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 an edited transcript of our interview with Ricky Shirah.
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 Phillip Walker is being challenged by Alberto “AJ” Rodriguez and Ricky Shirah. (QAs with Rodriguez and Walker appear separately on lkldnow.com.)
Why do you want to be a city commissioner?
I’ve seen the problems that we’ve had in the past few years, and I’ve seen how some of the commissioners just don’t seem to work together. And if I would have been on the commission when the fire assessment fee came up, I would have voted against it. They might have as well said it was a fire assessment tax. They voted that down, but then they turn around and passed a 19 percent tax increase, and I’m thinking, “What are they thinking?”
It’s not for the pay, is it?
What pay? Keith Merritt is a friend; we don’t always agree. But he was telling me it actually cost him big time to be a commissioner. Is it about the money? Absolutely not. I’m doing it because of my grandchildren; I want to see them grow up and want to continue living here.
What’s your No. 1 issue?
Just making Lakeland a better place, making it a community that businesses want to locate to. We’re too big to be a town and too little to be considered a big city. Maybe I’m old fashioned. Do I hate change? Sometimes I do. When I grew up in North Lakeland, it was nothing but orange groves. It was the most scenic place in the world. Those orange groves are gone. Then they come along and planted house seeds, and they all popped up. But the infrastructure wasn’t there.
Executive mayor or city manager?
City manager. I believe that elections can be bought. Rick Scott is a prime example. If I’m a multimillionaire and I decide I want you to be mayor, I can get you elected.
When people around Florida hear “Lakeland,” they think…
I hope they think this is the greatest community we have in Florida. But it seems recently they hear about the problems we’ve had within the city about the sex scandal, our city manager resigning, our chief of police resigning, and that bothers me. And I try to correct those people: “Look, we’re on the path to making everything a better place and we’re taking care of one problem at a time.” And I want to be a person that can be part of the process to improve relationships.
In four years, when people around Florida hear “Lakeland,” I want them to think…
I’d like them to say, “My goodness, look what those commissioners have done in the past four years to improve that city and what a great city it is” and I want to see them move here and go here to our university. I want to see my grandkids want to go to our university here.
People say city government needs to be more “customer-centric.” What one or two steps should be taken along those lines?
I think you’ll see if Tony Delgado decides to become our new city manger, he’s going to be like Gene Strickland was. Gene and Frank O’Reilly, when they were city manager and mayor, would meet people. I told Doug Thomas this when he was city manager that city employees rate you very low because they don’t know you. But Tony Delgado: 360. He’s a people person.
How far should the city go in making its fiber network available to small businesses and residents?
We already have the fiber optics. I don’t think Lakeland needs to get in business themselves. But I would love to see them partner with a small company and to come on board — I’m not talking about Brighthouse or Verizon, but partner and help a small business.
The biggest mistake made by city government in the last four years was …
Them selling Henley Field. It’s on the National Registry of Historic Places. Babe Ruth hit a home run out of there. And we sold it. I love Florida Southern College. Nothing against Florida Southern College. But you know our mayor is on the board of Florida Southern College. And I’m thinking, “Man, what a sweet deal for them” because they’re fixing to tear down Tigertown and build a new stadium. Where are they going to play? Henley Field. City of Lakeland’s going to go in and spend a million dollars and you think they’re going to let us play there for nothing? Not hardly. It’s a sweetheart deal for Florida Southern College. But they have taken away Henley Field from the citizens.
Where are you most likely to be seen on a Saturday morning?
I like to go down to the little farmer’s market downtown and walk around. Then spending time with my grandchildren.
What distinguishes you from the other two candidates?
I know the community. I would be a commissioner that would use common sense and I would not owe any developers or special interest groups any favors. Period.
What’s your assessment of the other two?
The incumbent has not been independent. As for AJ, he’s young. I like him a lot. I think he has a bright future ahead of him in politics, and I don’t want to see him get discouraged by anything that happens. He’s a nice guy.
When I go to a coffee shop or a bar, I order…
I go to Mitchell’s. I just normally get a large coffee.
The city Communications Department recorded interviews with all three candidates. Here’s the one with Shirah.