In preparation for the Jan. 15 City Commission special 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 transcript of our interview with Sara Roberts McCarley. (All interviews edited for clarity.)
While the race is citywide, the winner will represent the Southwest District of the city.
Why do you want to be a city commissioner?
My whole life has revolved around service. Municipal government is something that I find is very impactful to its residents. It’s more hands on. So I wanted to, in this time of year, in a short election and a short term, help the city fulfill Commissioner Dunn’s term.
It’s not for the pay, is it?
No, it wasn’t.
What’s your top issue?
My top issue is retention of talent and keeping young people here but building strong business opportunities. We’re sitting at Catapult, and I think Catapult is one of our best assets to incubate new business and new ideas. I think the future involves things we don’t even realize are job opportunities right now. And I’d like to see creativity with that.
Do you have any specific proposals for economic development?
I think working with the city on navigating the permitting issues and having business incentives to cultivate new corporations coming in as well as small businesses would be helpful. The system right now seems a little hard to navigate. So if we could loosen up on regulatory or at least have some consistency to building business and where the business practices are from the city standpoint of permitting, I think that’d be helpful.
When people around Florida hear “Lakeland,” they think…
I think they think it’s a small town. I don’t think they have any idea at the depth and breadth of business opportunity we already have here as well as some civic assets that we have — our partnership with the Tigers, for instance, is the longest running partnership in Major League Baseball with a city for spring training. We have a great Civic Center. We have our own utility that’s proficient. I think they think of us as a podunk little town. And that we’re the belt buckle between Tampa and Orlando — which I don’t believe at all.
In three years, when people around Florida hear “Lakeland,” I want them to think…
Business friendly, talented, local talent, and a great place for people to land.
When I want to show somebody what I like about Lakeland, I take them to…
I actually take them downtown. We typically eat at the Garden Bistro over at the Magnolia building, because you can sit out by the lake and look at the downtown skyline. It’s intimate, but it’s not small town.
People say city government needs to be more “customer-centric.” What one or two steps should be taken along those lines?
I think consistency is key from what I’ve heard from the business community in this short campaign is that there’s inconsistent policy. So if you don’t know what the policies are, I think it’s difficult to navigate it. I also think that you can have good manners and be welcoming even if you don’t agree, or even if the process is arduous, you can communicate that positively and then work together to succeed.
How far should the city go in making its fiber network available to small businesses and residents
I think from my position at Polk Vision for four years, as the executive director — we had a broadband team, which is part of the infrastructure team — it should probably be a public and private partnership, utilizing Lakeland’s assets. It is an expensive venture for everybody. So the onus of what that cost is, would be important for us to know as citizens and residents.
If it’s strictly on the businesses who are accessing it, or if it will be assessed universally across the board to all the taxpayers.
So I think that cost is imperative to know up front, we have a feasibility study that’s happening right now with Magellan, to help build that out and see what it literally would be. The private industry at the moment doesn’t see the market value, I don’t think, in developing broadband. So this is probably will have to have a stake in the game. It’s a it’s a complicated issue, I would like to see small business access it but I think we have to look at the cost.
The biggest mistake made by city government in the last four years was …
I think that we need to be more collaborative in our work and more customer friendly, I think that it segmented and siloed which is typical of government and I am a conservative, I like smaller government. So there’s not one mistake I would point to, I would just think of better efficiencies.
How could the City Commission have better handled the Confederate monument issue?
I’m disappointed in the way that that was handled universally. It’s something that I don’t agree with the appropriation of the red light dollars going to move that. However, I think the way they could have handled it better was having the disparate groups sit together around a table and not be so emotional but come to an agreement collectively on the best case scenario for that. I think we often are yelling at each other so much that it’s really on the City Commission to bring those parties together and have civil discourse to decide what’s the best for Lakeland.
Where are you most likely to be seen on a Saturday morning?
Typically on my back porch with a cup of coffee.
What distinguishes you from the other two candidates?
With my role at Polk Vision, and in starting the Randy Roberts Foundation, which really impacts youth locally, I feel like I have an understanding of the complications of the city and how we affect our residents and how to navigate that system. I think that I’m a very good listener. I like hearing opposing opinions. I’m also very patient and I think that when you’re working in an environment like this, you have to be patient. It’s easy to get into the weeds over topics and spout out facts on one side or the other. But I think it’s really difficult to hone in on some of the issues that are facing our city like broadband.
What’s your assessment of the other two?
I think anybody who sticks their neck out to run should be respected. It’s a difficult choice to be a candidate for any elected seat. So I respect the fact that they have thrown their hat in the ring. I think I’m the best candidate because I am smart. I’ve given back to my community. I’ve sat a lot of boards in the community and really gotten my hands dirty. And I feel like that sets me apart from the other two.
When I go to a coffee shop or a bar, I order…
At a coffee shop I have a latte, and at a bar, usually white wine.
The city Communications Department recorded interviews with all three candidates. Here’s the one with Sara Roberts McCarley: