Voices of us

Election seasons come and go. but some seasons bring a whirlwind of new vision and new possibilities, Opening our eyes to what should be and what could be. In light of the potential change for the city’s governmeNt, The Lakelander invites you to MEet the canDidates of Lakeland’s 2017 Election.

Written by Rebecca Knowles / Photography by Daniel Barcelo

Though still months away, the Lakeland City Commission and Mayoral races are already heating up. With the qualifying period for the November 7, 2017, election not ending until late September, at press time for this issue, there are already 12 candidates who have submitted their paperwork to the clerk of courts. If the three city commission seats and the race for mayor weren’t enough, a change to the city charter will also be on the November ballot. Commonly known as the Strong Mayor initiative, if passed, it would change the structure of Lakeland’s government. Awaiting, we present a Q&A with the candidates for mayor and city commission.

CANDIDATES AT A GLANCE

MAYOR /

Patrick Shawn Jones

Bill Mutz

SOUTHEAST DISTRICT /

Scott Franklin

Sandy Toledo

SOUTHWEST DISTRICT /

Michael Dunn

Larry Durrence

Jorge Fonseca

Pablo Sologaistoa

AT LARGE-SEAT 1 / 

Kathy Smith Barsotti

Stephanie Madden

Jim Malless (incumbent)

Laurel Pullo

MAYOR CANDIDATES //

 

Patrick Shawn Jones

Age: 52
Family: Married to Johnathan Scott Freeman at Polk County Valentine’s Day Wedding in Bartow 2/14/2015.  Also have two other small legged family members: Izabella (Chiwawa) and Axel (Chiweenie).

What is your vision for Lakeland?

In order to seek a city’s future vision, we must simplify the operations of everyday life: clean water, air, and a new path to safe energy production. Each of us was sent into this world with a heart. I feel it is time to create something worth believing in.

What is your core motivation to run for this position?

I love Lakeland. From childhood going to Dixieland Elementary, Southwest Junior High, to Kathleen High School, I take pride in the city of my birth. Now, 52 years later, I foresee fundamental challenges facing our future. Challenges that have to be grounded in reality, interwoven with humanity. For this reason I have decided to [run] for office in Lakeland. For way too long we have endured those that could talk the talk, but not walk the walk. I feel this has to change.

What is your position on the proposed strong mayor changes to the city charter?

First, and foremost, I feel the residents of Lakeland deserve the right of choice. Each side has their own pros and cons on this issue. As for myself, I think our current mayor, the honorable Howard Wiggs, would have benefited our city’s future if the change in our charter had been in place.

What policies would you put in place to support Lakeland’s growing culture of small businesses?

Time, framework, strategic planning, and budgeting are paramount to the success of any small business. Survival, for too many owners, is still synonymous with many small businesses. One simple policy is making business services and resources more accessible to the public. This could be solved simply by extending our city’s mass transit (the Citrus Connection) times.

Another policy is Advancement of Attractions. The present tactic of “We are an hour away from everything” outsources many of our hard-earned revenues to other locations and venues. A need to attract annual to seasonal family-friendly activities that last longer than a day or week are valued to reach this goal. Such [things] as a municipal zoo, water park, or planetarium could be a Florida destination of choice.

In your opinion, what are the three best things about living in Lakeland?

1. The Lakeland lifestyle and the chance to know your neighbor. “Sometimes you like to live where everyone knows your name.”

2. Lakeland is blessed with its own unique art and music scene. From Mayfair to First Fridays downtown, there is always something to entertain your family on a budget.

3. Lakeland’s raw beauty. Stark and powerfully impressive, nothing is more wonderful than sunrise along the shore of one of Lakeland’s lakes divine.

In your opinion, what are the three biggest challenges facing our community?

1. Technology and Education Drought. We need to focus on solutions we envision today, focused to foster upward mobility to our youth. We need to keep our brightest students rather than losing them to other cities.

2. Energy vs. Environment. Answer our obligation for clean energy, which is necessary to the health of our planet.

3. Housing and the Homeless. Develop a plan, such as used by Habitat for Humanity. Using sweat equity to work with helping those who ask for help. No one grows up with the American dream, “Daddy, I want to be homeless.”

