Orlando City defender Kamal Miller (27) tries to block a kick from New York City FC forward Jonathan Lewis (17) during the first half of a soccer match at Orlando City Stadium. (Reinhold Matay)
Chris Carmody, shareholder, GrayRobinson
Last week: While the House and Senate gaveled into the 2019 legislative session, legislation that would curb street racing quietly moved forward in Tallahassee. The legislation, sponsored by Linda Stewart in the Senate and Amy Mercado and Scott Plakon in the House, would allow law enforcement to conduct investigations and thus, lead to more arrests. Presently, as the crime is a misdemeanor, law enforcement must witness the offense. Well, it’s hard to witness a crime that speeds away, and thus getting arrests are proving difficult. Meanwhile, Orange County has become the hotbed for street racing in Florida.
Looking ahead: On Saturday, the Orlando Apollos return home to Spectrum Stadium at UCF. When it was announced last year that Orlando would have a team in the Alliance of American Football and that team would be coached by Steve Spurrier, there was excitement and intrigue. The Apollos’ aim has been true as their arrows have hit the mark with the best record in the AAF. On Saturday, they will host the Arizona Hotshots for their third of five home games. It would be a Greek tragedy for them not to finish the season as champs, so check them out while you can.
Lee Constantine, commissioner, Seminole County
Looking ahead: Many have read the recent upheaval surrounding Lynx, our regional transit system. As chairman, the board and I have taken steps to ensure stability in the short term. However, a first-class community must have a first-class transportation system. International investment and corporate headquarters desire it, millennials demand it and our low-wage workforce requires it. If we are to achieve our aspirations, Central Florida must make the decision to build a world-class transportation system. We must establish transit as a priority like the expressway authority or airport, establish a citizen-approved funding source and integrate all transportation systems (rail, bus, expressway) together. Anything less will be shortchanging our future.
Tom Dyer, attorney, founder of Watermark
Last week: Downtown Orlando came alive March 2 as a sea of purple descended on Orlando City Stadium for the Lions’ season opener. The capacity crowd of 25,500 came ready to forgive last season’s 22 losses. Orlando City delivered, battling back with two second-half goals to secure a draw against New York City FC. Team play was tighter, and marquee players Dom Dwyer and Nani provided a glimpse of the excitement they bring to the pitch. The Magic are NBA playoff contenders, and Steve Spurrier’s Apollos are unbeaten. But nothing energizes the city like our MLS franchise. Vamos Orlando!
Glenton Gilzean Jr., president/CEO, Central Florida Urban League
Last week: Residents of Orlando have an opportunity meet the new Chief of Police: Orlando Rolón. He has begun a series of “Meet Your Chief” events around the city, which I encourage all residents to attend. I am incredibly pleased by this outreach effort at the beginning of his mandate. It is critical for both the community and the Chief to get to know one another and understand each other’s unique priorities. I look forward to the continued strengthening of the vital community and law enforcement partnership.
Francisco Gonzalez, philanthropy director, National Review Institute
Last week: This past week, Lent started on Ash Wednesday. Kudos to the Catholic Diocese of Orlando for inspiring parishioners with their 2019 Lenten Challenge. They gave us all a little box which we are to fill with 40 pre-written challenges, one for each day. These challenges include doing things like donating clothes from your closet, removing a negative word from your vocabulary, or handing a book of faith to a friend. Most Catholics and other Christians are used to giving up something for Lent, but adding something positive to our daily habits is also a great way to cultivate the soul.
Looking ahead: The people of Venezuela are in a battle for the future of their country and for their lives. The United States and our allies need to keep exerting pressure on the Maduro regime to step down. There are over 3,000 military generals in Venezuela with privileged status. Until most of them are able to speak and act freely and transfer their support to the newly elected President, Juan Guaido, there is no telling how much longer the Venezuelan people will suffer under Maduro. Millions have already fled their county, tens of thousands now make their home in Central Florida.
Jeff Hayward, president and CEO, Heart of Florida United Way
Last week: Students who live in areas of concentrated poverty are twice as likely to face experiences that interfere with their ability to arrive at school every day ready to learn. City Year Orlando partners with Orange County Public Schools to provide support for students at risk. Heart of Florida United Way is a Team Sponsor of City Year Orlando AmeriCorps members serving at Oak Ridge High School. This program is also sponsored in part by the School Board of Orange County, and the state of Florida. With a graduation rate of over 90%, this partnership is a great example of how the community can come together to achieve one common goal.
