Eight candidates for the municipal commission will present themselves at two events
Lakeland residents will have two chances next week to learn more about the eight people who applied for a seat on the city commission. The first is an NAACP forum at 6 p.m. tonight at the Coleman-Bush Building. And next Monday, the eight candidates will formally introduce themselves to the current seven commissioners at a public meeting.
The person chosen will take office Nov. 7 and serve the remaining 13 months of Phillip Walker’s term, who resigned from the commission due to his unsuccessful bid for the Florida House of Representatives. Under a provision of the city charter approved by voters last year, City Commissioners fill vacancies when there are less than two years left until the next election.
The commissioners set policy for the municipal government of Lakeland, including oversight of city-owned Lakeland Electric. The person appointed to the position will be able to stand for the seat in the elections next fall and will have the advantage of being incumbent. Commissioners are paid $31,687.95 per year.
Tonight’s forum will be an opportunity for community members to hear from the candidates and possibly let commissioners know who they prefer and why, said Terry Coney, president of the NAACP Lakeland branch, which is sponsoring the event. . The Coleman-Bush Building is at 1104 N. Martin Luther King Jr. Ave.
Next Monday, city commissioners will hear from candidates for up to 15 minutes each beginning at 8 a.m. in the commission conference room at City Hall. The room is too small for a large audience, but the interviews will be broadcast live on the LakelandGov TV Page and on cable: Spectrum Channel 643 / FiOS Channel 43. Replays of the interview will also be available.
Members of the public will not be able to ask questions or make public comments during the interviews, but they will be able to do so when the commission meets to make its final decision on October 17. This will take place during the regular committee meeting. at 9 a.m. in the commission rooms at City Hall, 228 S. Massachusetts Ave.
The commissioners submitted questions to the candidates to City Attorney Palmer Davis, who compiled them. A total of 16 questions were submitted. The original plan was to decide which questions would be passed on to the eight candidates, but no such decision was made on Monday when the commissioners discussed interview procedures, so all 16 will be passed on.
See the questions at the end of this article.
The 16 questions are passed to the eight candidates by City Clerk Kelly Koos. Candidates will have the opportunity to respond in writing and return their responses by Friday to Koos, who will then distribute them to the commissioners.
On Monday, each candidate will have up to 15 minutes to discuss the issues they deem most relevant to their candidacy. Previous commissioners had said they would allot 10 minutes to each candidate, but extended the time after commissioner Stephanie Madden said some people were offended by the suggestion the commission could not take more time to hear potential colleagues.
The commissioners said they would listen to candidates’ responses, but would not respond. Sara Roberts McCarley, who chaired Monday’s meeting in the absence of Mayor Bill Mutz, explained that it would provide more continuity: “just because it could be skewed. You might go down a rabbit hole with one candidate and not down that rabbit hole with the other candidates. It would be very complicated.
Candidates will appear in alphabetical order. Koos explained that this is in the order their names would appear on a ballot if there had been an election.
Madden said she and the other commissioners had received emails from some of the candidates and their supporters and wanted to let the other candidates know that they, too, could ask their supporters to send emails explaining why they favored the candidate. Commissioners will consider more than 15-minute presentations when making their choices, she said.
The commission headquarters represents the northwest quadrant of Lakeland, which is west of Florida Avenue/US 98N and north of the CSX railroad tracks. See a map of the commission’s districts. The seat holder must have resided in the district for at least one year before taking office. The candidates are:
- Lolita Berrien, a member of the city’s planning and zoning board and former president of the coalition of neighborhood associations. She was an administrative assistant at Polk Public Schools for 25 years and served as Vice President of the Webster Park South Neighborhood Association.
- Tracy Faison, a registered nurse who was a business owner and president of Lake Gibson High Booster Club and Lakeland Storm Youth Football and Cheerleading. She is the regional administrator for Pediatric Health Choice in Lakeland, Haines City and Daytona.
- Forehand from Daryl, pastor and former corrections consultant, former president of the Lakeland Police Athletic League. He served in the United States Navy and is currently pastor and diocesan bishop at Immanuel Temple Church and acting dean of WL Bonner College in Columbia, SC.
- Guy LaLonde Jr.a U.S. Navy veteran and Publix meat manager, owner of Lakeland Moon Walk of Polk County Inc. and Under One Tent Events Inc. His volunteer work includes Relay for Life, United Way of Polk County, and the county’s Special Olympics from Polk.
- Veronica Rountree, a community health services advocate whose community activities include chairman of the Neighborhood Association Coalition, chairman of the Code Enforcement Board and the Police Advisory Board. She is a community advocate for Peace of Mind Community Health Services.
- Ricky Shirah, a former Publix truck driver who owns a towing business, has taken the Chamber of Commerce’s course for potential candidates and has previously run for the city commission. He ran for the City Commission three times, including for the North West District seat in 2015 and a universal seat in 2019.
- Samuel Simmons, former accountant for the city of Lakeland, president of the Webster Park Civic Association, former president of the Neighborhood Coalition Council and co-founder of the Central Florida Business Diversity Council. He currently owns a housing and financial services consulting firm
- Steve’s Saga, who ran for mayor of Lakeland last year and lost to Mutz. She was a platelet-rich plasma technician and is a board member of the Citizens Council for Health Freedom and the Polk Education Foundation.
Questions were submitted by five of the seven commissioners. Davis’ compilation did not note which commissioner asked which questions. Commissioner Chad McLeod noted that there is overlap between the sets of questions, so candidates can decide which to answer. The questions, edited for style:
1) What is your vision for Lakeland, specifically your representation of the Northwest District?
2) Timing …there are other board and committee assignments. Are you able to make the time to attend?
3) What is the largest budget amount or oversight you have approved?
1) Do you have time to do this job? In addition to our four monthly meetings, you will support the committees Mr. Walker served on. (Editor’s note: McCarley noted in Monday’s meeting that committee assignments rotate among commissioners, so these would not necessarily be the new commissioner’s assignments.)
- The chairman of the legislative committee plans trips to Tallahassee several times a year.
- Board meetings of the Transport Planning Organization in Bartow.
- Utilities Committee (Lakeland Electric)
- Lakeland Region Transit District
- Lakeland Police Department Community Engagement Committee
- Email time
2) In your opinion, what area should the city address?
3) What do you bring to the commission and why should we select you?
1) Why would you want to serve on the committee?
2) What assets will you bring?
3) What is the most difficult problem you have had to solve professionally and how could this experience apply to this role?
4) What do you know about the infrastructure and how it works?
1) Describe how your skills best match the needs of representing the interests of the citizens of the Northwest District and the city as a whole.
2) In particular, what is (are) your area(s) of passion for the city?
3) Looking at what has been accomplished over the past five years in the governance of the commission, what is the most significant unresolved gap that you would like to see corrected?
1) Why do you want to serve as Acting Commissioner for the Northwest District?
2) What unique perspective do you think you bring to the current committee?
3) Which issue dealt with by the municipal commission would you find most interesting and why?