What would be your top priority as mayor?

Sustainable living; advancement of the city’s system biome; and setting a new path on energy creation

Is there anything else you’d like to tell readers?

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to work for the future of Lakeland. It is true I am a non-traditional candidate, and I don’t have a silver bullet for all our challenges. Throughout my career of service, I have been blessed with the insight that many will never experience. Working as a certified nursing assistant, I served the elderly. Working as a certified surgical sterilization technician, I saved lives every day. Working as a radio host, I had the privilege to serve the community and travel the world, meeting many without leaving the studio. And yes, even as a Psychic Readers Network associate for those who searched exoterically outward for something that was always within. All I can do now is ask to serve you. And, together, we can face today what we build in our reality of tomorrow. Peace.

 

H. William “Bill” Mutz

Age: 63
Family: PAMela (wife) and children: Cari, Jonathan, Jacob, Lori, Ozzie, Kelli, Michael, Eric, Mark, Kirsti, Stephen, and Emma, and seven in-laws (which we call in-loves married to them), and 18 grandchildren (the 19th cooking)
Occupation: Former President and Co-Owner of Lakeland Automall – Lakeland Ford, Lakeland Mazda, and Lakeland Hyundai; Currently Semi-Retired Consultant
Memberships: The Lakeland Rotary Club
Leadership Positions – Served on Board of Directors Member and/or Former Chairman: Allen & Company, Central Florida Speech & Hearing Center, Citrus & Chemical Bank, City of, Lakeland Mid-town CRA, First Baptist Church at the Mall – Personnel Chairman & Executive Committee, Florida Family Policy Council, Grace City Church, Lakeland Chamber of Commerce, Lakeland Christian School, Lakeland Economic Development Council, Lakeland Institute for Learning, Lakeland Regional Health, Lakeland Vision, Leadership Lakeland & Class Chair, Leadership Polk, Learning Resource Center, People Like Us, Salvation Army, Security Group, Southeastern University, United Way, VISTE
Served as Fundraising Campaign Chairman for: American Heart Association, Girls, Inc., Lakeland Christian School, United Way Campaign, VISTE
Notable Awards: Living Legacy Award from Word Alive Ministries, Jere Annis Award Winner from Leadership Lakeland Alumni, Servant Leadership Award from Southeastern University, Wilbur Dungy
All-Pro Dad Award presented by his son, Tony Dungy, for the AllPro Dad Father of the Year, Four Way Test Award from Rotary International

What is your vision for Lakeland?

Build community partnerships through collaboration to increase citizen involvement and provide desired amenities in a warm, people-centric environment. Attract businesses that enhance workforce opportunities through wise planning, valuing people, and expanding employment options. Attract at least one commercial airline carrier and dramatically boost broadband capability which will attract new businesses. Support Catapult and the Chamber to genesis small businesses and help them thrive.  Enhance the downtown master plan to create venues yet to be conceived. Confidently attract entities who want to grow their futures in a supportive, service-oriented city.

What is your core motivation to run for this position?

I love this city and believe it can become “Wowsville!” My desire is to collaborate with community partners from across all sectors to help make that happen. Furthermore, I want to provide strong leadership to a decisive city commission and help to further empower our already effective city manager to expeditiously accomplish this reality.

What is your position on the proposed strong mayor changes to the city charter?

No. The strong mayor initiative, although thoughtfully and conscientiously conceived, is ill-timed and has inherent flaws; one in particular is its immediate implementation without time for cost-effective planning transitions. I encourage every voting citizen to oppose the initiative. We have an effective city manager who supports our valuable city employees and they support him! We need strong leadership from the commission and not a strong mayor charter change. I am confident I can help provide that leadership strength and have worked with our city manager on many other initiatives over the years. I have high respect for City Manager, Tony Delgado, and we communicate with one another well.

What policies would you put in place to support Lakeland’s growing culture of small businesses?

I serve, teach, and helped to conceive Catapult and continue to believe it is one of the most effective ways we can grow small businesses in Lakeland. The creativity of millennials and almost unlimited outside-the-box thinking requires us to be as nimble as possible to continually look for broadening effective ways to bolster growing businesses. The Chamber and Lakeland Business Leaders are exploring other examples of more effective ways to accomplish support of small businesses.

