, Apopka Public Information Officer Robert Sargent released these two statements.
About the water meters, he said:
“The city does not have 40,000 meters. That is inaccurate. We have 22,000 potable water meters in our service area. We also have 7,600 reclaimed meters. We have no indication yet that the cost of system improvements would be $15 million. I think that number may have been mentioned at a past city council meeting as an example of unexpected costs to illustrate why a utility assessment is important. We are conducting an assessment of the city’s water metering system, and we expect to receive a final report soon with definite details.”
About the replacement fire truck, he said:
“The city is looking at options to replace a 17-year-old fire truck. The $1-million (cost) is not accurate to what the city could pay. This topic will be discussed at the next city council meeting.”
Despite the surprising news or the specific details, Nelson is moving forward with the options available to him.
“I told him (Kilsheimer) to go ahead and get the RFP (Request for Proposal) going because that takes some time. So if we are going to do one, let’s not wait. He (Kilsheimer) said the life expectancy of a water meter is 10 years. If that’s the case you’d like to get them on a schedule that every 2 1/2 years we do 25% of them… then you wouldn’t have to do them all at once. So that would be an option. Can we do an older section this year, and a newer section next year? It’s definitely something I need to dig into. But $16 million is a big chunk of the budget.”
The first week:
Nelson made it clear that a top priority for him is to bond with his staff and employees. His plan is to borrow from the “workday” idea of former Florida Governor Bob Graham who worked 100 jobs across the state during his gubernatorial campaign in 1977. Nelson plans to mirror that effort and work alongside City of Apopka employees.
“The first thing I want is to try to get everybody to buy into our mission,” Nelson said. “And the best way to do that is to understand where they are coming from. The first week will be getting to know the employees. I’m planning on getting out into the field. I’ll get on the garbage truck, go to the wastewater treatment plant, ride along with the police officers, get on a fire truck, go see the Parks and Recreation and work with these folks. I really want to get a better feel for what they do… maybe spend half a day with them. A lot of people want to feel appreciated and know that their voice matters. A lot of people want to support City Hall but have not had a real reason to do that. The goal is to find out what they do and then be easily accessible to them to solve problems. If it’s a serious issue, I will have an open door policy with them.”
Nelson plans to do these workdays with every department.
For Graham, the workdays made for good television and garnered ample newspaper coverage as well. But he did follow a couple of rules in order to stay legitimate in the eyes of voters. He worked the entire shift. He only allowed the press to be present for a part of that shift. And he did all aspects of the job. Many believe it was how a relatively-unknown legislator was able to win the nomination and later the election.
Nelson has already won an election, therefore the “workdays” have to be seen from a different perspective. Will this time with City staff and employees bond them? Will they buy into his mission? Will he understand the jobs and departments better by working with them? It’s an unusual way to begin a term, but one that seems to suit the hands-on approach Nelson wants to employ.
For Wednesday: Part three of “The First 100 Days”, is all about the budget. It’s clear one of Nelson’s mandates was to cut spending, but how will he accomplish this? How will he recoup the lost revenue when the red light cameras are turned off? How will he increase general fund reserves? And what about the unexpected expenses?