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Bryan Nelson’s $5 million mistake

Uh-oh.

Orange County Commissioner Bryan Nelson, who resigned his seat effective April 24 to run for Apopka Mayor, has staked his campaign on a specious claim that under first-term Mayor Joe Kilsheimer’s watch the city’s cash reserves have dwindled from $40 million to $3 million.

Nelson, a former state Representative, has cast himself as a fiscal conservative in his bid for the top spot in Orange County’s second largest city. The race is non-partisan, but Nelson is a registered Republican and Kilsheimer is a registered Democrat.

The Apopka race has serious implications in Orange County, where Democrats outnumber Republicans by more than 120,000 voters, but where Republicans hold a current majority of seats on the county commission. A win by Kilsheimer in Apopka would make life a lot easier for Orange County mayoral hopeful – and current Orange County Sheriff – Jerry Demings, a Democrat who faces two Republicans, County Commissioner Pete Clarke and businessman Rob Panepinto in the countywide race.

In the Apopka race, Nelson has hit Kilsheimer in campaign literature and in public appearances on the city’s budget reserves. Nelson wrote in a Oct. 28 blog post that “we must … stop digging Apopka into a hole,” and declared that “Apopka’s reserves are now less than 3 percent.”

But Nelson might be starting to realize this isn’t the hill to die on, as Kilsheimer, a former Orlando Sentinel reporter, is proving that he still remembers a thing or two from his 20-year career in the news business. Namely, how to assemble facts and present them in compelling fashion. Go figure.

At the Jan. 31 mayoral debate, Kilsheimer read from the city’s budget book and laid out exactly where Apopka’s general fund reserves stood at the beginning of the fiscal year: $8.6 million.

Then in a Wednesday post on his campaign Facebook page, Kilsheimer went further and walked viewers through a step-by-step tutorial on how they could look up the city’s financial status themselves via the city’s website.

Kilsheimer demonstrated in no uncertain terms that the city’s unrestricted general fund reserves stood at $8.6 million at the beginning of the current fiscal year, not the $3 million that Nelson has been pushing in campaign literature.

Kilsheimer further showed viewers how to look up the city’s most recent audited financial statements, and directed them to the section that states very clearly the city’s actual cash on hand total across all accounts: $59 million.

So, what about that $40 million figure Nelson’s been throwing around in campaign literature? It’s unclear where he pulled that from.

Kilsheimer goes so far as to say it’s “a complete mystery,” but the simplest explanation is usually the most likely, and in this case it’s pretty clear Nelson either has a loose grip on basic arithmetic or he’s still practicing some kind of math he learned in Tallahassee.

The other issue in the race?

Nelson is a lifelong Apopka resident and insurance agent, whose campaign is underscored by his relationship to Kilsheimer’s predecessor, John Land, who spent 60 years a Apopka Mayor before his 54-46 defeat four years ago. Land died of a stroke at the age of 93 six months after the loss.

The late Kit Land Nelson, Bryan Nelson’s aunt as well as the namesake for Apopka’s main park, was John Land’s sister. When John Land was alive, Nelson often affectionately referred to the him as “Uncle John.”

Nelson’s claim in the January debate was that they “want to take their city back.”

Kilsheimer obviously thinks that means going back to the good ol’ days when deals were done behind closed doors. Looks like the voters will get to decide.

The election is March 13.

Matt Fitzpatrick to run for Orange County School Board chair

Matthew Fitzpatrick, a former teacher and vice principal in Orange County, has filed to run for the countywide chair position on the Orange County School Board.

Fitzpatrick, 50, of Apopka, is an Orange Technical College administrator who previously ran for the School Board District 7 seat in 2016, losing to Christine Moore.

He enters a countywide, nonpartisan contest with current School Board Member Nancy Robbinson of Orlando and Orange County teacher Robert Allen Prater of Orlando. They all seek to succeed School Board Chairman Bill Sublette, who aborted a campaign for Orange County mayor last month and is not seeking re-election to the school board.

