Leading in a time of change, challenge, and opportunity

Photography by Dustin Prickett

The Lakelander: Tell us a little about your history and why you call Lakeland home.
Howard Wiggs: I grew up in Mulberry and began working in Lakeland in 1981 managing a branch bank for Flagship Bank. I met a lifelong Lakeland girl, Linda Bagley-Wiggs. We fell in love, built our home in Lakeland in 1985, raised our family here, and continued to build our 62-year-old business, Bagley Idea Pros. We have four children. Two are in Lakeland: Braxton is an attorney with Pansler Law Firm, and Kimber works in admissions at Florida Southern College. Our son Johnny is the head baseball coach at Santa Fe College in Gainesville, and our son Chris is in Virginia. I also fell in love with Lakeland’s people, history, and outstanding quality of life.
TL: What motivated you to run for office?
HW: I began elected leadership positions in the seventh grade when I was vice president of the Beta Club. That continued throughout my school years, including being elected to sophomore class president and to Key Club president, among others. I believed that my passion for helping improve the quality of life for the folks in our city, my commitment to finding ways and ideas that will make that happen, and my 21 years as a Lakeland city commissioner made me a viable candidate for mayor.

I believe we are on the threshold of moving from good to awesome.

TL: What is your philosophy of governance?
HW: There are some critically important components to effective governance: caring about the citizens, citizen engagement, government transparency, absolute integrity by elected officials, servant leadership, support for employees, emphasis on customer service, commitment to finding the best way to lead rather than insisting on demanding our own way of doing things, admit it when you mess up, and learn from your mistakes.
TL: Many people would say that there is stark polarization and gridlock at all levels of our political system. What do you think is most needed in our political discourse?
HW: Respect for one another even when disagreeing, and recognizing who we all are working for — our citizens rather than ourselves. When we focus on our bosses, the citizens, we can put aside petty differences that divide us when we need to be coming together.
TL: How will we find common ground?
HW: When men and women with pure motives sincerely pursue doing the best for their constituents, I believe they will find more things upon which they agree than things upon which they disagree.
TL: We remain quite anodyne at The Lakelander, yet I have to ask about the issue that much of your campaign focused on — the LPD. How do we restore trust in our local law enforcement? What have we learned?
HW: We first recognize that the vast majority of our police officers are good, honest, caring, competent professionals. If we, as leaders, can’t believe and trust in our officers, we can’t expect others to trust. We tell our officers that words, whether they come from City Hall or from police officers, won’t change attitudes. It will take walking the talk every day. It will take being professional and dedicated, even when we’re having a bad day, and it will take time. We didn’t lose trust in a day and we won’t regain it in a day. And, it will take forgiveness from
our citizens because they are the ones we’ve let down.
TL: What is your responsibility to those you govern?
HW: Honesty, integrity, transparency, selflessness, respect, pure motives, humility, admitting when we’re wrong, learning from our mistakes, looking for the best ideas, an attitude of service, and sometimes, asking for forgiveness.
TL: What do you think citizens’ responsibilities are to each other?
HW: Many of the same things; primarily, respect and empathy.
TL: You’ve owned your own business for many years. How does Lakeland become stronger economically?
HW: Again, there are behaviors, characteristics that are universal in attracting, whether it be attracting a person or attracting businesses, and most of those mentioned [in previous responses] will be helpful. More specifically, we need to evaluate city processes and attitudes toward businesses. Businesses won’t go to or seek out areas where they aren’t appreciated.
We need to continue our emphasis on education and training. Good-paying, high-tech jobs demand an educated workforce. And, they must have folks who are trainable. We have to do things that attract bright professionals: inclusiveness, searching for new useful ideas, adoption of cutting-edge technology, interesting community activities including a vibrant night life, arts and cultural opportunities, great restaurants, and neighborhoods, appreciation of our churches and synagogues, good schools and public/government services that are inviting and customer friendly. All of these things are either already here or are certainly possible, and they will result in a stronger economy.
TL: You’ve been quite involved in the community over the years. How do you suggest Lakelanders become more engaged?
HW: All they really need to do is look around; there are opportunities everywhere. And frankly, if they have any confusion or concern or disconnect, they can call me. I’ll be happy to help them get connected/engaged. Actually, engagement is one of the most important goals of the task forces that are in the process of being implemented.
TL: What are your predictions for Lakeland’s future?
HW: Extremely positive. I believe we are poised on the threshold of moving from good to awesome. We are gaining concentrations of medical technology, higher education, cutting-edge logistics, and all sorts of other technology applications. We have smart, passionate citizens who love Lakeland. Working together, we will be awesome!