Winter Park City Commission takes on Chamber’s slight
Image via City of Winter Park Communications Department.

Winter Park
Could the Chamber's city lease be in jeopardy?

Fallout continues from the back-and-forth indignation that erupted over a single question posed to Winter Park mayoral candidates last Friday at the Winter Park Chamber of Commerce.

Now the City Commission is getting involved.

The hot-button question had accused the City Commission of collusion. Candidate Phil Anderson rebuked the Chamber for allowing a “baseless” charge to be made through a question. Anderson later rushed Chamber President Betsy Gardner Eckbert. They exchanged words. The Chamber’s board suggested Gardner Eckbert felt threatened, denounced Anderson, and demanded a public apology.

Anderson apologized. The two sides worked things out and issued a statement Monday calling the matter “an unfortunate incident.” It said Anderson and the Chamber have since “come to terms with the matter and look forward to placing it behind us in an effort to bring our community together.”

Not so fast, the Winter Park City Commission essentially said Tuesday.

There’s still the matter of the Chamber’s apparent slight toward the City Commission.

The matter came up last Friday in a question asked at the Chamber’s mayoral candidates’ debate. The wording accused the City Commission of “blatantly colluding to fight the Henderson project.” That was a reference to a controversial hotel project, which a developer had withdrawn in January.

So on Tuesday the City Commission scheduled a special meeting for Thursday afternoon to “discuss accusations made in the Chamber of Commerce mayoral candidate debate on Friday, February 5th, and take action as deemed appropriate.”

To make it interesting, the City Commission put the Chamber of Commerce’s office lease on the table. Literally, to show how urgent the City Commissioners apparently consider the matter.

The City Commission’s meeting agenda packet includes a copy of the Chamber’s 99-year lease for offices in a city-owned building in downtown Winter Park, signed in 2005.

The special meeting is set for the day after a regularly scheduled City Commission meeting, which already had been canceled because not enough commissioners were willing to meet in person to assure a quorum. It was requested by Commissioners Sheila DeCiccio and Marty Sullivan.

Sullivan said there has been some confusion on the matter with the Chamber. He said the lease could be a topic of discussion.

Earlier, City Commissioner Todd Weaver wrote in a Facebook post Friday that he was “aghast” at the debate question’s wording.

“The Chamber and its CEO Betsy Eckbert owe my colleagues and the candidates an apology for allowing such slanderous accusations in their public forum,” he demanded.

The Chamber stressed earlier that the question had been submitted by a member of the public, and that its source — not the Chamber — had been made clear when it was asked.

Anderson, a businessman and former City Commissioner, faces Sarah Sprinkel, a former City Commissioner and retired teacher, in the March 9 city election to be the next Mayor.

At Friday’s debate, Sprinkel responded to the hot-button question by talking about the need for strategic planning. She didn’t expressly respond to any implication that corruption was involved.

Anderson took umbrage with what he called a “baseless” charge against the City Commission. He said it was inexcusable for the Chamber to ask a question worded like that. After the debate, he approached Gardner Eckbert, leading to the exchange that escalated emotions.

Scott Powers

Scott Powers is an Orlando-based political journalist with 30+ years’ experience, mostly at newspapers such as the Orlando Sentinel and the Columbus Dispatch. He covers local, state and federal politics and space news across much of Central Florida. His career earned numerous journalism awards for stories ranging from the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster to presidential elections to misplaced nuclear waste. He and his wife Connie have three grown children. Besides them, he’s into mystery and suspense books and movies, rock, blues, basketball, baseball, writing unpublished novels, and being amused. Email him at scott@floridapolitics.com.


9 comments

  • Gigi Papa

    February 9, 2021 at 10:15 pm

    I watched the public forum hosted by WP Chamber of Commerce and found Mr. Anderson’s behavior to the last question bizarre. The same question had been asked of Mrs Sprinkle and she was able to answer it without becoming unhinged. All WP Commissioners are on record as supporters of Mr. Anderson and as a WP resident I hope the special meeting this Thursday is not an attempt to punish the WP Chamber of Commerce for allowing the public to speak.