Fitzpatrick, an Ohio native and a graduate of Lyman High School in Longwood, earned a bachelor’s degree in social studies education from the University of Central Florida and a master’s degree in education leadership from Nova Southeastern University. He has spent 26 years in education, teaching at Boone and Apopka high schools and Apopka Middle School, and in school leadership posts including the Orange County district athletic director. He now is assistant director of the district’s Winter Park campus for Orange Technical College.

Like many teachers, Fitzpatrick said he is frustrated with the testing regimens, mandates, and scripts pushed down onto the schools. He expressed strong alarm about the high turnover of teachers he’s witnessed, a survey that shows most teachers are looking for other jobs, and, in the universities, the reported growing shortage of students choosing to enroll in education.

“It’s driving teachers out of the field,” he said. “Teachers are losing passion.”

While Fitzpatrick praised the Orange County Schools system for having a lot of positive things, he also said he said he is convinced the concerns must be addressed both in Tallahassee and by the school board level.

“I think right now what we need more than anything in education is people in leadership roles who actually know how it works,” Fitzpatrick said. “A lot of times we have people in positions of making decisions and they have no idea about the inner workings of how we are helping students reach their goals and dreams, whether it be in a college or in a career.

“There is a lot of tension right now in education, especially in public education,” he added.

Fitzpatrick has been married for 25 years. He and his wife and three children live in Apopka.

UCF presidential search narrows to eight candidates including Provost Dale Whittaker

The University of Central Florida Presidential Search Committee on Thursday narrowed a list of more than 40 applicants for the school’s presidency to eight semifinalists including the university’s current Provost and Executive Vice President Dale Whittaker and four candidates whose applications were not previously released.

Whittaker, the number-two executive at UCF since 2014, is joined on the list of semifinalists by sitting presidents at the University of North Dakota and the University of Akron, by four vice presidents of various universities, and by a former university vice-chancellor.

The list of semifinalists is:

James Dean, former executive vice chancellor and provost, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill;

Kelvin Droegemeier, vice president for research, University of Oklahoma;

Suresh Garimella, executive vice president for research and partnerships, Purdue University;

Venu Govindaraju, vice president for research and economic development, University at Buffalo;

Mark Kennedy, president, University of North Dakota;

James Weyhenmeyer, professor and vice president of research and economic development, Georgia State University;

— Whittaker; and

— Matthew Wilson, president, University of Akron.

The applications of Garimella, Govindaraju, Kennedy, and Wilson were late entries, arriving Thursday just before the committee meeting, and had not been previously released.

The committee is narrowing the field in the search for someone to succeed UCF President John Hitt, who is retiring in June after nearly 26 years of presiding over the university.

UCF late candidates include executives from Rochester, Oklahoma, no political figures

As the University of Central Florida presidential search committee meets Thursday to draw up a list of finalists, six new candidate names emerged, including a research vice president of the University of Oklahoma and provost at the University of Rochester, but no Florida political figures.

The UCF search to find a successor to President John Hitt now has 37 candidates. Unlike other recent Florida university presidential searches, no political figures have emerged as candidates.

New to the consideration with applications received Wednesday and released Thursday morning are Robert L. Clark Jr., the provost and senior vice president for research at the University of Rochester, in Rochester, N.Y.; and Kelvin K. Droegemeier, the vice president for research at the University of Oklahoma.

They join a list of previously-announced candidates apparently topped by current UCF Provost and Executive Vice President A. Dale Whittaker, and including  James Dean, former provost and executive vice chancellor of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; Amit Chakma, president and vice chancellor of the University of Western Ontario in London, Ontario, Canada; Jeffrey Herbst, past president of Colgate University in Hamilton, N.Y.; and James Weyhenmeyer, vice president for research at Georgia State University in Atlanta.

The UCF presidential search committee is meeting Thursday at the Fairwinds Alumni Center at UCF to review the applications and try to narrow down the list to a group of semi-finalists.

