Five Takeaways From the First Winter Park Mayoral Debate

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With the deadline for qualification in the 2021 Winter Park mayoral race behind us, the time has come for voters to hear more from candidates Phil Anderson and Sarah Sprinkel on their ideals and positioning. The two participated in the campaign season’s first debate Tuesday evening. Rollins College Democracy Project and WP Voter partnered to host the virtual event on Facebook Live, which was moderated by Sonni Abatta, former TV anchor-turned-Orlando-based blogger, podcast host, and public figure.

The event lasted just under 90 minutes and addressed several hot button topics. The candidates agreed upon these four topics prior to the debate: diversity and inclusion, the role of the mayor and governing philosophy, people and places with respect to development and city projects, and the role technology plays in Winter Park. The latter part of the debate was dedicated to voter-generated questions that had not yet been presented to the candidates.

Here are five takeaways from the first debate.

Both candidates have thought about efforts to increase diversity.

Following introductions of each candidate, Abatta kicked off the debate with the first question asking either candidate about the meaning of diversity and how either has governed and would continue to govern in Winter Park.

Anderson was the first to respond, focusing on his recent support of an amendment that impacted representation in Winter Park’s citizen boards. “Diversity is a really big thing I have been supportive of for, really, a lot of years, but the most notable thing is I spoke out when we were comparing and getting ready to put out charter amendment seven,” Anderson said. “Charter amendment seven changes how we appoint all our citizen boards. In the past, up until last March, they were all appointed by the mayor. Today… there’s more diversity, meaning there’s more persons of color on our boards, there are more cross-sections of experience, different neighborhoods, different experiences and I think that’s what we can celebrate; that’s a first step.”

Sprinkel followed, referencing how her time as a teacher created emphasis on diversity and inclusion in her life. “When it comes to how that looks in my tenure as a mayor, this is some of the specifics,” Sprinkel said. “Number one, I want a youth on every single board… I want to be inclusive in the sense that I want an age inclusion, I want to make sure that we are looking at everybody and we may have to change some things to get more people involved, but inclusion to me means just that. It means bringing in more people, bringing in lots of different people, lots of different neighborhoods…”

Residents can expect changes to the timing and structure of commission meetings.

Also included within the topic of diversity and inclusion, the candidates were asked how they would change citizens’ access to participate in city commission meetings. Currently, the meetings occur on Wednesdays twice a month starting at 3:30 p.m. This start time prevents many citizens from attending the meetings due to work or childcare responsibilities, and the meetings can sometimes last up until or past midnight on occasions when controversial items are being addressed.

Sprinkel’s proposed solution is to have meetings start at 5:30 p.m. and close at around 8:30 p.m. She would like to hold a strategic planning session where the team of commissioners and mayor can address the format to make this feasible, adding workshops and additional meetings as needed to supplement the commission meetings.

Workshops also play a key role in Anderson’s approach. He suggested reverting to a method that was used under prior leadership from 2008-2011 when he was on the city commission: to hold more workshops to allow discussion on controversial issues to begin before commission meetings. He also proposed adding time for public input and questions to the workshop format.

The candidates don’t quite agree on the role of the mayor.

When asked what kind of deference they would give to citizen advisory boards and committees with respect to their insights and recommendations, both candidates agreed that these groups provide valuable information. However, their position on the role of a mayor differed.

“The only role that the mayor has is to do two things: the mayor has to run the meetings and the mayor has to sign the documents,” Sprinkel said. “Other than that, [city commission members] each have one vote. The nine years I was commissioner I knew my vote counted just as much as the mayor’s. So, it’s not anything that’s new for me.”

“You know, I think this is where my opponent and I would disagree,” Anderson said in his response. “I think the mayor has a tremendous role. He is the team leader. He’s got to get a group of people with a lot of different ideas up on this dias to come together. The mayor sets the tone at the top. He then uses that tone at the top to influence how you get to policy decisions and I think that’s a big, big deal.”

Winter Park should modernize, but still maintain its iconic charm.

When a proposed development project such as the Winter Park Library & Events Center or Orange Avenue Overlay (OAO) comes along in Winter Park, it is not out of the ordinary to hear opposing stances on the importance of development and modernization versus maintaining the city’s famous, beloved charm. The candidates were asked to discuss their take on whether Winter Park is more of a museum to be protected or a living entity meant to evolve.

“We are going to embrace the 21st century, we’ve done that,” Anderson said. “But there’s an inherent piece of who we are and that’s that the residents have overwhelmingly said that the number one thing about Winter Park is its village charm… We are going to grow, we are going to modernize, but we’re going to do it with respect for the 140 years that have created the home values that we have and the businesses that we have in place.”

“I value highly all of our history,” Sprinkel said. “I’m also very proud of the fact that I’ve lived here for 49 years. In those 49 years, I have seen so many changes, my husband for 66 years… Change happens, change occurs. We have to prepare ourselves for that. Darwin always told us that ‘It’s not the strong who survive, it’s the adaptable that survive.’ We have to be adaptable.”

Technology improvements are underway and will continue.

The fourth topic addressed during Tuesday’s debate was focused on technology and its role in the City of Winter Park.

On the topic of internet provider options and bandwidth issues, Sprinkel stated “we are well on the way to [improving internet options]. As many of you all know, we have already been burying underground our electric lines and along with that we decided to bury our fiber optics. So, we have been doing this for some time and we are doing it because we believe it’s going to be just what our city needs.”

“There are great things to learn from crises, and this is one of the biggest things to learn from the COVID crisis,” Anderson followed. “It’s that so many people are living and learning at home and for any of us who have experienced a garbled voice on a Zoom call, you know we need more bandwidth, we need better internet services, and we need a backbone to deliver it. So, part of it is about competition, but part of it’s about investing in the infrastructure, and the city’s done this before.”

The candidates also addressed smart city technology, including traffic and transportation monitoring, safety and security, health and wellness initiatives, and connected utilities. Both Anderson and Sprinkel are supportive of the efforts toward improving these aspects and the backbone that the city has already begun developing in this endeavor.

The entire debate is accessible for viewing on the WP Voter Facebook page.

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