In your opinion, what are the three best things about living in Lakeland?

1. Its People – this is a city of “can-doers,” and we don’t focus on the hurdles, we focus on winning the race. We must believe in one another, listen to one another, and support one another as much as possible to keep this positive value alive.

2. Our Heritage – the not-for-profit organizations, our faith community, the extraordinary educational institutions, the businesses that generously support them, all richly enhance our daily lives. Sometimes, it is easy to take these rich entities for granted. They are incredible difference-makers and require our continuing support.

3. Our Location – what a great place to live! The Florida beauty and weather, the location within our state, and being near the regional spot where 120+ million visitors are traveling to this year alone, ought to remind us all the more of why we must capitalize on the upcoming opportunities.

In your opinion, what are the three biggest challenges facing our community?

1. Not being nimble. We must study well and execute decisions expeditiously.

2. Not being a gigabit city. We need data speed and the partnerships to make this happen as soon as possible.

3. Not believing the best of each other. To make things happen smoothly, we have to build on trust. Trust requires us to listen well to each other over time. We need to be a city in which our citizens feel well “heard.”

What would be your top priority as mayor?

To serve our citizens by providing the best leadership skills possible through listening well, collaborating, and making effective plans and decisions. The desired result is that Lakeland becomes a place people increasingly want to visit and in which its citizens love to live.

SOUTHEAST DISTRICT //

 

Scott Franklin

Age: 52
Family members: Wife, Amy, and three children:  Amanda (23), Will (21), and Sarah (18).
Occupation: President & CEO of Lanier Upshaw, Inc., Lakeland’s largest and one of its oldest Insurance and Risk Management firms
Memberships/Leadership Positions/Notable Awards: Past president of the Lakeland Rotary Club, past chairman of the Lakeland Economic Development Council and the Florida Young Presidents Organization, treasurer of Sun ‘n Fun, past director of the Central Florida Speech & Hearing Center and Lakeland Area Chamber of Commerce, and past Commodore of the Lakeland Yacht & Country Club. Graduate of Leadership Lakeland and Leadership Polk. A Rotary International Paul Harris Fellow. Numerous military decorations and awards, including the Sea Control Wing’s Senior Pilot of the Year for the Atlantic Fleet

What is your position on the proposed strong mayor changes to the city charter?

I am opposed to the strong mayor proposal. I believe a group of engaged and decisive leaders creates better-informed decisions and outcomes than an individual can.

What policies would you put in place to support Lakeland’s growing culture of small businesses? 

We must create simpler and more predictable processes that make it easier for entrepreneurs to shoulder the risks associated with starting and operating small businesses. There’s far too much bureaucracy and red tape.

In your opinion, what are the three biggest challenges facing our community?

1. Protecting and preserving Lakeland’s special qualities while managing the explosive growth we will continue to experience.

2. Providing the quality education our children must have to compete in a rapidly changing global economy.

3. Maintaining reasonable tax rates while meeting the ever-increasing unfunded mandates handed down from Washington and Tallahassee.

What would be your top priority as a city commissioner?

Foster a more user-friendly relationship between city hall and the citizens of Lakeland.

Sandy Toledo

Age: 69
Family members: three grown children, two grandchildren
Occupation: Retired Teacher
Memberships/Leadership Positions/Notable Awards: Chairperson City of Lakeland Mayor’s Neighborhood Task Force, Current Secretary/Treasurer of the Polk County Chapter 32 Citrus WWII Veterans of the Battle of the Bulge Association, Flight To Honor Volunteer, Volunteer SPCA, Retired School Teacher, Volunteer Reading Tutor, Retired Social Worker, President of Lake Bonny Neighborhood Association, Member of the City of Lakeland Neighborhood Association Coalition, Member of LPD Citizen Alumni Academy Association, 2013 recipient of the LPD Volunteer of The Year Award, Recipient of Oprah Winfrey’s Community Heroes Award (received gifts & Car), Graduate of The City of Lakeland Citizen’s Academy, Graduate of The Polk County BOCC Citizen’s Academy, Graduate of Lakeland Electric Citizen’s Academy, Director Polk County Christmas Angels, a charity dedicated to Children in Foster Care, Former Member of United Nations Rights of the Women & Children International Taskforce, Volunteer at Sun n Fun Veteran’s Plaza, Founder Club Sib (a camp to reunite separated siblings), Volunteer with Risk Club (a youth leadership program), Member Polk County Adoptive Parent Association, Member Polk County Grants Alliance, Former Member Homeless Coalition, Member of University of Miami Alumni Association, Member Gateway Lion’s Club

What is your position on the proposed strong mayor changes to the city charter?