Stephanie Murphy offers bill to restrict sensitive information to people with clearance

As the White House responds to reports that former aide Rob Porter was not the only official potentially working with highly sensitive information without first being properly vetted, Democratic U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy introduced a bill Wednesday to try to make the law require necessary security clearances.

Murphy’s bill, her office stated in a news release, aims to codify what she called the “Coats Rule,” referencing Dan Coats, President Donald Trump‘s director of national intelligence, who declared in congressional testimony this week that individuals with interim security clearances should have limited access to secret information.

Murphy, of Winter Park, who once was a national security specialist with the U.S. Department of Defense, titled her bill the “Protect America’s Secrets Act.” She also serves on the House Armed Service Committee and is co-chair of the National Security Task Force for the House Democratic Caucus.

“As our country faces unprecedented cyber and intelligence threats, protecting our most sensitive information must be one of our top national security priorities,” Murphy said. “The Coats Rule’ is simple: individuals in the White House and throughout the federal government who receive interim security clearances should have limited access to highly sensitive classified information. As a former national security specialist, I know America’s adversaries won’t hesitate to exploit an employee’s undisclosed vulnerabilities through whatever means necessary, including blackmail.”

The bill intends to prohibit any U.S. government employee, including an employee working in the Executive Office of the President, from being granted access to “highly sensitive” information unless and until that employee has been cleared through an appropriate investigation. The issue arose last week with reports that Porter had attended highly-classified briefings and handled classified documents without clearance.

The term “highly sensitive” is defined in law and encompasses the United States’ most closely-held secrets. The Coats Rule would prevent individuals with interim security clearances from gaining access to the President’s Daily Brief, a highly classified summary prepared by the intelligence community that provides the president and a small group of executive branch officials with an update on world events and our nation’s most sensitive intelligence activities.

“As someone who has previously obtained one of the highest security clearances while working on special operations at the Department of Defense, I know that protecting this kind of sensitive information is necessary to keeping our troops, our intelligence officers, and our nation safe,” Murphy said. “My bill does not prevent a president from selecting advisors of their choice; however, it does require that these White House aides pass a background investigation and achieve a permanent security clearance before accessing our nation’s most sensitive information, including the Presidential Daily Brief.

Second Democrat challenges Sam Killebrew in HD 41

Democrat Alex Perkins filed paperwork Monday to run for House District 41, the Polk County-based seat currently held by Winter Haven Republican Rep. Sam Killebrew.

Perkins, who lives in Davenport, joins Winter Haven Democrat Carmelo Garcia in the primary race for the seat. The pair are on a level playing field as far as fundraising goes.

Garcia entered the race back in May, and despite the 9-month head start in the race he has yet to report any campaign contributions.

Garcia also carries some baggage – he was arrested on charges of grand theft the same day he filed for HD 41 over accusations he had written bad checks in 2016, though the Osceola County State Attorney’s Office dropped the charges in August.

Killebrew has held the seat since 2016 and is heading toward his term term in the House. Through the end of January, he had raised $42,600 for his re-election bid and had $36,910 on hand.

In past election cycles, HD 41 has had a decidedly Republican tilt.

The district voted plus-5 for Donald Trump in 2016 even though there are 8,000 more registered Democrats than Republicans within the district.

Former Rep. John Wood won the seat in 2012 with a 52-49 victory over Democrat Karen Welzel, followed by a 59-41 drubbing of Democrat Celestyne Williams in 2014. In 2016, Killebrew bested former circuit court judge Bob Doyel 53-47.

Those margins could shift if the so-called “blue wave” hasn’t petered out by November.

UCF Provost Dale Whittaker among 31 candidates so far for presidency

A handful of serious candidates have applied to become the next University of Central Florida president, including current UCF Provost Dale Whittaker and current or former top officials from North Carolina, Ontario and Colgate, with two days remaining before the application deadline.

Of 31 candidates who have applied for the job that comes open July 1 when UCF President John Hitt retires after nearly 26 years, only a small handful reported any experience in top leadership positions at universities or business.

So far, no politicians have applied yet, though they still have until Thursday to get applications in. The salary will be negotiated but Hitt leaves with a pay in excess of $500,000 a year.

