By Marc Crail District 4 Representative and Vice-Mayor
Here's the scoop from City Council's August 2nd. meeting. I've selected four important items from the agenda to tell you about today. This report comes from me and not on behalf of City Council as a whole.
We approved an agreement with Round Lake Charter School to provide for a school resource officer there for the upcoming 2022-23 school year. Round Lake Charter will reimburse the City $69,781 to defray the cost. We also provide resource officers at Triangle Elementary, Mount Dora Middle School and Mount Dora High School. I sleep better knowing that our school students are under the protection of well trained police officers. Our school children are among Mount Dora's youngest citizens and they deserve the best safety that we can provide for them.
Plans are moving ahead for a Community Resource and Recreation Center. There will be multiple partners involved in the operation and programming of this resource center. We selected Borrelli & Partners firm to do the design and engineering for this center. Of course rising construction costs are of concern and we discussed that but your City Council voted unanimously to approve $385,624 for phase 1 design and engineering costs and $638,954 for phase 2 design and engineering. Please note that these design costs will come out of the Northeast Community Redevelopment Agency's budget and not the City's general funds.
Over the past few months I've reported that the Lake County Water Authority Board has approved having their 153 acre Wolf Branch Sink Preserve annexed into the City. Now Mount Dora City Council has approved the first reading of of an ordinance that will change the zoning of that ecologically fragile property from "Light Manufacturing" and "Residential" to "Greenbelt" which is will, when finalized, provide the highest level of protection from future development for Wolf Branch Sink and the surrounding acreage owned by the Water Authority.
We also approved the first reading of an ordinance voluntarily annexing 36.61 acres for a future development called Mt. Dora Hills to be located on the south side of SR 46 and east of Buttercup Lane adjacent to the railroad tracks . This property is in the Wolf Branch Innovation District area. We heard from the developer at a June meeting regarding his exciting plans for this parcel.
FYI, we heard from staff from Mount Dora's electric utility department that the price of natural gas that is used to generate electricity is getting much more expensive and is expected to stay high through 2023. Mount Dora Electric must raise its fuel cost rate to cover those exponentially higher costs. SECO, Duke Energy and other electric suppliers have or very soon will raise their fuel cost charges as well. Get ready for higher electric bills no matter who supplies your home or business.
Our quote for today was adapted from a quote by Damian Barr. "We are not all in the same boat. We are in the same storm. Some of us have yachts, some have canoes, and some are drowning. Just be kind and help whoever you can."
Thanks for your continuing interest in our wonderful City.
By Marc Crail District 4 Representative and Vice-Mayor
Tropical storms and hurricanes can wreak havoc on Florida cities. Roads, utilities, emergency services and infrastructure can be strained or interrupted during and after these tropical storms. Hurricane season doesn’t seem to be an optimal time for a city to forgo permanent department leadership in critical departments like Public Works and Fire Rescue, and Police, but that’s the position the City of Mount Dora currently faces.
Mount Dora is also in the middle of planning its budget and determining its tax rate, yet it hasn’t had a permanent finance director since February.
The longest permanent management vacancy is the city’s Fire Chief, which has been vacant for over a year. Since then Deputy Chief Rich Loewer has been serving as the prolonged and capable Interim Chief. Loewer, who has served with the department for almost two decades and is an integral part of the City’s emergency management and ISO and accreditation processes, has yet to have the permanent position extended to him by the City Manager.
Interim Police Chief Mike Gibson, a former MDPD captain and respected 27-year veteran of Orange County Sheriff’s Office, has been in his current interim position as Interim Police Chief for the shortest period of time due to the resignation of Chief Brett Meade last June.
City Managers can opt to hire the qualified interim department heads or conduct an outside search for their replacements. According to the City, no searches to fill the crucial positions are underway, so it's unclear why the interim managers haven't been offered the permanent positions. City Manager Patrick Comiskey did not respond to Mount Dora Buzz's questions about the reason for the lack of searches or whether the interim management personnel were likely to become permanent. Comiskey also didn't respond to whether the interim directors were being compensated appropriately for their added responsibilities.
The potential short-term benefit of not making interim directors permanent or searching for replacements is saving money, while the potential longer-term outcomes are low morale, job uncertainty and the risk of qualified interim directors and their staff seeking employment elsewhere for professional recognition and salaries commensurate with their responsibilities.
Meanwhile, the budget for the city’s 2022-2023 fiscal year is being prepared by Interim Finance Director Rita Meade. The City's budget and tax rate will be adopted in September.
In light of local incidents that occurred late during the last school year and tragic incidents that happened nationally, Mount Dora Buzz compiled information that may help parents separate fact from fiction about local public school safety. Althoug Mount Dora’s schools are relatively safe compared to others, here are eight things to know as classes resume on August 10.
1. Mount Dora Police has a master key for all Mount Dora public schools to gain access in an emergency, according to M.D.P.D.
2. If a parent is worried about a specific threat to their student or others, they should email the school’s principal, vice principal, school superintendent and school resource officer to create a traceable public record about the specific threat. The same should be done with follow up communications, as public records are required to be preserved by Florida statute and create a trail of the communication. Parents can always call or visit the school, in addition to email.
3. Any time the school learns of a threat or a perceived threat, a Behavior Threat Assessment (B.T.A.) is conducted to determine the threat level and what their response should be.
4. Policies on bullying, as well as grounds for suspension or expulsion, can be found in the District’s Code of Student Conduct."Bullying" is defined in the Code on page 48 as an incident where there is enough substantial evidence that proves the accused willfully and repeatedly exercised power or control over another by systematically and chronically inflicting physical hurt or psychological distress. More details about Lake County Schools (LCS) anti-bullying policies can be found at School Board Policy 5517.01.
5. To help reduce the number of fights, LCS expects adult supervision of students at all times, particularly between class periods, and it doesn't allow students to stand idle when they should be in class or headed that way.
6. The State of Florida requires Lake County Public Schools to submit School Environmental Safety Incident Reporting (SESIR) data, including fights and weapons. Physical incidents at the schools fall into different classifications.
“Fighting”is defined in the Code (page 48) as a situation when two or more persons mutually participate in the use of force or physical violence that requires either physical intervention or results in injury requiring first-aid or medical attention.
"Physical altercations" are defined in the Code (page 47) as physical conflicts between two or more persons that do not require physical restraint or cause injury and are stopped upon verbal command. These are not considered fights by the Code.
7. LCS does require its trained safety officers to intervene in fights with minimal force. Most LCS employees are not required to intervene in a fight, but they are allowed to do so. See School Board Policy 5630.
8. In the case of an emergency at a school, parents should refer to LCS Facebook page and local media for information and updates.
Below is a chart of data provided to Mount Dora Buzz from Lake County Schools comparing incidents at Mount Dora Middle School, other LCS middle schools and Mount Dora High School during the 2021-2022 school year.
ABOVE: 2021-2022 LCS middle school incidents, and Mount Dora High incidents