Jane Healy, former editorial page editor and managing editor, Orlando Sentinel
Last week: Now that Orlando is booming again, it’s encouraging to see local residents taking matters into their own hands when it comes to managing growth. In east Orange County, residents are so afraid of growth ruining the Econlockhatchee River, they are moving toward creating their own city. Nearby, the Winter Park Land Trust is gearing up to turn 55 acres near Howell Creek into trails and boardwalks. Meanwhile, a landowner along the Little Econ has asked Orange County to buy and preserve his pristine 30 acres. Let’s hope this is all just a start.
Eric Jackson, president/CEO, Total Roof Services Corp.
Last week: Great metroplexes either have a successful multimodal transportation system or a plan to reach their multimodal goals. It seems like Central Florida has neither as evidence by the continued and systemic underfunding at Lynx which has driven another CEO to leave the organization. Mayor Demings and Mayor Dyer are working to address the lack of dedicated funds, but buses and cars alone will never solve what ails us. Too many workers aren’t paid well enough to own vehicles and the buses can’t carry the load. We have got to put an all hands-on deck effort behind a solution that includes a rail system that can move us all.
Last week: Education in Florida has gone critical. The Florida Department of Education confirms there’s a "critical teacher shortage" in fundamental areas like science, English, and math. And it will only get worse. Not only are veteran educators leaving the field, fewer college students are going into it. Why? Teachers demonstrating locally and in Tallahassee can tell you: erosion of pay and benefits, well-intentioned but often counterproductive policies from law-makers, and a continuing lack of respect for the profession. If we’re serious about transforming education in our state, let’s start by listening to the people who do the actual teaching.
Looking ahead: March Madness is back! No, I don’t mean the NCAA basketball tournament. I mean the flood of tourists coming to Florida for spring break. Driving in Central Florida can be harrowing under the best of conditions. Impaired driving and crashes spike during spring break, with out-of-state drivers involved more often than in-state drivers. And drivers under 25 are the most likely to become a statistic. We locals can help: drive defensively, be especially patient and alert behind the wheel, and let law enforcement know if you see someone driving dangerously.
Ric Keller, lawyer, former member of Congress
Last week: “Four out of five dentists who chew gum recommend Trident”, the commercial said. I always wondered, “Who is that one nutty dentist who won’t go along?” I think I found him. Rep. Paul Gosar, a former dentist, taunted Michael Cohen with the schoolyard phrase “liar, liar, pants on fire”. He had a poster, too. Gosar said during another congressional hearing that his dental training made him an expert on body language. "By the way, I’m a dentist, OK? So I read body language very, very well.” Nuts! Why give the “anti-dentites” ammunition?
Last week: I’m usually one of our region’s greatest cheerleaders, but this? I’m so disappointed in the Lynx Transit Board for dismissing its CEO, Edward Johnson, for failings beyond his control. In fact, the last two CEOs of this transit agency left for the reason that Edward was fired — no dedicated funding source. We’re the busiest tourist community in the country yet we won’t fund a transit system for our residents and guests? Over 65 million visitors choose Orlando, and we can’t get the workers who support these tourists out to their jobs. Shame on us. Shame on the leaders of Lynx for not leading our community to a regional solution.
Looking ahead: Kudos to the Longwood City Commission who unanimously approved an innovative community of trendy “tiny homes.” Less than 400 square feet, and costing around $100,000, the average rent would be around $475 a month — far less than the average cost of $1,500 a month to rent an apartment. Can’t imagine living in such a small space? Well, this option isn’t for you — but for a growing number of people, it could be a game changer in affordability. Will Longwood become the next cool city like Austin and Seattle who’ve led the way on tiny home villages? We can only hope!
Last week: Libertarians warned us long ago that the Patriot Act, actually an unpatriotic guise of protectionism against terrorists, would filter into the general law enforcement arena against everyday citizens – and it has in many ways. Patriot Act tactics have recently morphed into disgusting law enforcement voyeurism under the disguise of fighting "human trafficking" at Florida massage parlors. Cops often play the public, the media, and a few judges with the term "human trafficking" when what they want to do is revel in the sensationalism of catching someone paying for a "massage" at the expense of recording countless innocent people.