On paper, Whittaker, who applied last week, is among the top candidates, perhaps alongside James Dean, former provost and executive vice chancellor of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; Amit Chakma, president and vice chancellor of the University of Western Ontario in London, Ontario, Canada; Jeffrey Herbst, past president of Colgate University in Hamilton, N.Y.; and James Weyhenmeyer, vice president for research at Georgia State University in Atlanta.

The UCF presidential search committee meets Thursday morning at 9 a.m. at the Fairwinds Alumni Center to review all the applications and whittle down the pool to a list of semifinalists.

Whittaker has been Hitt’s top vice president and UCF’s chief academic officer since 2014 and would be seen as the natural heir to Hitt’s policies that have been widely embraced by the UCF Board of Trustees and the Florida Board of Governors. He also has extensive experience as both a vice president and a professor at two other major public research universities, Purdue University in Indiana, and Texas A&M University.

Competition includes Dean, who, until September held a comparable position to Whittaker’s, but at UNC-Chapel Hill, a university that has many things that UCF aspires to, including universal national recognition for its overall academic program.

Dean stepped down as UNC-Chapel Hill provost last fall, he explained in his UCF application cover letter, “to seek a position as a university president, and to write a book, which is intended to help business people, especially those serving on boards of trustees, to better understand universities.”

Chakma is the only sitting president of a university who has applied for the UCF presidency so far. He’s been the chief executive at the 28,000-student university generally known as Western University since 2009, and before that held appointments in both the leadership and academia of other Canadian universities.

Herbst may be a tempting choice, considering that, like Dean, he is very available, currently between major jobs. He brings experience as a president of an Ivy League school, having served five years as Colgate’s president. Before that was provost at Miami University in Ohio, a public university with a well-regarded academic reputation; and was a department chair and political science professor at Princeton University.

Herbst left Colgate to become president and chief executive officer of the Newseum, a journalism and freedom of speech museum in Washington D.C. However, he resigned that post in August as the Newseum board launched a fiscal review of that institute’s chronic financial struggles.

Weyhenmeyer is at a university very much like UCF in a key way: an urban research university, dedicated to meshing the university’s research and academic programs with the industrial technology of the region. That is what Weyhenmeyer has been in charge of as vice president for research and economic development since 2011. Georgia State also is huge like UCF, boasting 52,000 students, according to Weyhenmeyer’s application.

Other candidates so far included Brian J.R. Stevenson, past president and vice chancellor of Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada; Richard L. Brown, executive vice chancellor for administration and finance at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga; Richard Pestell, president of the Pennsylvania Cancer and Regenerative Medicine Center in Doylestown, Pa.; and Anne Garrett, superintendent of the Haywood County School District in Waynesville, N.C.

Carlos Smith tops Orange County legislative candidates, raising $23K

Democratic state Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith picked up his campaign-fundraising pace in early January for his 2018 re-election effort in Florida House District 49, bringing in nearly $24,000 even as his only opponent dropped out of the race.

Smith, of Orlando, reported that his campaign raised $23,838 in the first eight days of January prior to the start of the 2018 Florida Legislative Session, and that money came in more than 131 checks, including seven for the maximum $1,000. The haul more than doubled his campaign receipts for this cycle, to $42,793 received, leaving him with about $35,000 in the bank at the start of February.

Late in the month Smith’s only opponent, Republican Jose “Pepito” Aponte of Orlando, withdrew.

“I’m proud to once again have real grassroots support without the need to rely on corporate money to fund our campaign,” Smith stated in an email Monday. “That means we will have to work harder and it will take longer to raise the money we need to win, but that’s okay. Our constituents deserve someone who will represent them, not the usual special interests.”

Smith led all Orange County-based candidates for the Florida Legislature in money raised in January, though one other candidate accumulated more donations.

Vying for what is expected to be an open seat in House District 47 in north and central Orange County, Democrat Anna Eskamani raised $17,611 in the month, topping Smith by drawing that haul from 200 individual checks, with just four of the maximum $1,000. She now has raised $168,600, and finished January with about $127,000 in the bank.

