What is the role of an Apopka City Commissioner?
It is a subject often written about and discussed. I have asked several current and former commissioners how they defined their roles. As you might expect, they all have different philosophies and ideas on best serving the Apopka residents.
The City Charter isn't much help. According to the document that guides the Apopka government, a commissioner has essentially fulfilled their duties if they show up for meetings, ask questions, offer counsel and vote.
It leaves room for interpretation, and each commissioner has found their way to make it their own, but one commissioner seems to be on to something a little different.
Nick Nesta, the Apopka City Commissioner in Seat #4, has only been on Council for four months (eight meetings). His counterparts are all in their second full terms. But Nesta may be on to an approach that serves it well.
At the September 21st meeting, Nesta used his City Commission Reports time to question, follow up, critique, offer suggestions and nail down a specific date for an issue that has been elusive for over a year.
"I have a couple of things I want to go over," Nesta said to begin his time. "I want to get a little dialogue and feedback from everybody up here. Maybe from staff as well."
A "couple of things" ended up being several significant issues in just under 15 minutes.
Nesta began his bullet train of thoughts by revisiting the proposed noise ordinance subject.
"A noise ordinance is going to be very difficult to enforce, but I just don't want the conversation to die. I think there needs to be something implemented. I just don't know what that looks like. But again, I want us to keep that open and have some dialogue one way or the other without burdening our law enforcement officers or infringing on the resident's rights. So there's got to be a balance somewhere. And I want to make sure that we're kind of up here keeping that in mind and maybe coming up with some unique ways to fix that."
After Council approved an ordinance to limit the number of dollar stores in Apopka, Nesta took the initial steps to expand that into other businesses the residents seem to believe are too plentiful.
"I'm sure you guys have seen it on social media, and maybe residents have contacted you about it. Car washes in Apopka. I hear that's the new dollar store. I'm hearing it's the new fast food. So I would ask you to pull the recordings from the previous Development Review Committee's meetings and just listen to their dialogue about that. I think that it would be really important just to hear what the DRCs input is on carwashes. Again, we want to be a little more proactive versus reactive, which we've done in the past."
The Kelly Park Interchange (KPI), was designed as a corridor to the city to allow higher residential density development along with pockets of commercial development. But the areas within the KPI used to be rural and are now turning into more suburban sections of Apopka. The infrastructure for these areas cannot currently support the kind of density its beginning to experience. The solution is multi-faceted and includes continued cooperation between Orange County and the City of Apopka. Massive developments are being proposed, and many approved, along Golden Gem Road. This road, in its current condition, is not designed to take on this kind of higher traffic.
It's an important subject that Nesta wants the Council to consider.
"It's something that we definitely need to keep in mind. I know (District 2 Orange County Commissioner) Christine Moore is on board. And we have a study going on. I want it to be something we all have our focus on to understand what's going on there. I know the planning commission brought this up, that we should just take the road now and fix it ourselves, which is a big amount of money. And it's tough to do, but at the same time, on our website, it lists on the planning division's responsibilities as ensuring the availability of adequate infrastructure and school facilities. Either we need to change that or do it. So I know it's an Orange County road, but I know that Commissioner Moore is on board and working on this. Let's bring her in. And as commissioners, I think we need to have a little more dialogue with Commissioner Moore and bring this to her attention and again, have more of a partnership versus an attack or fingerpointing."
By any measurement, it was a tumultuous budget season for the Apopka City Council. You know, things didn't run smoothly when business was still on the table in the final hearing. Nesta suggested a way to combat that issue in the 2023/24 budget cycle.
"This is my first budget season that we went through, and what a season it was. What I like to do when I'm going through a project, or I finish one... I know that my wife and I like to do this... we do what's called a SWAT analysis; we go over our strengths. What did we do great through this process? What were our weaknesses? Where could we have done better?"
Nesta also referenced the previous style that included a nearly finished budget that didn't allow the commissioners much opportunity to be a part of the process.
"I know what we've done in the past where it's presented to us, without a lot of input, we do have some, but I think if we come in beforehand, and maybe meet with department heads, once you guys have a pretty firm preliminary budget, we won't have any blindsides up here. So I just want to ensure we're all working together and have resolve up here and maybe not have as much... animosity, or I don't know what the correct verbiage is. But just something that can make us be a little more cohesive as a council. I think we would just help in conversations, and we don't have any surprises during the workshops."
Nesta also used the mayoral salary as an example of something dropped in that the commissioners were unaware was being increased.
"One thing that was kind of a blindside was the mayoral salary increase. It's just something that I think we should have discussed upfront. It wasn't during any of our budget workshops. And I think that that should have been something we discussed. If we talked about every other increase that we're seeing, and again, like just something we should have brought up because I think that it was kind of squeaked in at the end. And we were so focused on fire that we didn't get to discuss it. Again, all I ask is next year; just please let us discuss it upfront. And let us go from there."
Nesta also brought up the idea of having a succession plan for department heads, given the amount of turnover in management positions.
"All of our department heads are awesome and great, but they're retiring in the next five years. We're not going to have them around here long. It's a big concern of mine. I'm raising my family here, and I want to make sure that we're not being left out in the next 15-20 years... whatever it is that we have some plan that's in place that creates success for our city long term.
In closing, Nesta followed up on a subject that has been discussed for over a year. Should Apopka annex South Apopka? The consensus has been to have a workshop on the specifics, but that too seemed to dissolve after every discussion.
In May, Commissioner Alexander Smith called for a South Apopka Annexation Committee to be formed, but that never materialized. Finally, after the budget was completed, Nesta asked a direct question.
"South Apopka annexation... I know we talked about... after budgets, we're going to do it... end of October... Let's set a date tonight. What date can we make? I mean, let's look at our calendars. Let's set it."
After a brief discussion, the Council and staff set October 25th at 7 pm.
Nesta is not the mayor, nor is he the first commissioner to hold the council/administration to account. But this type of action can only improve the way this Council operates. In less than 15 minutes, Nesta made suggestions on how to present a budget better, critiqued areas he had concerns about, and ultimately took action on an issue that had been dormant for months.
It's a style that could improve the way the Apopka City Council operates. It's a style I would like to see employed by Nesta and others on the Council at today's meeting and in the future.
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