Lakeland’s Phillip Walker is serving as president of the Florida League of Cities during the year the organization prepares to celebrate its 100th year of advocating for the needs of municipalities.
Walker, a Lakeland city commissioner for 12 years, will have a large role in planning the League of Cities’ centennial celebration, scheduled to take place in August 2022.
In the century that the organization has been around, Walker is aware of only one other Lakelander who has been its president: the late Larry Durrence, who served on the Lakeland City Commission for eight years in the 1980s.
“I consider it to be an honor,” said Phillip Walker. “I’ve always considered myself to be a public servant. I try not to get caught up in titles. “
During his one-year tenure as president of the Florida League of Cities, he hopes to help cities improve in the areas of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, increase participation in the League’s new grassroots advocacy program and to keep city officials informed about the American Rescue Plan Act funds.
Florida cities have been allocated a combined $2.9 billion in direct relief funds, designed to help them deal with the impacts of COVID-19, According to a League news release,
“Our forthright mission is to protect local city-making decisions … Tampa is not Bartow. Certainly, Miami is not Wauchula. The citizens of these cities know what’s best for their communities,” Walker said. “We contend to make sure that our state Legislature understands problems that certain communities deal with that other cities do not deal with. [We want them to know] you can’t just do a paint brush all over the whole state and incorporate 411 different areas.”
Some of the issues the organization advocates for involve transportation funding, annexation, funding for infrastructure, and short-term rentals and individual cities’ ability to regulate them, according to Walker.
“Our governor right now says that the federal government shouldn’t dictate what’s best for Florida. Well, we want to say the same thing. Florida Legislature shouldn’t dictate what’s best for our communities. We should play in the sand together and make sure that we do what’s best for Florida as a whole,” Walker said.
The theme for his year of leadership is “Local Voices United.” He hopes to help cities get their residents more engaged. During his term, the league released a new website which allows cities and residents to submit stories about what makes their locales special. The website also has a calendar of all of the festivals happening around the state, and it provides information to help residents communicate with state legislators and advocate for issues important to them.
“We are reaching out to different neighborhood groups. We’re reaching out to different non-profit group, [and] average Jane Doe, John Doe citizens letting them know how they can be a part of this grassroots effort. We want to make sure they know they can speak and share regarding concerns for their particular community,” Walker said.
In terms of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, Walker said the Florida League of Cities has resources to assist cities with incorporating it throughout their daily operations.
“We want to make sure all cities throughout our state will have some kind of program to provide diversity, equity and inclusion as part of their operations,” Walker said.
Walker became a member of the organization 12 years ago, when he was first elected to the Lakeland commission in 2009. He said the organization has helped him adjust to life as an elected official.
“I got very involved with the League of Cities right after being elected. They offer classes, you know city government 101, for newly elected officials. I immediately wanted to jump in and learn things I needed to learn about city government and its operations,” Walker explained.
He added that the networking he’s been afforded through the Florida League of Cities has been helpful.
“The networking opportunities … You get to hear about various cities and what they deal with and how they got across different hurdles that they may have had to deal with,” Walker shared.
He’s proud that Lakeland doesn’t have as many issues as other cities; in the past, the city’s Community Redevelopment Agency was asked to showcase to the organization’s members how it took steps to improve the quality of life in Lakeland’s Midtown corridor.
Walker will leave office as Lakeland commissioner in 2022. A Republican, he’s running for Florida House of Representatives District 40, which covers northwest Polk County. The seat is currently held by Rep. Colleen Burton, R-Lakeland, who plans to run for the State Senate District 22, a seat held by Kelli Stargel, whose term limits end next year.
Walker calls the creation of the Lakeland History and Culture Center, which is currently under construction at the Lake Morton library, “one of [his] greatest initiatives … during [his] years of service. “
“I can see that growing from being where it initially will be at the main library downtown to its own separate facility,” Walker said.
Its unveiling is set to take place in March.
Walker’s installation speech:
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