Looking ahead: Socialism is on the agenda for many Democrats. Socialism is also many Republicans’ dirty little secret. As we watch the rise of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on the heels of socialist Bernie Sanders, many Republicans gasp at the idea of socialism – yet they are too timid to do anything about our current state of socialism. Once a government starts down a socialist path, a wanting population makes it almost impossible to turn back. If we want to turn the tide against socialism in this country then perhaps, instead of worrying about those who want to further the cause, we should concentrate on eliminating the socialist programs already in place.
Last week: Interviewed by the Orlando Sentinel about his retirement, UCF President Dr. John Hitt was asked whether the university should consider politicians like Buddy Dyer to succeed him. Hit said then, “If we decide that this is the time for a politically experienced candidate, I can think of nobody I can recommend ahead of Mayor Dyer. I don’t happen to believe this is the time for a political candidate.” Its past time now! UCF Trustees should take Dr. Hitt’s recommendation. Buddy Dyer should be named interim president. It’s going to take a politician to fix this political mess. Go Knights.
Looking ahead: I am looking forward to seeing more bipartisan cooperation and collaboration in our state politics. As the legislative session is now off and running and in the aftermath of Gov. DeSantis’ first state of the state address, there is so much opportunity for meaningful work in the middle. How do we know? Both the far left and the far right were miffed and snubbed and surprised and pleased according to feedback from our elected officials. Seems like we are primed for big and great things to happen in our state this year. I remain optimistic.
Anna McPherson, past president, Junior League of Greater Orlando
Looking ahead: The 24 Hours of Daytona, 12 Hours of Sebring and the 24 Hours of Le Mans make up the “Triple Crown of Sports Car Racing." Luckily for sports car fans, Central Florida is host to two of the three legs. Auto manufacturers pour millions of dollars into drivers and racing technology to win these endurance races. Next weekend, Sebring International Raceway puts on the the traditional 12-hour endurance race featuring cars and drivers from the premier sports car championship in North America (IMSA). The race at Sebring features a dedicated fan base and unique viewing points around the track.
Last week: One of the good things about having different months designated for attention to specific issues is that it brings debate and discussions to the forefront. February was National Cancer Prevention Month and one week into March Jeopardy! host Alex Trebek, announced he has stage 4 pancreatic cancer. An estimated 56,770 people will also be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2019, according to the American Cancer Society. The ACS also reports that pancreatic cancer accounts for about 3 percent of all cancer in this country and about 7 percent of all cancer deaths.
Looking ahead: As the Florida Legislature session is focused on some important bills, it will be interesting to see how the Sadowski fund issue is handled as it is taking the center stage in view of the current affordable housing crisis.
Muhammad Musri, president, Islamic Society of Central Florida
Last week: Daylight Saving Time starts on Sunday across the U.S. and Sens. Marco Rubio and Rick Scott, along with Rep. Vern Buchanan from the Sarasota area, introduced the Sunshine Protection Act that would make it permanent. Last year Florida’s legislature voted to make it permanent and Scott signed it, but Congress has to approve it. Studies have shown DST has many benefits like more tourism in Florida, kids playing more outside and less obesity, reduced car crashes involving pedestrians, and many other economic benefits. The biggest benefit is for us not to have to adjust our internal clocks twice every year.
Looking ahead: On Tuesday the nonprofit All Voters Vote submitted petition forms to the Florida Secretary of State for review, to bring “jungle primaries” to Florida and open the August elections to all of the state’s 13 million voters. 766,000 signed petitions must be collected to get two constitutional amendments onto the 2020 ballot. The goal is to prevent a small percentage of voters from choosing the politicians who dictate public policy. As expected the political parties don’t support the idea. What is needed and is easier to do is to allow independent voters to participate in the existing party primaries.
Pamela Nabors, president/CEO, CareerSource Central Florida
Last week: That loud cheering heard in the Dr. Phillips area this week undoubtedly came from the crowds at the Bay Hill Invitational. Play wraps up today, and I imagine this tournament will come down to the wire, given the incredible talent on the greens. The world’s best golfers descend on Orlando every year, partly out of respect for Arnold Palmer, partly for the great weather, but mostly to play in a world-class tournament. Arnie may no longer be walking the fairways, but his grace and spirit are felt during this annual event, which greatly impacts the economy and image of Central Florida.
Looking ahead: March might be my favorite month – why? Well, it’s that 20% of my heritage that claims Irish ancestry, and March 17 is St. Patrick’s Day — a celebration of Irish culture, music, food and drink, and green! St. Patrick — the patron saint of Ireland who lived in the fifth century — is famous for linking the Holy Trinity to the shamrock (hence the green everything!). New York, Chicago and Boston might have infamous celebrations, but Orlando does a fine job of wearing (and drinking) the green, sure to bring out a wee Leprechaun in all. On this day, we’re all Irish. Slainte!