I am not in favor of a strong mayor. I have concerns regarding the cost of an increased mayor’s salary, the addition of a city manager who would answer only to the mayor, and the expense of adding a seventh commissioner. I have concern with absolute power at one person’s discretion. With the right commissioners, a strong mayor is unnecessary.

What policies would you put in place to support Lakeland’s growing culture of small businesses?

We need to provide triage services for small business owners who are not blessed with office staff designated to navigate the city system. I know the city is trying to make the process easier, but it still needs improvement.

In your opinion, what are the three biggest challenges facing our community?

1. The lack of passenger air service. It is a challenge we should prioritize.

2. A growing number of citizens who feel their voices often go unheeded

3. The need to continue and sustain new industry and grow our tax base.

What would be your top priority as a city commissioner?

I would like to work in collaboration with my fellow commissioners and build rapport between the commission and the community.

SOUTHWEST DISTRICT //

 

Jorge Fonseca

Age: 44
Family members: four children: 17, 16, and twins 14 years old. Dr. Lingamallu (wife)
Occupation: Chief Administrative Officer (Romero Medical Plaza)
Memberships/Leadership Positions/
Notable Awards: Lakeland Leadership 2017, IBEW member

What policies would you put in place to support Lakeland’s growing culture of small businesses?

We need to cut regulations and make it easier for businesses to expand. I believe in supporting entrepreneurs who want to start their own business but are unable due to financial circumstances. The city can create small business loans with low interest rates in exchange for an agreement to hire local residents.

In your opinion, what are the three biggest challenges facing our community?

1. Our education system. We need to be able to provide our kids with the opportunity to succeed.

2. Small Businesses. They are the backbone of any economy. We need to be able to attract new small businesses and entrepreneurs to create good-paying jobs, so residents don’t have to leave our city to find a job.

3. Safety. As a city we need to support our first responders. Our police department and fire department deserve the support of the city.

What would be your top priority as a city commissioner?

The people of Lakeland. I want to make sure that the city doesn’t add to their struggles.

Pablo

Pablo Sologaistoa

Age: 28
Family members: I was born to two incredible parents: Fernando and Astrid Vivian Sologaistoa. My father, who has been a truck driver for over 25 years, has been married to my mother, his wife of 29 years. I have two amazing younger siblings: Astrid Selene and Ana Sologaistoa.
Occupation: From October 2014 to November 2016, I had the privilege of serving and working at Anchor House as part of the development team. In October of last year, I resigned from Anchor House partly due to the fact that I knew I was going to be running for office. If elected, I intend to serve as a city commissioner on a full-time basis.
Memberships/Leadership Positions/Notable Awards: Currently, I attend and serve at a local church here in town called Grace City. I also have the privilege to serve on the Committee for a Strong Lakeland. As time allows, I volunteer at Gospel, Inc., a local non-profit organization that serves the homeless.

What is your position on the proposed strong mayor changes to the city charter?

Stay tuned. There is more to come on this issue.

What policies would you put in place to support Lakeland’s growing culture of small businesses?

We must continue to develop an environment that encourages creativity, innovation, and small business growth in our community. In order to do so, a serious conversation needs to be had regarding the Community Development Department. We must look to streamline and standardize the permitting and zoning processes, and foster interdepartmental communication so that we don’t delay permits and approvals. When an entrepreneur comes to city hall, we must come alongside them and show how we can work together in order to help bring their dream into realization. From a construction, architectural, and business sign point of view, we must revisit the building codes and remove any regulations that stifle innovation and creativity. I would also like to encourage reduced taxes for the first three years of any new small business.

