Candidate, Seat 5
Commissioner, Seat 5
Two Winter Haven residents are vying for City Commission Seat 5. Incumbent Steven Hunnicutt faces Candidate Debra Ogzewalla in the November 5 election. The Chamber will host a Candidate’s Forum on Wednesday morning, October 23 here in our Auditorium. RSVP here.
The Chamber posed a series of eight questions to the candidates. Their answers were limited to 75 words or less as follows:
1. What city commission decision in recent years do you most agree with, and why?
Hunnicutt: Approving the support of an EDC for our city. Why – Our city has great organizations like our Chamber which is accredited, and our Main Street. The EDC is the other piece of the bigger picture, giving our city the opportunity to make sure, our vision is shared at all levels to help support the needs of our business community. Partnership creation is huge and firmer grasp of our community at broader scale.
Ogzewalla: The decision the City Commission made to not privatize the garbage pick-up. The proposals were not going to save the City enough money to be worthwhile, jobs would have been lost in the process and the evaluations of the various proposals were not handled very well. Overall this was not a good deal for the citizens of Winter Haven.
2. What Winter Haven city commission decision in recent years do you most disagree with, and why?
Hunnicutt: Not implementing a Master Plan for our Roads. Why – Roads drive commerce; this is how our residents travel to and from our community, as well as visitors. As our roads continue to handle larger traffic capacities, people will look at other streets with less traffic. A needed balance between transportation and community livability is needed because it will become more challenging, causing traffic constraints, safety concerns. A Master Plan is a necessity for our future.
Ogzewalla: The multiple decisions the City Commission made to go forward with The Landings project. From the very beginning, it was poorly thought out, poorly planned and poorly executed. They had no land, no plan and no money. We have still not felt the last of the negative effects that are a direct result of these reckless decisions.
3. What is the number-one opportunity facing Winter Haven?
Hunnicutt: Growth – which turn into Economic Development opportunities, with the names of CSX, Legoland, Florida Polytechnic, our downtown redevelopment, the Vision that Polk State College brings to our community, all right here.
Ogzewalla: Our number-one opportunity is to change the direction this City is headed in. Continuing to sell off City assets is not in the City’s best long term interests. We need to create an environment that supports existing small business. As a City we need to demonstrate fiscal responsibility and be inclusive in our decision making. If we move forward in a positive, but conscientious way it will benefit the community as a whole.
4. What is Winter Haven’s greatest challenge?
Hunnicutt: Not losing focus on maintaining and fixing our current infrastructure/current assets. Like parks, tennis courts, roads, buildings, etc.. Because of our sights being focused forward on future projects.
Ogzewalla: Winter Haven’s greatest challenge is the same as its greatest opportunities. We need to change directions and perceptions. We need to ask the hard questions and make hard decisions. The Commission needs to be willing to take the time and do the home work required to make these decisions. Meeting our City’s needs with positive, thoughtful and responsible leadership is our greatest challenge.
5. If elected, what will be your principal priority, and how do you propose that the city pay for it? In your response, please consider the needs of business – particularly small business- and their importance to our community.
Hunnicutt: Continue to listen to the residents and business owners of our city. We provide services to residents and business the community. We should be partners with businesses, not regulators. Water and roads are important factors. The biggest priority needs to be infrastructure investment, as it goes hand and hand with economic development. Continue to search for all available grants to assist us in the future, and make sure we are structuring our budget properly.
Ogzewalla: My principal priority will be to promote small businesses in Winter Haven. As a small business owner I understand their needs. The City needs to promote existing small, independent businesses and promote new small businesses. We need to find ways to make their lives easier and less complicated. Too often it seems that small business suffers in favor of larger chains. I want to reverse this trend.
6. Everyone wants low taxes, but great communities invest in amenities that enhance the quality of life. Businesses that relocate or build new facilities look for such communities. How will you balance the desire for low taxes with the desire for better civic amenities?
Hunnicutt: We need to evaluate the budget earlier, and ahead of what is coming, not wait for it to happen. Take a closer look at other existing enterprise funds in which user fees and charges generated by the service to see if it is cost covering. Allowing us to make these amenities an important role in our future. Seek available operational grants. Make SOUND fundamental practices with the use of onetime expenses, both operating and capital, as appropriate.
Ogzewalla: Investing in infrastructure and amenities is important. It is how we build for the future. However, Winter Haven taxes are already one of the high. We cannot tax our way out of our problems. We need a new direction. We need a realistic budget that does not use non-reoccurring funds to pay for re-occurring expenses. Creating a truly balanced, realistic budget will allow us to prioritize and identify those specific investments that will help the City the most.
7. What areas of the City’s municipal operations do you feel you best understand?
Hunnicutt: If you look at our Organizational Chart, we have primarily nine divisions that provide services to residents and businesses. Being a retired police officer it may be Police Services, but as an elected official serving the people you need to have an understanding of all nine. So much homework is expected, there are many pieces to the puzzle, our city operates 24 hours a day with the water flowing, our Police and Fire on call.
Ogzewalla: I bring years of tourism, marketing, retail and small business experience to the City Commission. I will be able to bring this knowledge and insights to all the municipal operations of the City. I understand the process of budgeting. I understand how projects are planned and managed. Because of my prior experience, I can help to promote Winter Haven in a responsible way.
8. The City is promoting a “One City, One Vision” concept. What can you tell us about the “One City, One Vision” plan, and do you agree with it?
Hunnicutt: One City – One Vision – originated at a meeting held in November 2012. Staff collected information on government, infrastructure, finance, quality of life, economic prosperity, education, and civic engagement. This was called mapping out our future. Listening to citizens expectations is key. I agree with the approach, but what is done with the data once you have it is as important. The process has many factors, it is not one size fits all. We need to revisit. Residents and business owners that participated want to see what has been implemented.
Ogzewalla: The City should have a vision and a solid plan on how to move forward. Winter Haven is a diverse City with many needs. The vision needs recognize these diverse needs and the plan should be explained in an easy to understand way. We need to make sure “One Vision” isn’t interpreted as “My Vision Only”. Unfortunately, few people that I have spoken too can tell you anything about “One City, One Vision” concept. I know we can do better at getting the message out.