In preparation for next Tuesday’s City Commission election, lkldnow sat down with each of the three candidates and asked them the same questions — some serious and some light-hearted. The idea is to give voters a chance to get to know each of the three candidates better. Here is a lightly edited transcript of our interview with incumbent Phillip Walker.
While the race is citywide, the winner will represent the northwest quadrant of the city — everything in city limits north of Main Street and west of Florida Avenue. Incumbent Walker is being challenged by Alberto “AJ” Rodriguez and Ricky Shirah. (QAs with Rodriguez and Shirah appear separately on lkldnow.com.)
Why do you want to remain a city commissioner?
I have always been a public servant in some respect. After serving for a number of years on various boards and committees throughout the city, I said, “Why not put your hat in the ring and become an elected official where you can do more good?” And now that I’ve been a city commissioner, I think you get more bang for the buck.
It’s not for the pay, is it?
It’s sure not for the pay. To be honest, I will be supportive of changing our pay structure for elected commissioners because it’s time consuming, and it’s not just a part-time position even though it’s categorized as being that. I find myself all around the city at various meetings.
What’s your No. 1 issue?
It’s to make sure that Lakeland continues to afford its citizens a good quality of life, and of course that’s a combination of many things: public safety, keeping taxes nominal, making sure that we have effective, efficient government, that checks and balances are there.
Executive mayor or city manager?
I’m leaning toward the council-manager form of government. It’s worked well for the number of years that we’ve had it here in our city. I don’t think the temperature is correct to make that change. Checks and balances are in place where it takes four of the city commissioners to make a decision.
When people around Florida hear “Lakeland,” they think…
An atmosphere where you can come and there’s a refreshing kind of a feeling. I have family who come and say, “It’s such a beautiful place.” We’re between two metropolises; we’re the belt buckle between the two, and folks say it’s a refreshing place to come: the look and feel of the city; it’s nice and clean.
In four years, when people around Florida hear “Lakeland,” I want them to think…
I do believe we’ll continue to grow because we’re poised on the I-4 corridor. We’ll still have that homebody kind of feeling. We’re nestled between these two metropolises, but I want Lakeland to have its own identity.
When I want to show somebody what I like about Lakeland, I take them to…
Usually when family and friends come visit, I bring them downtown — around the Lake Mirror Promenade area, the Frances Langford Promenade area. Then I take them to some of the nice home sites: Lake Hollingsworth, the Highlands. I also show them that we still have a part of Lakeland that needs some support — the lower socioeconomic district. Even when they see that, they say, “Wow, it’s still clean. It’s still got curbing; it’s still got paved streets; you don’t have a lot of trash.” So even in our poorest areas, it still looks clean.
People say city government needs to be more “customer-centric.” What one or two steps should be taken along those lines?
We’ve done that in some respects, because the Community Development Office has been reorganized to make it more customer friendly. As well, we’ve got a person now who’s become more of a business manager position to help support those businesses — small and large, or course — that may need some support.
How far should the city go in making its fiber network available to small businesses and residents?
We have a workshop coming up on that. We have many miles of fiber available to us because of Lakeland Electric. If we can even do a public-private kind of a thing, I’d support that kind of makeup.
The biggest mistake made by city government in the last four years was …
We don’t tell our story well enough. Lakeland has gone through some turbulent years, as we know, with the police department fiasco, then of course the recent street gang violence that we’ve dealt with in the last year and a half. But success came out of those things, and I don’t think we tell our story well enough for people to understand that “yeah, we did have a mess on our hands, but we cleared the mess up and now we’re moving on.”
Where are you most likely to be seen on a Saturday morning?
Probably in my back yard. I enjoy doing yardwork. That’s my time to be myself, dress down. My front yard is so visible that people still come up to me and ask me about the city. I still have a young child at home, so with the demands of being a business owner, it gives me time to be with him.
What distinguishes you from the other two candidates?
When you look at my track record as far as being a business owner for well over 25 years and running a successful business and being a community leader — in most respects giving of my time and talent and in many respects my resources to be supportive of the different organizations. I’ve tried to make sure I have also been a people person.
What’s your assessment of the other two?
It’s a good thing to have a younger candidate, Mr. Rodriguez. It’s important to see younger folks stand up and get involved. It’s a feather in his cap to say, “I’m here. I want to serve. I want to be involved.” As for Mr. Shirah, I think Ricky has a heart to want to be of support to the community. I see that.
When I go to a coffee shop or a bar, I order…
I’m not a coffee drinker. I’m a tea drinker, though. I’m also a hot chocolate person. When I go to Mitchell’s, I fell in love with Mitchell’s Coca Cola cake.
The city Communications Department recorded interviews with all three candidates. Here’s the one with Walker.