She has two opponents including Republican Mikaela Nix of Orlando who just entered the race in the closing days of January and reported just a $100 self-loan in her financial statement.

Winter Park Republican Stockton Reeves reported raising $4,975 through nine contributions in January. That brings his total campaign receipts to $101,145, including $90,000 he lent his campaign at the start. He’s got $95,000 in the bank.

They’re all shooting for the seat held by Republican state Rep. Mike Miller of Winter Park, who is running for Congress.

Republican state Rep. Bobby Olszewski of Winter Garden reported raising $11,550 in 16 checks during January for his re-election bid in House District 44 in southwestern Orange County. Olszewski, who was elected in a special election in October, has raised $37,300 in three and a half months, and had about $30,000 left heading into February.

Three Democrats are running to take him on this year, and two of them had modestly-solid fundraising months in January. Mathew Matin of Winter Garden reported raising $5,745 in January, including a $550 loan from himself and 57 other checks. That brought his campaign’s total contributions to $7,780, with about $6,400 in the bank.

Eduardo Dominguez of Orlando reported raising $2,525 in cash and receiving another $9,000 in in-kind contributions, including staff time, campaign consulting and logistics support in his first month in the contest. Yet he finished the month with just $650 in the bank.

Dawn Antonis did not report any campaign finance activity for her Democrat run in HD 44, and finished the month as she started it, with $1,355 in the bank.

Republican state Rep. Rene Plasencia of Orlando, who picked up a Democratic challenge in December in House District 50, which covers far eastern Orange County and north Brevard County, reported raising $11,250 through 15 contributions in January. His campaign has raised a total of $120,150, and entered January with $68,700 in the bank.

HIs opponent Pamela Joy Dirschka of Titusville reported bringing in $856 in cash and $600 in in-kind graphic design services. She entered February with $1,539 in the bank.

In House District 31, which covers northeastern Lake County, and northwestern Orange County, Republican state Rep. Jennifer Sullivan of Mount Dora reported bringing in $10,500 in 12 checks, including nine for $1,000, in January. She finished the month having raised $38,800, and had about $26,000 left in the bank.

Her Democratic opponent Debra Kaplan of Eustis reported raising $265 in January. Kaplan’s campaign has raised $6,497, and finished the month with $4,400 in the bank.

Three other Democratic incumbents in Orange County are running unopposed thus far for re-election. State Rep. Kamia Brown of Ocoee reported no campaign finance activity in January and her House District 45 re-election bid has $16,350 to work with. State Rep. Bruce Antone of Orlando reported raising $2,000 in three checks, and finished the month with about $10,600 in the bank for his House District 46 re-election bid. State Rep. Amy Mercado of Orlando reported raising $1,600 in four checks for her House District 48 re-election campaign, and she finished the month with just over $20,000 in cash left.

Orlando City Council votes to allow home sharing vacation rentals

Orlando city officials took one of the biggest steps of any Florida city in recent years to ease laws that restrict vacation rentals, approving an ordinance Monday to allow owner-occupied rentals in single-family residential zones.

The move, approved 6-1, takes effect July 1, ending what has effectively been a 26-year ban on vacation rental homes that predated the rise of the Airbnb-style, online, home-sharing industry.

Orlando’s law even predated the term “vacation rental,” covering it in city zoning codes with the term “commercial dwelling units,” a code quirk that some had suggested might make the city’s law potentially vulnerable to legal challenge, though it has not been so challenged successfully.

Nonetheless, Orlando officials conceded that as many as 2,000 vacation rentals might be operating in Orlando anyway, or at least were being listed on Airbnb and other vacation rental home marketing companies such as HomeAway, as available for rent by the night, to tourists and other visitors. As the new city ordinance takes effect this summer, most of the current vacation rentals could come into compliance with Orlando codes.