Cole NeSmith, executive director, Creative City Project
Last week: Harry P. Leu Gardens is doing their part to make Central Florida a more beautiful place to live this weekend. Today is the last day of their annual plant sale. Dozens of vendors from across the state are set up and selling herbs, vegetables, ornamentals, shrubs, flowers, trees, and more throughout the gardens. The event is free and a great day out for the entire family. And come hungry. I recommend getting some fresh food and lemonade from “Wild Rabbit Bistro” near the butterfly garden. The sale goes until 5 p.m. today.
Looking ahead: Three interesting classical music experiences are happening this week. The Orlando Philharmonic will be playing a free concert this Saturday at St. Luke’s Lutheran Church as part of the church’s ongoing community music series. The concert features the music of Mozart at 7 p.m. In Winter Park, the Bach Festival Society presents an ensemble from the Berlin Philharmonic at the Tiedtke Concert Hall. And finish the week with the Florida Symphony Youth Orchestra. On March 17, they will be playing their “Spring Pops Concert” at Mead Gardens.
Kathleen Oropeza, co-founder, FundEducationNow.org
Last week: On day two of the 2019 Florida Legislative Session, the Senate Education Committee passed SB 7070, a massive “train bill.” It’s stuffed with weighty items like a radical shift toward using property tax dollars to fund private religious voucher schools — money that’s constitutionally mandated to fund public schools. It grants bonuses, instead of raises to teachers when we’re suffering the worst teacher shortage in the state’s history. A bonus is not a raise. Ever buy a house based on a bonus? There’s more in SB 7070 than I can write about here. Remember, train bills are used when the contents cannot withstand public scrutiny.
Looking ahead: Florida funds a large portion of its roughly $22 million public education budget with our property taxes. Surprisingly, Sen. Manny Diaz is pushing a bill to allow senior citizens sixty-five years or older who have owned their home for 25 years to opt out of being taxed for their portion of public-school funding. SB 562 passed its first committee stop with few details. For example, Sen. Diaz has no idea how much this will cost in lost revenue to schools or whether there would be an eligibility cap on home values. Is funding public education a shared community value or not?
Joseph F. Pennisi, founding executive director, Florida Policy Institute
Last week: After six years in Central Florida, I still consider myself to be new here and some things still baffle me. Up north where I come from, spring and fall are two very different seasons. Here they seem to happen simultaneously. The azaleas are in bloom, but the oak trees are still losing their leaves. In fact, many oaks are losing the last of their old leaves while starting new growth. How does that happen? Of course, the good thing about fall and spring happening together is that it leaves little time for winter and the weather now is sublime. Works for me.
Last week: Kudos to Orlando attorney Charles M. Greene for setting out clearly and transparently the factual record which had been missing from the public narrative as UCF clumsily bobbed and weaved in defensive attempts to limit reputational damage. UCF has grown to become the largest university in the state and the second largest in the nation through vision, commitment and determination. Its decision to use carry-forward funds to rebuild Trevor Colbourn Hall, informed by sober reflection over six years, at best amounted to a potential misunderstanding of a state statute, but hardly financial impropriety of any nature. It is time UCF changes the conversation and gets back to work.
Stephanie Porta, executive director, Organize Florida
Looking ahead: The Criminal justice system is built on the backs of poor people. Florida’s prisons are overcrowded, over budget and unjust — ripping communities apart by enforcing laws rooted in the Jim Crow era. Next week, Criminal Justice reform will take center stage when we participate in Criminal Justice Week in our state Capital. We will speaking to our elected officials about important issues that directly impact our members. Not everyone is treated equally in the criminal justice system. Racial bias keeps more poor people and people of color in prisons and on probation. This rich and poor system of justice must be addressed, and we’re heading to Tallahassee to make sure it is.
Last week: Visitors to the Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art enjoy free admission on select days in March and April. I just took an out of town friend to see, and he was awed at the Tiffany glass display. This treat is due to the generosity of Charles Morse’s granddaughter Jeannette and her husband Hugh McKean who built the collections and provided an endowment that lasts forever. A great city deserves great art, and its accessibility to the public completes the picture. Imagine with public support if a private/public endowment fund could be accumulated, allowing our most significant museums to be free to all that wanted to enjoy their splendor.