  • Donna Leuck

    February 10, 2021 at 5:18 am

    Phil Anderson grabbing a microphone out of anyone’s hands let alone a female and then verbally intimidating and threatening her is a crime. I was on a zoom call of his and asked if he attended the BLM organization march on Park Avenue and received a verbal scolding from him. He is not what the city needs and very divisive and condescending.

  • Katherine Johnson

    February 10, 2021 at 11:09 am

    @Donna Leuck, After Anderson confirmed he attended the BLM march on Park Ave, the questioner started spewing off conspiracy theories about BLM being a terrorist organization (was that you? because that was ridiculous). Anderson pushed back on those crazy accusations appropriately.

    To me, it’s scary that Sprinkel didn’t even bat an eyelash when the commissioners were accused of being criminals (collusion by public officials is a crime in FL). These are the same people who she will be teammates with, if she’s elected. Sprinkel’s “positive response” is nothing to laud.

    Anderson clearly understood the gravity of the question and accusations, took a moment to think before he spoke, and responded appropriately. His thoughtful responses, experience, and knowledge earned my vote.

  • Justin Whitacre

    February 10, 2021 at 11:19 am

    Why is no one talking about how the moderator of that debate is a registered LOBBYIST? Not only is that vastly inappropriate, it breaks so many rules of journalism ethics.

  • Donna Leuck

    February 10, 2021 at 11:36 am

    @Katherine Johnson. Yes that is me and the organization BLM burning down Portland and other cities is a Marxist/terrorist organization. I will not support any candidate who thinks that is ok. Out of the other side of Phil’s mouth he wants to add Police Officers in Winter Park. Can’t have it both ways either you support defund the police or you don’t. After he took my question and conversation “off line” funny I have not heard back from him as promised. Every person on that zoom call with the exception of myself and maybe a couple others were staged supporters. Name calling me crazy makes you look like a lunatic that supports a man who threatens a woman.

    Sarah did not bat an eye because she is a professional and looked past the question and gave an answer. All of the commissioners going on the record supporting Phil Anderson is kind of a slap in her face anyway and this really diminishes their ability to work with whomever is elected from where I am sitting. Why would she stand and have their back when they have openly campaigned against her.

    The commissioners cancelling today’s meeting because their feelings are hurt is not what we elected them for. Oh wait they are calling for a special meeting tomorrow and added the Chamber’s 99 year old lease on the addendum. That is very threatening in nature and I hope the Chamber of Commerce does not back down. I said from the beginning Betsy from the Chamber should have filed a police report for assault against Phil Anderson.

  • Gigi Papa

    February 10, 2021 at 1:57 pm

    Justin, Please educate us with your knowledge of “The LOBBYIST”?

    Katherine, I won’t say you are crazy for believing that Mr. Anderson’s unhinged behavior was justified. The facts are he removed a microphone from the Chamber President and threatened her because he did not appreciate the question. You are entitled to your opinion but the facts speak for themselves. Let’s not try to accuse Sarah of not being a team player because she answered the question without attacking anyone. We need a Mayor and Commissioners who respect the residents of Winter Park and have self control. Every Voice Matters #EVM

  • Gigi Papa

    February 10, 2021 at 2:38 pm

    Is this the guy you mean:

    In addition to his professional work, Lee is active in several business and community related organizations in Central Florida and is currently Chair of the Winter Park Chamber of Commerce Government Affairs Committee. Lee is also a currently member of the prestigious 2019-2020 Orange County Charter Review Commission
    “To me, the opportunity to be of service to my community is a duty, an honor, and a privilege,” said Steinhauer. I am a service-oriented person, and I find tremendous happiness and fulfillment in being able to use what skills and talents God has given me to serve others and better my community.”

    We often see the persona of an attorney as self-centered, yet Steinhauer contradicted that stereotype. “It is one of the main reasons why I went to law school and became an attorney. And I have always fought harder for others than I ever would for myself.”

  • Justin

    February 10, 2021 at 4:11 pm

    Yes, that’s him. Not saying anything about his character. I don’t know him personally, and I don’t doubt that he’s a great person. I just don’t think it was appropriate for him to moderate the debate, given his status as a lobbyist.

    Personally, I think both Anderson and Sprinkel are service-oriented people. I just happen to agree with Anderson’s policies and vision over Sprinkel’s.

Comments are closed.


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