Orlando is among a handful of cities and counties that had laws restricting or prohibiting vacation rentals already on the books in 2011 when the Florida Legislature began pushing to reduce such local laws and regulations. Orlando’s and the other pre-2011 laws were grandfathered in.

With the Florida Legislature pushing this Legislative Session to allow more vacation rental opportunities, Orlando city officials decided to give the rapidly-growing, tourism-based industry, and the homeowners relying on it for income, more legal room in Orlando.

The city’s new ordinance does not go as far as state law requires for cities and counties that did not have pre-2011 laws. Orlando’s law requires the owner to occupy the house, or at least to occupy half a duplex if a duplex is involved.

Orlando also will require local registration, a mandate that a Senate bill would prohibit of cities.

Orlando left much of the accompanying regulation open, for the City Hall staff to develop before the law goes into effect July 1.

“Like a lot of public policy you are trying to balance disparate views,” Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer said afterward. “We want to help the people that would like to participate in a program like Airbnb while at the same time setting up enough rules and regulations to protect our single-family neighborhoods.”

Tom Martinelli, public policy director for Airbnb applauded the ordinance’s passage, calling it “a good day” for people who like to stay in vacation rental homes, and for people who host them.

“These smart, thoughtful regulations will allow Orlando residents across the entire city to share their homes for supplemental income and welcome more visitors to the City Beautiful,” he stated.

Commissioner Tony Ortiz, expressing strong concerns about what vacation rental homes might do to single-family neighborhoods, voted no. He first offered an amendment that would have limited vacation rentals to multifamily residential zones rather than single-family zones, but it died.

Much of the debate Monday at Orlando City Council appeared to be over how to define “owner-occupied,” particularly dealing with duplexes. Commissioner Robert Stuart argued against allowing owners of duplexes to rent out one unit while living in the other, contending that it would encourage more and more of such duplexes to be turned into rentals.

Commissioner Patty Sheehan took the opposite perspective, arguing that the vast majority of duplexes already are [long-term] rentals, and the ordinance would encourage people to buy them so that they could live in one side and make money off the other.

There also was concern about what the city can do, at any rate, with the 2,000 apparently-illicit vacation rental homes. Essentially, now, the city enforces its ban only when the code enforcement department is called up to respond to a noise or parking or some other issue.

That will remain true whether the city legalizes the use or not, Commissioner Jim Gray noted; code enforcement officers essentially would require warrants to determine who is actually sleeping in a house.

John Boehner to appear at Scott Sturgill congressional fundraiser

Former U.S. Speaker of the House John Boehner will be the honored guest at a campaign fundraiser coming up for Republican Scott Sturgill‘s bid in Florida’s 7th Congressional District.

Boehner will be appearing at a $500-per-person event set at the home of Gary and Barbara Bryant of Longwood, on March 1.

Sturgill, a Sanford businessman, is in a Republican primary battle with state Rep. Mike Miller of Winter Park and Vennia Francois of Orlando. They all are seeking a primary nomination to take on Democratic U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy in November.

Boehner, an Ohio Republican, served as speaker for nearly five years, and as U.S. House minority leader for four years before that. He was challenged for the speaker’s job in late 2015, and was succeeded by Paul Ryan of Wisconsin. Boehner then resigned from Congress in October, 2015.

“I’ve known the speaker for a number of years. I saw him a few months ago. He knew I was running. He said he’d love to assist in any way possible,” Sturgill said regarding Boehner’s backing. “He generally doesn’t engage in primaries, especially for challenger races. But he knew this was a top-five targeted race [for Republicans to win] in a district we can take back. So he said he would do whatever he could to help me win.”

In addition to the Bryants, the host committee includes former Sanford Mayor and former Orlando-Sanford International Airport Director Larry Dale; Seminole County Tax Collector Joel Greenberg, retired Judge Carmine Bravo, former Orange County Sheriff Kevin Beary, and Seminole County Sheriff Dennis Lemma. In addition to the $500-per-person reception, a VIP reception is being offered with a maximum donation of $2,700. Reservations are being arranged through Sturgill’s campaign.

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