“We need to be smart about what we do. I really want to spend this first year listening much more than necessarily visioning.”

Photography by Dustin Barrow

Several issues ago, we covered the unique dynamics of last year’s city elections. Among a strong pull for Strong Mayor, which was overturned, the city appeared a little more alive and vocal throughout campaign season. Winning the race for mayor, Lakeland welcomed Bill Mutz to the role. Long an impactful member of the community,  a strong voice in the city, as well as a successful businessman, husband, and father of 12, he seemed the ideal candidate from the start. As we’ve done with each new mayor, we introduce you to Bill Mutz who has stepped into the role eager   to lead the city to a brighter future but prepared to pause at the beginning of his term, ready to listen, and to see the real needs of the city. Strong Mayor or not, as far as we can see, this mayor is off to a strong lead.

Like everything in Bill Mutz’s life, deciding to run for mayor of Lakeland came down to two things: God, and Mutz’s wife, Pam. Several years ago, then-Mayor Howard Wiggs approached Mutz about running. Though Mutz had served the city for many years through non-profits, committees, CRAs, and other organizations, he had never considered running for a government position and had no interest in getting involved in politics. He relayed the encounter to Pam, who, about eight months later, came home from her devotion time and asked, “Are you praying about running for mayor at all?”

“No, I’m not praying about running for mayor at all,” replied Mutz.

“I just think you should,” said Pam, “because I’ve been praying about it, and I really think I’m fine with it if you want to run.”

With that, Mutz did start to pray about it, at least to open his heart to it, and once he did, he was able to be more receptive to the possibility. But doubts still remained, and Mutz decided that he wanted someone else to talk to about it. That encounter came shortly after, when he was invited to a lunch with some business people who came with a request: that he would think about running for mayor. With Pam and his friends in the business community supporting him, his candidacy was a done deal, and the campaign was underway.

“Having the support of people during the campaign, spending time campaigning across the city I already love, getting to love it even more in that process as I got to see neighborhoods whose problems and challenges are so different, and always have with it their champions — people who care, people who are world-changers in their own neighborhoods across the city — made me love it even further,” says Mutz.

In his office overlooking Lake Mirror, Mutz reflects on his first months as mayor. “For me, today, the fact that I can serve in this capacity and have the opportunity to help move the city to the next level is an unbelievable privilege. I can’t tell you how much it’s just a sweet spot of what my life experiences have been: the combination of business experiences, love for people, lots of not-for-profit work, construction and home issues that exist, working with homeless, working with men in ministry, those things all kind of come together to make it really exciting. If you ask me what my biggest delight has been in it all, it has been that the quality of the people in the city, the effectiveness of processes — it’s well-run.”

The people who work for the city are an especially important part for Mutz. “My relationship with [City Manager] Tony Delgado is wonderful. The commissioners I have the privilege of serving with — I’m so excited about each and every one of them and what they bring to bear, and I really believe we will be effective policy makers and will do it with efficiency and thoroughness. And that’s the goal; you need to do both. You can run fast and be wrong, but you want to be sure you vet things well and then move on with what you know you need to do. Sometimes we need to make decisions because our resources are limited or we have some other type of constraints, and it’s not what we most would like to do, but it is the most necessary decision to make for the health of the city. And I think we have a commission well-equipped to accomplish that.”

Mutz also has a great appreciation and respect for Police Chief Larry Giddens who he describes as “wonderfully transparent, honest, and practical,” and Fire Chief Douglas Riley who he describes as “a team-building-, care-about-his-people-, heart-for-others-and-the-Lord person.”

Mutz’s biggest surprise during his first months in office has been how fast the days go with a calendar being fed by others. While he has always kept a full schedule and worked 10- to 12-hour days, he’s had to learn how to develop a cadence and balance now that lots of people from different arenas are filling his calendar. His goal is to be as available as possible while still having enough time to work on issues that are pressing.

A great delight of his new role is working downtown. “I really love being downtown,” he says. “You can walk out the door and go to lunch. You can get to things so quickly; even if you have to drive, nothing’s very far away. That is great.”

The Downtown Master Plan has become one of his high priorities, and Mutz is looking forward to working on that once the next Community Development Director is in place. With it, he hopes to look at how we can maximize use of the downtown footprint for the next decade. “We really are at a pivotal point in terms of the growth we are going to see. We are a city that can really celebrate its own uniqueness. We don’t have to be like Tampa. We don’t have to be like Orlando. We have to be a city that embraces creative talent, is an easy city for new startups to grow within, embraces technology, makes millennials at home, is as sophisticated as necessary, and as homey as possible.”

While there have been no big surprises for Mutz in the area of policy, he has determined that the city needs to develop “the ability to do things more quickly. Because opportunities and windows that can be seized can be really short, we need to be really good at seizing those windows as quickly as possible, and I think we have an opportunity to improve our speed. I believe this commission will be remembered for caring about people, having a lot of compassion, and caring about the whole community.”

One way he sees this coming into play is the One Lakeland Initiative which will develop “mentors across quadrants of our city to help young people have hope, dreams, and grow, and to find people who want to be involved in the process, because what we can do that is unique for a lot of cities is that this city cares about people. It is a philanthropic city. It’s a city that has a lot of people working together. That fertile ground could be multiplied into a set focus of initiatives that helps make us unified.” Mutz says this won’t necessarily be a City of Lakeland initiative other than getting it going and supporting it, but rather, “It will be a people’s initiative.”

In addition to the One Lakeland Initiative and the Downtown Master Plan, another of Mutz’s priorities is the Road Diet in Dixieland. He is “very concerned with safety, and initially it won’t be popular, but it’s going to allow us to see how we can alter our traffic patterns in ways that really do become suitable. The combination of texting, narrowness, people on the sidewalk, and a growing Dixieland area has all the wrong formulas, and we’re living on borrowed time.” 

The movement of the monument in Munn Park is another priority. “I love what we have accomplished with the monument and want to see our veterans honored with the movement of it to an area where that’s accomplished, as well as for us to hear the hearts of the rest of the city that are bothered by its presence in Munn Park. To me, that is a picture of what we do when we think of everyone’s feelings, not just one group’s opinions, which is what a responsible city does: we care about how we can best serve all citizens.”

Lakeland also has what Mutz described as a “broadband challenge.” He wants to see us “be really wise here, because this is an area we could throw millions and millions of dollars at an initiative that, technologically, times out before there’s ever a payoff. Therefore, we must be as wise as possible to really identify what our challenges are, look at the competitive existing opportunities to fulfill those challenges on the most cost-effective basis possible, and also be good students of what is down the road.”

Education is another focus for Mutz, who is continuing Wiggs’ work on the College Presidents’ Roundtable, where he meets with all local college presidents to see how the city can best serve the students in our community. Workforce development is a large focus of this, looking at how we educate trade-level skills. Mutz thinks Polk County Schools is doing a great job with its academies and says, “We need to celebrate all the other ways we can work with our hands and our minds, in robotics, autonomous cars, and new technologies.”

“We need to be smart about what we do,” he continues. “I really want to spend this first year listening much more than necessarily visioning. That’s kind of contra to what most leadership would say typically in life, but that’s because we already have really good initiatives in place. So let’s see those through, let’s make the other changes that we need to get made this year, let’s get a Downtown Master Plan in place, and let’s go.”