The Florida League of Cities (FLC), the united voice for Florida’s municipal governments, recently recognized Mount Dora Councilmember Doug Bryant with a 2023 Home Rule Hero Award for his hard work and advocacy efforts during the 2023 Legislative Session. Bryant worked tirelessly throughout session to promote local voices making local choices, protect the Home Rule powers of Florida’s municipalities and advance the League’s legislative agenda.
Home Rule is the ability for a city to address local problems with local solutions with minimal state interference. Home Rule Hero Award recipients are local government officials, both elected and nonelected, who consistently responded to the League’s request to reach out to members of the Legislature and help give a local perspective on an issue.
“It has been said that the best form of government is that which is closest to the people. This is not an infallible rule, as history has taught us, but, generally, local officials know their neighbors, their communities and their problems better than anyone else,” said Bryant.
Bryant is serving his second term as an At-Large member of the Council. He has served on the Mount Dora Planning and Zoning Commission, the City Charter Review Commission and the Lake County Water Authority board. His previous local government experience includes city and county planning director positions, city and county prosecutor offices, and state legislator (Wyoming). He also had a stint as a coastal planner in Hawaii. Doug has a Bachelor’s degree in political science, Master’s degree in community planning and a Law degree.
Bryant and his wife, Chris, moved to Mount Dora in 2013 after five years of frequent visits. He worked as a historic tour guide with Mount Dora Segway and has taken classes to become a Florida Master Naturalist. Doug enjoys traveling, reading, tennis, pickleball, running, obstacle courses and nearly any outdoor activity.
After nearly two years, the City of Mount Dora announced its new fire chief on May 22. In an email to Mount Dora CIty Council, the city’s top executive, City Manager Patrick Comiskey, named Joseph Hightower as the new leader of the esteemed Mount Dora Fire Department. His anticipated start date in Mount Dora is June 19, 2023.
Hightower has three decades of experience in fire protection, emergency preparedness, and paramedic services that he brings to the City. This includes 20 years of experience at the Federal level where he worked with the Anniston Army Depot Fire & Emergency Services in Anniston, Alabama. Over the last four years, Hightower performed as a Lead National Instructor for the Center for Domestic Preparedness.
The new Chief’s experience also includes 12 years with the Fort Stewart/Hunter Army Airfield Fire & Emergency Services in Fort Stewart, Georgia. Hightower served in various roles during his Federal tenure including: Firefighter/Paramedic, Fire Protection Specialist, Assistant Chief of Operations, as well as Assistant Chief of Training and Deputy Fire Chief. “I’m very excited to be the new Fire Chief of Mount Dora and for my wife and I to move here. I’m looking forward to meeting our firefighters, that I have heard so many wonderful things about, and being a part of what all they do to serve the community,” said Chief Hightower.
Mount Dora Interim Fire Chief Rich Loewer, who served in that position for nearly two years and proved himself as an impressive and knowledgeable leader, will stay on as Deputy Chief. Chief Hightower attended the American Military University in Charles Town, WV where he graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in Fire Science Management and has been a nationally registered paramedic for 32 years. Chief Hightower will relocate to Mount Dora with his wife, Janet and four children, Beau, Austin, Noah, and Allison.
For more news and events in Mount Dora, Tavares & Eustis, this month, click here. Discover the area's online entertainment calendar here. Also download the area's free mobile app.
Last night’s regular Mount Dora City Council meeting was anything but regular. Nearing the end of the agenda, Mayor Crissy Stile abruptly and without context asked City Manager Patrick Comiskey if he wished to resign. Comiskey declined, so Stile sought to fire him, but lacked the support of the rest of the Council.
A lengthy, calm, and at times awkward discussion ensued about Comiskey’s performance and the list of alleged grievances from Stile. Rather than immediate termination, the remaining six members of the City Council instead sought a tempered, fact-finding approach to vet the list of grievances and allow the City Manager to express his version of events.
Comiskey, who was hired in November, 2021, has been a controversial manager since last summer, when some employees and members of the public voiced specific concerns to the mayor and some members of the council about Comiskey’s fitness for the City’s top job. Despite the shared information, the elected officials unanimously gave Comiskey high praise and a raise which frustrated some long-time employees. Last night, almost a year after their concerns were expressed to elected officials, their sentiments were echoed for the first time in the council chamber.
After the lengthy discussion by all council members, a motion passed (7-0) to appoint Councilmember Dennis Dawson to work with the City’s Human Resources Department to create a confidential survey for employees that report directly to the City Manager. The goal of the survey is to provide input on Comiskey’s actions and performance, identify areas for growth and improvement, as well as help determine if the Mayor’s allegations are valid. The City Council’s motion also approved getting assistance from The Florida League of Cities to assist in properly addressing performance-related issues and developing a reasonable "growth plan."
Over the last two years, the City has also been criticized for decreased transparency. As a result it can be challenging for the public to gain timely access to information. By contrast, the mayor stated at last night’s meeting that she was able to get public records within a week, yet members of the public can wait over a month while the timeliness of the requested information passes during the delay.
An agreement between the City Manager and City Council may not be reached, and if that happens, the City Council can fire Comiskey or he may opt to resign. If he is terminated, his contract will determine if there is a severance package.
The situation is similar to what transpired with former Mount Dora City Manager Robin Hayes. Members of the public and employees sounded alarm bells concerning Hayes’ performance, while she continued to garner strong support from the council for several months. In 2021, the City and Hayes parted ways.