In your opinion, what are the three biggest challenges facing our community?

1. As we grow and continue to build, we cannot ignore the black community within the Northwest District. We must invite the black community to be a part of our journey in developing as a city. Like so many other people in Lakeland, there are people in the Northwest District that have deep roots in this area that have waited a long time to see development within their community. It is time they see the fruits of their labor as well.

2. One of the greatest challenges that we currently face is the retention of the up-and-coming professionals from my generation: the millennials. Personally, I know way too many young professionals that have left Lakeland in search of better opportunities elsewhere. Like many of them, I too had the same opportunity. However, I decided to stay because I love this city and her people. We need to become a part of the solution and help bring more jobs to our city.

3. The greatest challenge that we face is upgrading and improving the infrastructure of our city. Lakeland Electric itself faces the challenge of upgrading and replacing old equipment. Undertaking a project of this magnitude will alone cost several millions of dollars. We must also take a look at our transit system. Buses run on an hourly basis in Lakeland, and we face the challenge of providing additional services as well as upgrading our fleet.

What would be your top priority as a city commissioner?

The success of any organization depends on two major factors: having a thorough understanding of its vision, mission, and strategic plan, and the organization’s culture. The city has a strategic plan that was developed in 2012. We must revisit the plan and make any changes necessary. As for the culture? Servant leadership all the way. At Southeastern, my alma mater, I studied leadership and organizational behavior. History has shown us that the most successful organizations are those that have servant leadership and team spirit at the core of who they are. I plan to do the same. Lakeland City Hall will be known for being the servant leader of all.

larry

J. Larry Durrence

Age: 77
Family members: Wife – Connie, attorney; Children: April – North Carolina State Library system, Jeff – U. S. Air Force (retired), Aviation Technician, Stephanie – Assistant State Attorney, Florida 10th Judicial Circuit, in and for Polk County, Ralph – Electrical Contractor, commercial & industrial; 11 grandchildren
Occupation: retired President of Polk State College, Higher Education Consultant, part-time
Memberships/Leadership Positions/Notable Awards: First United Methodist Church of Lakeland, The Lakeland Rotary Club, Historic Lakeland, Inc., Polk Museum of Arts, Friends of Colt Creek State Park, Lakeland Planning & Zoning Board
Leadership positions held: First Methodist – Usher; Church Council; Missions Committee, Historic Lakeland, Inc. – Board; former President (2), Polk Museum of Art – Former Second Vice President,Trustee Board of Governors, Friends of Colt Creek State Park – Board member, Lakeland Chamber of Commerce – Chairman of the Board, Board of Directors; United Way of Central Florida – Chairman of the Board, Campaign Chair, Board of Directors; Volunteers in Service to the Elderly – Board of Directors; Advisory Board; Girls, Inc. – Board of Directors; Lakeland Economic Development Council – served on Founding Board; Sun ’n Fun – Board of Directors; Served on the Boards of three banks which have been absorbed by bigger banks; Served on the Board of Directors of Chambers of Commerce in three other cities – Lexington, Kentucky; Winter Haven; and Texas City, Texas; Served on economic development agencies in three other cities – Greater Bay Area-Houston (TX) Economic Partnership; East Polk Committee of 100; Galveston County Economic Development Agency; Heart of Florida Hospital – Advisory Board (Chair and member); President, Polk Community College (Polk State is new name); Chairman, Operations Committee for the Florida Community Colleges Risk; Management Consortium; Interim President, Bluegrass Community & Technical College, Lexington, KY; Interim President, College of the Mainland (2 times), Texas City, TX; Interim President, Owensboro Community & Technical College (2 times), Owensboro, KY; Taxpayer Rights Advocate for Florida – Florida Department of Revenue; Executive Director, Florida’s Constitutional Commission on Tax & Budget Reform; City Commissioner & Mayor, City of Lakeland; President, Florida League of Cities; George Jenkins Award, Lakeland Chamber of Commerce; Jere Annis Award, Leadership Lakeland Alumni Association; George Jenkins Volunteer Award, United Way of Central Florida; (Honorary) Doctor of Public Service Degree, Florida Southern College; Hall of Fame, Polk County Public Schools

What is your position on the proposed strong mayor changes to the city charter?