Looking ahead: If we look ahead, we can see a world free of polystyrene foam which is not biodegradable and currently fills our local landfills, ocean, and other animal habitats. In a move to show once again they are stewards of our oceans, Sea World Parks & Entertainment, this week said no to this foam. Last year, they removed single-use plastic straws and coffee stirrers and previously plastic shopping bags from their theme parks. Its past time for all other parks, grocery stores chains, restaurants, hotels and more to set this example for our planet.
Ed Schons, president, Florida High Tech Corridor Council
Looking ahead: With March Madness upon us, CFE Arena crowds cheered on the UCF’s men’s basketball team on their way to The Dance, and that same arena will be filled this week with cheering crowds just as excited by teams looking to punch their ticket for a different bracket-style competition that also requires an impressive set of skills. Teams of high school students must raise funds, design a team "brand," hone teamwork skills, and design and build industrial-size robots to play difficult field games open to the public. These kids are trying to make their way to the FIRST Robotics World Championship in Detroit … The ultimate STEM competition.
Rick Singh, property appraiser, Orange County
Last week: SeaWorld seems to be on the rebound, reporting another quarter of increased attendance and revenue. With the opening of Sesame Street Land and enhancements to Aquatica water park this spring, there are now more reasons to visit. This is good news for summer visitors who can look forward to many new offerings in Central Florida’s theme parks. That’s the best way to keep them coming back … year after year … and supporting the tourism industry which is critical to our economy.
Looking ahead: Floridians have much to watch this spring in Tallahassee as a new legislature, a new cabinet, and a new governor embark on their first legislative session. Gov. DeSantis has already made several key moves that indicate an interest in bringing disparate groups together. Both his 30-day report to the state and his inaugural “State of the State” address listed bold actions and ideas to address long-standing challenges to the state – like education and the environment. Cautiously optimistic, we now wait to see which plans come to fruition.
Michael Slaymaker, professional fundraising executive
Last week: Easterseals Florida’s A Pair to Remember luncheon was held on March 8 at The Mall at Millenia. Over 350 fashionable ladies attended the ladies shoe auction. Male models and Easterseals’ clients walked the runway showing the latest shoes and some extraordinary live auction items. The event generated $200,000 for Easterseals Day Break at the Miller Center, an adult day healthcare center, and Easterseals Camp Challenge. The generosity of these ladies will help send children with disabilities to camp and help caregivers care for their loved ones with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
Kannan Srinivasan, president, Asian American Chamber of Commerce
Last week: A new bill proposes a study that could help make Orlando the state capital and political center of the Sunshine State. The proposed legislation (SB 492), filled this week by Sen. Kevin Rader (D-Boca Raton), includes a request for the state’s Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability to do a study related to the relocation of the capital from Tallahassee, in Florida’s panhandle, to Orlando, which is in the middle of the state.
Looking ahead: Amazon will start experimenting with robots to deliver packages, its latest experiment to automate the last mile of delivery that’s a labor-intensive and costly component of buying products online. Amazon Scout is an autonomous delivery device the size of a cooler that rolls along sidewalks at a walking pace. The robots are designed to navigate around obstacles such as people and pets, to deliver packages. The robots will be used to make deliveries in daylight on weekdays.
John Thedford, entrepreneur, founder of SMART Financial
Last week: I used to watch the morning news to hear about Orlando’s latest business venture or local stock reports, but lately the top stories deal with shootings and murders. Is this a sign of a more violent society overall? Are these targeted events due to increasing drug and other activities? In 2018, Florida ranked No. 3 in the U.S. for the number of mass shootings and with daily shootings becoming the new norm, we are sure to move up the ranks into the No. 2 or No. 1 spot. Can we really afford to sacrifice our theme park paradise and become another Chicago?
Craig Ustler, owner/president, Ustler Development Inc.
Last week: The Allen Morris Company and Ustler Development recently celebrated the construction of the Creative Village Parcel M Apartments by making a significant contribution to the OCPS Academic Center for Excellence in Parramore. This new public school opened in 2017 and is adjacent to Creative Village. It serves 1,000 pre-kindergarten through eighth grade students. ACE is a "community school" and its integrated approach is vital to the neighborhood’s redevelopment and improvement. We were particularly impressed by the leadership and commitment of the school’s Principal, Wendy Ivory. Our donation specifically supports the Second Harvest Food Bank’s partnership with ACE school.