Lakeland residents will have two chances in the next week to learn more about the eight people who applied for a seat on the City Commission. The first is an NAACP forum at 6 p.m. tonight at the Coleman-Bush Building. And next Monday, all eight applicants will formally introduce themselves to the seven current commissioners during a meeting that will be recorded for later broadcast.

The person selected will take office Nov. 7 and fill the remaining 13 months in the term of Phillip Walker, who resigned from the commission in connection with his unsuccessful run for the Florida House of Representatives. Under a provision in the City Charter approved by voters last year, city commissioners fill vacancies when there is less than two years until the next election.

Commissioners set policy for Lakeland’s municipal government, including oversight of the city-owned Lakeland Electric. The person appointed to the position will be able to run for the seat when it is up for election next fall and will have the advantage of incumbency. Commissioners are paid $31,687.95 a year.

Tonight’s forum will be an opportunity for community members to hear the candidates and then possibly let commissioners know who they prefer and why, said Terry Coney, president of the NAACP Lakeland Branch, which is sponsoring the event. The Coleman-Bush Building is at 1104 N. Martin Luther King Jr. Ave.

Next Monday, city commissioners will hear from the candidates for up to 15 minutes each starting at 8 a.m. in the commission conference room at City Hall.

Typically, City Commission gatherings are broadcast live on the city’s website and cable channels, but City Attorney Palmer Davis suggested that the broadcast of the applicant presentations be delayed so that the various applicants can’t benefit from what those who come before them say, according to City Communications Director Kevin Cook.

Cook said he will announce later when the interviews will be available on the city’s LakelandGov TV page and on cable: Spectrum Channel 643 / FiOS Channel 43. Replays of the interview will also be available.

The conference room will accommodate a couple dozen spectators. Members of the public who attend will not be able to ask questions or make public comments during the interviews, but they will be able to do so when the commission meets to make their final decision on Oct. 17. That will take place during the commission’s regular meeting at 9 a.m. in the commission chambers at City Hall, 228 S. Massachusetts Ave.

Commissioners submitted questions for the applicants to Davis, who compiled them. In all, 16 questions were submitted. The initial plan was to decide which questions would be forwarded to the eight applicants, but no such decisions were made on Monday, when commissioners discussed the interview procedures, so all 16 will be forwarded.

See the questions at the end of this article.

The process

The 16 questions are being forwarded to all eight applicants by City Clerk Kelly Koos. The applicants will be given the option of answering them in writing and return their answers by Friday to Koos, who will then distribute them to the commissioners.

On Monday, each applicant will have up to 15 minutes to discuss the questions they feel are most pertinent to their candidacy. Earlier commissioners had said they would allot 10 minutes to each applicant but they lengthened the time after Commissioner Stephanie Madden said some people felt offended by the suggestion that the commission couldn’t take more time to hear from potential colleagues.

Commissioners said they will listen to the applicants’ answers but not respond. Sara Roberts McCarley, who chaired Monday’s meeting in the absence of Mayor Bill Mutz, explained that would provide more continuity: “just because it could be skewed. You could go down one rabbit hole with one candidate and not down that rabbit hole with the other candidates. That would be very convoluted.”

The applicants will appear in alphabetical order. Koos explained that’s the order their names would be displayed on a ballot had there been an election.

Madden said she and the other commissioners have been getting emails from some of the applicants and their supporters and wanted to let other applicants know that they, too, can have their supporters send emails explaining why they favor the candidate. Commissioners will be taking more into account than just the 15-minute presentations when they make their choices, she said.