I oppose it. The proposed amendment would grant the mayor almost all power over city employees, finances, contracting, and policy with no effective checks and balances left for the commission. The mayor could make decisions out of the sunshine, and costs of government would increase with less accountability to citizens.

What policies would you put in place to support Lakeland’s growing culture of small businesses?

One commissioner alone cannot enact policies; however, I would work to build consensus for the commission to work closely with the LEDC and aspiring entrepreneurs to identify issues. With a consensus, city processes could be simplified, departmental silos broken down, customer service improved, and parking issues addressed, for example.

In your opinion, what are the three biggest challenges facing our community?

1. Maintaining essential services without a big tax increase when Lakeland loses $1 million after the legislature’s new homestead exemption is approved.

2. Increasing median household income which is 10% less than Polk County. Polk is 10% below Florida, and Florida is 10% below the nation.

3. Improving schools by using innovative partnerships.

What would be your top priority as a city commissioner?

To use my broad experience to serve the best interests of all segments of our community by listening, educating myself on issues, identifying best practices in cities, collaborating with private and public organizations, making decisions based on facts, and seeking consensus on the commission.

michael_v02

Michael Dunn

Age: 45
Family: Wife – Brandi Dunn (married 23 years), Son – Lance Dunn
Occupation: Owner, Vet’s Surplus, Inc.
Memberships/Leadership Positions Notable Awards: (Currently) Vice Chairman of the City of Lakeland Code Enforcement Board, (Previously) City of Lakeland Nuisance Abatement Board, City of Lakeland Citizens Advisory Committee, City of Lakeland Citizens Police Academy, Heartland Crime Stoppers, Paint Your Heart Out Lakeland, Lakeland Downtown Kiwanis

What is your position on the proposed strong mayor changes to the city charter?

There was a time that I was in favor of the strong mayor initiative, however, after more thought on the matter, I am no longer in favor of the strong mayor.

What policies would you put in place to support Lakeland’s growing culture of small businesses?

A longtime small businessman myself, owning commercial and retail space I lease to small businesses, I have a good grasp of what owners of small businesses need. First, we need to ensure that the regulations, directives, and codes are not hindering the ability for small businesses to flourish in our city. Second, we need to readdress the 2012 sign ordinance which has posed some issues to small business. I would also continue to support the grant program that has existed in the Dixieland area and to some extent in the midtown area.

In your opinion, what are the three biggest challenges facing our community?

These three things are big on my to-do list:

1. Maintaining and improving upon the small business environment that exists in the city.

2. Building up our enterprise funds to be able to maintain and if possible reduce our tax rate.

3. Making the right choices when it comes to replacing some of our aging equipment at Lakeland Electric.

What would be your top priority as a city commissioner?

The City of Lakeland and its citizens. I will be a true representative of the people of Lakeland when it comes to making the best decisions for our future.

AT LARGE-SEAT 1 //

Kathy Smith Barsotti

 

Kathy Smith Barsotti

Age: 58
Family members: Too many to count. Family and extended family.
Occupation: Co-owner (with my husband, Larry Barsotti) of Django & Friends Dixieland Emporium
Memberships/Leadership Positions/Notable Awards: I have been a member of the Lakeland Chamber of Commerce off and on for 25 years. Central FL Bureau Chief for Southeast Travel, Chaired the SE Women in Travel Bureau, winner of the Lowell Thomas Travel Award, a twice time also ran for a news Pulitzer

What is your position on the proposed strong mayor changes to the city charter?

I will support whatever the voting majority decides.

What policies would you put in place to support Lakeland’s growing culture of small businesses?

Our city needs to look first to locals before contracting out-of-county or out-of-state work and supplies. We have some great suppliers here in Lakeland alone. Amazing artists, creative geniuses, and musicians. Support our “city taxpayers.” My, that’s a concept. I would also like to see some things streamlined to knock down some of the hurdles in a startup business. It is true that what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger. But, then again, what continually confounds us makes us crazy and broke.

In your opinion, what are the three biggest challenges facing our community?

