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Winter Park Needs Real Governance

The problem with narratives is that they don’t reflect reality. Making city policy based on narratives is unwise as it wastes human and financial capital, while also having significant opportunity cost. Our current commission is more interested in narratives than governance.

I understood we had a problem when shortly after their election in March 2020, two members of the Winter Park City Commission sent city wide emails expressing empathy for the “victims of racism and police violence” in reaction to the national media narrative about the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. While empathy is nice, these commissioners used their public authority to throw Winter Park police officers under the bus. The Winter Park Civil Service Board, City Commission, and Police Department had addressed the relevant “use of force” policies years ago when similar media narratives drew national attention to these issues. These emails by the commissioners led residents to believe our police practices were flawed and needlessly aggravated emotions. This was never the reality and these city wide emails were totally inappropriate.

Unfortunately, this policy by narrative approach continues at great social and financial cost to Winter Park residents.

The commission bought into a narrative about the children of Winter Park being denied quality playing fields and so approved spending $1,600,000 for two artificial turf fields using city emergency reserve money. Reality is that Winter Park has five times the number of playing fields per 1000 population as other regional municipalities, we subsidize playing fields at a cost of several hundred thousand dollars a year primarily for adult and for-profit sports leagues, not for Winter Park children playing with their parents as coaches on a not-for-profit basis. The commission spent our money without any planning or rational basis (there were other ways to address the needs of Winter Park children for much less than $1,600,000).

The commission committed over $2,000,000 to create a 1.5 acre park on the city owned 4 acre Progress Point property on Orange Avenue. The same commission killed the opportunity for residential density on Orange Avenue that would have justified a park. This is all based on the narrative that we need to conserve more land for parks. Reality is that we have exceeded our 10 acres park per thousand residents standard, the highest standard for park land of almost all Florida cities. We have over 13 acres for every thousand residents (over 300 acres of park land). The reality is that the Progress Point land is worth as much as $8,000,000 that could be used to improve our existing inventory of parks, including more than 50 acres in the recently expanded Howell Branch Preserve. It seems the “conservation” narrative needs to be adhered to regardless of its cost to you, even though we already have a record of conservation that is the envy of our region.

Common sense tells us to reduce CO2 emissions (I have over $20,000 of solar panels on my roof). Dogma motivates our elected officials to propose unattainable carbon reduction objectives. This commission has bought into the “climate change is an existential threat” narrative, committing the city to polices that offer no connection to reality.

They gave away a bit of Winter Park’s autonomy by endorsing the “East Central Florida Regional Resilience Collaborative.” Narrative jargon about “resilience” and “stressors” serves only to perpetuate policies serving political interests of government staffers, not real interests of Winter Park residents. For those uninitiated in this contemporary religion, “stressor” is something like a hurricane and “resilience” is how we are prepared to react to a “stressor.” Winter Park voters overwhelmingly approved the purchase of our electric distribution system over 15 years ago and will have spent over $70,000,000 in profits from our power company to under ground our electric services by 2026 (without raising rates above those of the prior power provider). Reality is that this investment in “resilience” to the most risky “stressor” we face has already been made, and has already proved its worth in hurricane Irma in 2017 where only one power outage was attributed to an under grounded service area.

Now, ideologues want to declare that Winter Park will be 100% carbon free by 2050. Nice work if you can get it. Reality is that the city has signed contracts to received 20% of our bulk electric power from utility scale solar fields (a very real and material commitment to reducing carbon emissions). The maximum solar power our electric utility can commit to without risking paying for unused power or increasing outages is about 30% (the roughly 30% of each day the sun shines). Exceeding 30% is not attainable given current power storage technology and cost. So, they waste time and treasure making themselves feel more virtuous, while ignoring opportunities to materially improve our city in tangible ways.

Common sense should tell us what to do, not narrative jargon serving political interests outside the scope of Winter Park reality. Please seek and support candidates for Winter Park City Commission who value effective local governance over ideology.

Posted in Policy.

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