The applicants

The commission seat represents Lakeland’s northwest quadrant, which is west of Florida Avenue/U.S. 98N and north of the CSX railroad tracks. See a map of commission districts. The seat holder is required to have lived in the district for at least one year before taking office. The applicants are:

  • Lolita Berrien, a member of the city Planning & Zoning Board and former presiding chair of the Neighborhood Association Coalition. She has been an administrative assistant in Polk public schools for 25 years and has been vice president of the Webster Park South Neighborhood Association.
  • Tracy Faison, a registered nurse who has been a business owner and president of Lake Gibson High Booster Club and Lakeland Storm Youth Football and Cheerleading. She is regional administrator for Pediatric Health Choice in Lakeland, Haines City and Daytona.
  • Daryl Forehand, a pastor and former correctional service consultant who is a previous president of the Lakeland Police Athletic League. He has served in the U.S. Navy and is currently pastor and diocesan bishop at Immanuel Temple Church and interim dean of W. L. Bonner College in Columbia, S.C.
  • Guy LaLonde Jr., a U.S. Navy veteran and Publix meat manager who owns Lakeland Moon Walk of Polk County Inc. and Under One Tent Events Inc. His volunteer work includes Relay for Life, United Way of Polk County and the Special Olympics of Polk County.
  • Veronica Rountree, a community health services advocate whose community activities include president of the Neighborhood Association Coalition, chair of the Code Enforcement Board and Police Advisory Board. She is a community advocate for Peace of Mind Community Healthcare Services.
  • Ricky Shirah, a former Publix truck driver who owns a towing business, has taken the Chamber of Commerce course for potential candidates has run for City Commission previously. He has run for City Commission three times, including for the northwest district seat in 2015 and an at-large seat in 2019.
  • Samuel Simmons, a former city of Lakeland accountant who is president of the Webster Park Civic Association, a past president of the Neighborhood Coalition Council and a co-founder of the Central Florida Business Diversity Council. He currently owns a housing and financial services consulting firm
  • Saga Stevin, who ran for mayor of Lakeland last year and lost to Mutz. She has been a platelet rich plasma technician and is a member of the board of directors for the Citizens’ Council for Health Freedom and Polk Education Foundation.

The commissioners’ questions

Questions were submitted by five of the seven commissioners. Davis’s compilation did not note which commissioner asked which questions. Commissioner Chad McLeod noted there is duplication between the sets of questions, so the applicants can decide which to answer. The questions, edited for style:

First set

1) What’s your vision for Lakeland moving forward especially your northwest district representation?

2) Timing … there are other board and committee assignments.  Are you able to devote time to attend?

3) What’s the largest budget amount or oversight you have approved?

Second set

1) Do you have the time to do this job?  In addition to our four meetings each month, you will be taking over the committees Mr. Walker was on. (Editor’s note: McCarley noted at Monday’s meeting that committee assignments rotate between commissioners so these will not necessarily be the assignments of the new commissioner.)

  • Legislative committee chairman includes trips to Tallahassee several times per year.
  • Transportation Planning Organization board meetings in Bartow.
  • Utility Committee (Lakeland Electric)
  • Lakeland Area Mass Transit District
  • Lakeland Police Department Community Engagement Committee
  • Time for e-mails

2) What do you see as an area the city needs to address?

3) What do you bring to the commission and why should we select you?

Third set

1) Why would you like to serve on the commission?

2) What assets will you bring?

3) What is the most challenging issue you have had to work through professionally and how could that experience apply to serving in this role?

4) What do you know about infrastructure and how it works?

Fourth set

1) Describe how your skill sets best fit the needs for representing citizen interests from the northwest district and the city overall.

2) In particular, what is (are) your area(s) of passion for the city?

3) In reviewing what has been accomplished in the last five by the commission’s governance, what is the most significant unaddressed gap, you’d like to see addressed?

Fifth set

1) Why do you want to serve as the interim commissioner for the northwest district?

2) What’s a unique perspective you think you would bring to the current commission?

3) What’s an issue that the City Commission deals with that you would find most interesting and why?

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Barry Friedman founded in 2015 as the culmination of a career in print and digital journalism. Since 1982, he has used the tools of reporting, editing and content curation to help people in Lakeland understand their community better.

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