1. Managing growth that allows our city to prosper yet not lose the “hometown” feeling.

2. Maintaining an equitable tax base for all of our citizens that still allows us to enjoy the quality of life we have become accustomed to as well as ensuring our “responsibilities” are engaged.

3. Protecting our children (our future) in what has become an ever-changing educational shootout for political gain.

What would be your top priority as a city commissioner?

To listen and act upon the concerns of our citizens.

Stephanie Madden

Stephanie Reed Madden

Age: 47
Family: Husband, Steve Madden; Children: John-Michael-24, and his wife, Ashley Lopez Madden, Amelia-21, student at Ole Miss; George-19, United States Military Academy; Robert-17, senior Lakeland High School; Thomas-15, freshman Lakeland High School; Ben-12, sixth-grader Magnolia Montessori School.
Occupation: Small Business Owner, Madden Branded Goods
Memberships/Leadership Positions Notable Awards: Leadership Lakeland Class XXII, 22 year member and Past President of the Junior League of Greater Lakeland, responsible for relocation of headquarters including sale of warehouse and purchase of the Sorosis Building on Lake Morton. Education/Literacy focus: Read to Succeed Co-chair, JLGL Education VP, Success by 6 and Polk Vision’s Literacy Council member; LHS’s parent teacher partnership, Young Life of Polk County, and Lakeland Assemblies Cotillion Club board member. Other Community Service: Lighthouse Ministries Board of Directors, SEU’s Leadership Forum O2 planning committee, Lakeland Lacrosse and Daughter of the American Revolution. Stephanie and her family attend Grace City Church.

What is your position on the proposed strong mayor changes to the city charter?

I like that we have the opportunity to elect seven different commissioners from a variety of life experiences to represent our constituents and make decisions for our city, and I do not believe that Lakeland needs a strong mayor to keep us moving forward.

What policies would you put in place to support Lakeland’s growing culture of small businesses?

I would highlight Joe Tedder’s leadership at the tax collector’s office as an example of using a customer-service approach to government. I hear a lot of business owners say they have felt like Lakeland is a city of “No” when it comes to starting or expanding their businesses. I do think we can remove some of the red tape. The first place to start is with a customer-centric leadership style. I would not be in business 22 years later without streamlining processes and adopting best practices to better serve our clients, and that is what Joe Tedder did.

In your opinion, what are the three biggest challenges facing our community?

1. Becoming a city of “YES.” It was so cool to hear that the Orlando Magic followed our success story with the Detroit Tigers, when looking for a new home for their development team. They admired our long-standing partnership, and when they approached our city, they said we “welcomed them with open arms.” I would like to hear that from more of our residents and business owners who do business with the city.

2. Dispelling the myth about the quality of Lakeland’s educational options. Because our schools are lumped in with the entire county, many businesses and employees do not give us a second glance after Googling our school grades; instead they locate somewhere else. I have had my children in private, charter, magnet, Montessori, virtual school, and now they are all in good old-fashioned public school, and we have found amazing teachers and administrators at each one.

3. Growing pains associated with our downtown development efforts. I am encouraged by the proposed parking solutions, the potential road diet on South Florida, which could provide safety and economic development along that corridor, and the propositions for more residential options on the acreage behind the police department. Developing our downtown area is a priority that comes with challenges. We need wisdom going forward as we strategize on each unique area of our expanding downtown.

What would be your top priority as a city commissioner?

I would like to attract more high-skill, high-wage jobs, so our college students and millennials have opportunities to develop their careers right here in Lakeland. I think one of the best things we can do to position us for growth and attract businesses to Lakeland is to leverage our infrastructure of fiber and become a gigabit city. I believe that it could become a catalyst for economic growth, educational opportunities, and governmental innovation. Affordable, abundant bandwidth is a necessity to thrive in the decades to come. Our strategic location on the I-4 corridor is such an asset, but businesses and residents alike often consider high-speed internet capacity one of the most important factors when evaluating potential neighborhoods. Bandwidth affects economic development, public safety, education, job training, e-government, job creation, entrepreneurship, everything! Whether we attract a partner to lease our fiber (like Google) or light up our dark fiber utilizing new millimeter wave fixed radios to finish a fiber-to-the-premises solution, I would love to accelerate the deployment of a next-generation network in Lakeland.

Jim Malless

James (Jim) Malless

Age: 61

Family: Karen Seggerman, my wife. My mom, Francis, three brothers, and a sister all live in Indianapolis
Occupation: Owner Wireless Planning Services, LLC
Memberships/Leadership Positions/Notable Awards: Kiwanis Club of Lakeland, Past President, Leadership Lakeland Class 24, PMOA Board of Governors. Member of Historic Lakeland Inc., and two-term president. Represented my neighborhood in the master planning processes with FUMC and FSC

What is your position on the proposed strong mayor changes to the city charter?

I do not support the Citizen’s Committee charter changes. I believe that the proposed changes do not allow for the proper balance of power between the city commission and the mayor.

What policies would you put in place to support Lakeland’s growing culture of small businesses?

Simplify the Land Development Regulations so you do not have to hire a planner and an attorney to understand the rules and go through the process gauntlet. There are two important caveats: The first is the city cannot reduce health and safety rules, such as the building codes, as they serve a real purpose. The second is to maintain Lakeland’s famous quality of life.

There may be some cases where the city can help small businesses, making sure owners know the rules and that the rules are only in place to protect the public. We can do this with pamphlets and partnering with the Lakeland Area Chamber of Commerce on small business training.

In your opinion, what are the three biggest challenges facing our community

1. Making Lakeland work for everyone. A recent United Way ALICE report stated that, “As a result, 51 percent of Polk households, or nearly 116,000 families and individuals, are living below the ALICE threshold and are struggling to afford basic needs.” The city needs to create an environment for the formation and growth of small and large businesses. This requires that we continue to develop and support our tourism, healthcare, the arts/cultural organizations, educational, and aviation-related industries. We need to find ways to help the Polk County School Board to improve the educational outcomes of students, and we need to welcome and value teachers.

2. Both a challenge and an opportunity is the fact that 402 of the approximately 2,500 +/- city employees are eligible to retire right now. We also know that 196 employees will exit via the Drop program by 2020. This represents over 12,500 years of service to Lakeland residents that will be lost. The challenge is the number of people we need to hire, and do we build internal talent or do we buy it on the open market? Clearly we will do some of both.

3. What to do with Lakeland Electric? Units 2 and 3 are old generation units and will need to be replaced in the next seven to 10 years. There are many issues in replacing these units. What fuel source for diversity and what technology? When to retire the units? How to replace the generating capacity? Do we partner with someone to build a new unit? Do we buy capacity from the Power Pool? What role will renewables play in the generation mix? Big issues and big opportunity.

What would be your top priority as a city commissioner?

The city’s focus needs to be to elevate the economic opportunity for all Lakeland citizens. This means making Lakeland work for everyone. I will continue to work to simplify the Land Development Regulations and improve the code-enforcement process. The city’s LDRs have become so complex and burdensome. The city needs to rewrite the LDRs to protect Lakeland’s unique attributes while making it easier to develop in the city. These are not mutually exclusive goals. This will help both small and large businesses be successful.

Laurel Pullo

Laurel Pullo

Age: 42
Family: None in Lakeland
Occupation: Supervisor/Server

What is your position on the proposed strong mayor changes to the city charter?

Lakeland has survived well to date with the current organization of its government. Strong mayor gives too much power to one person and lends itself to manipulation by politically motivated donors.

What policies would you put in place to support Lakeland’s growing culture of small businesses?

Streamline requirements (licensing, codes); incentives for new businesses (tax breaks for x amount of time); appoint liaison to help new business owners get answers and pointed in the right directions quickly

In your opinion, what are the three biggest challenges facing our community?

1. Lack of diversity within our government

2. Support for small businesses to encourage long-term economic growth

3. Lack of access to our government (meetings are during “normal business hours” when most residents are unable to attend). Meeting schedules should vary to allow an opportunity for more people to attend/be heard in person without having to take time off from work. This creates a disconnect between the people and the government, and fails to foster a true sense of community.

What would be your top priority as a city commissioner?

Listening to the residents of the city and being able to set aside my own beliefs if they don’t agree with the majority.