We asked the City Commission candidates five questions and they answered. We are offering the candidates’ responses together so that they can be more easily compared. The responses are presented as submitted without editing. Click on any question to view the candidates’ responses.

Northwest District Candidates

LIVABILITY: What is the main barrier keeping Lakeland from being a more livable city? How can you as a city commissioner help solve it?

Lolita Berrien: Lakeland is a livable city. However, it can become a better city for all residents. I will focus upon the priority needs for the citizens. The NW area in which I will be a representative and for other parts of our city will be my top priorities. To communicate with city officials to determine how and what will be the best way to accomplish a priority for the best quality of life for the citizens of Lakeland.

Guy LaLonde Jr.: ] Infrastructure – We must take a deep look at our already congested roads, the need for improved drainage, water usage, and electrical resources. We have shovels in the ground and growth is happening at a rapid pace.
Revisit our out paced growth management plan and meet our citizens needs for improved public safety and quality of life.
] Workforce Development – attract more high tech jobs and businesses that offer better wages and career opportunities.
As a commissioner I would work closely with City of Lakeland’s Community and Development Department and the LEDC to attract more better paying high tech / trade jobs and ensure we have the proper resources for them,
Work with local business stakeholders, schools, colleges, technical trade schools to ensure we are addressing workforce needs and help with career sourcing needs.
I will work with the Public works department, FDOT and the Polk TPO to address our need for improved roads and drainage.

Samuel Simmons: I think many people believe that Lakeland is becoming more livable by virtue of its accelerated growth. However, to pinpoint one particular facet, I would say homelessness could be seen as a barrier keeping Lakeland from being more livable. How can one human being enjoy the city, while seeing others on the streets suffering? I plan to work with homeless-focused organizations to see if we can help the homeless find better living conditions.

GROWTH: Lakeland’s rapid growth is adding stress to roads and other infrastructure. What are your priorities in dealing with growth?

Lolita Berrien: To see that roads or either maintained or repaired, rehab housing, vacant lots, water drainage, signal lights, lightening in residential areas along with maintaining visual view for the residents safety. Secure roadways at nighttime and when roads are wet for visible driving. To build low-income housing and to show equity throughout the city.

Guy LaLonde Jr.: We must revisit our current growth management plan and advocate to make proper adjustments for our current and continued rapid growth that is outpacing or current infrastructure.
I will work with the city, state and federal FDOT as well as the Polk Transportation and Planning organization to advocate for improved roads, bridges, drainage and utilities necessary to maintain and improve quality of life.
Transportation, commerce, clean water and electrical resources all rely on these vital resources.
I am a strong supporter of OUR Police and Fire departments.
I will continue to always strongly advocate for more and better public safety. We must ensure that that the men and women that serve and protect our community have the proper equipment that is necessary and required
I will continue to strongly advocate for the much needed station 8 in our beloved NW District, although we are close to near future resolution we already have need for another station in the fast growing SW District

Samuel Simmons: I believe the biggest challenge we face as a city is the ability to mitigate the effects of growth on the quality of life in Lakeland. Infrastructure improvements must accompany and accommodate the growth that we are experiencing. One major area of infrastructure improvement will be the completion of the western trunk line. This is a $51,000,000 pipe refitting project. Much of the need for the project is wear and tear throughout the years, growth has been identified as a key factor. Growth also affects our roads and roadways and contributes to traffic congestion. One option that has been floated is the referendum of a half-cent sales tax. A schedule has been devised that projects Lakeland’s portion of the funds for each year over a 20-year span. So far, this is the only plan that I am aware of that would effectively address our roadway concerns. I plan to advocate for the necessary infrastructure and road improvements to address growth as it occurs in each section of the city.

ROLE OF GOVERNMENT: Is there something that Lakeland’s city government is doing that should be ended? What is it? Is there somthing the city isn’t doing that should be added? If, what is it and why is it needed?

Lolita Berrien: I can’t say that the City Commission is missing anything because I am not currently sitting on the commission board. However, when the opportunity avails, I will network with a subtle group of individuals who desire Lakeland to become a better city. In doing so we will corporately agree to “Make a Positive Difference” as we revisit the vision and goals of this city.

Guy LaLonde Jr.: I have some reservations about the cities acquisition of 19 automated cameras to be installed on city roads, functioning as an additional surveillance tool for law enforcement, the Ledger reported the cost at $57,000 dollars annually, totaling $285,000 over a five year period.
With funding being drawn from the cameras , my concern lies with allocation of resources, as I believe we have more pressing priorities than expanding our surveillance technologies.
Moreover, I have deep concerns regarding the protection of our citizens privacy, the storage and utilization of collected data.
While I whole heartedly support our dedicated law enforcement personnel and their safety, I am not in favor of the proliferation of the red light cameras or the introduction of additional surveillance in our neighborhoods.
In my view, the government should play a limited role in citizens lives.
Instead we should be fostering public private partnerships to address our challenges.
We should enable them.

Samuel Simmons: A greater focus needs to be placed on homelessness. The fact that countless homeless people align the streets of Lakeland is a shame our society for not adequately addressing the need. I plan to work with the various homeless shelters to devise a strategic plan for addressing homelessness. We shouldn’t be comfortable seeing any human being suffering on the streets.

UNIQUE QUALITIES: What do you bring to the City Commission that has been missing?

Lolita Berrien: I can’t say that the City Commission is missing anything because I am not currently sitting on the commission board. However, when the opportunity avails, I will network with a subtle group of individuals who desire Lakeland to become a better city. In doing so we will corporately agree to “Make a Positive Difference” as we revisit the vision and goals of this city.

Guy LaLonde Jr.: I believe that once elected I will bring more than just my passion for people, but a fresh and innovative set of lens that will work well with others on the commission.
I will bring the expectation of maintaining a quality of life to our residents through the adoption of fair policies and practices that get measured and quantifying results.
I have lived in Lakeland, specifically the NW district most of my life.
I raised my family here, I have started and successfully run my businesses here, I know and understand the current challenges we face as a city and a community.
I will bring strong leadership skills with the understanding of the local issues and the ability to make tough informed decisions and help guide our city in the right direction.
My dedication to serving the public and ability to build trust within our city using my strong commitment to transparency.
I commit to being a servant leader, and always listen to the concerns of the residents.

Samuel Simmons: The sensitivity of a citizen advocate would be the unique perspective that I bring to the current commission. Serving as president of the Webster Park Neighborhood Association for 20 years, I have had many occasions to address the city commission on issues that affect the quality of life of residents within our community. As such, I have adopted a personal philosophy on governance: I believe we govern honestly when we are able to empathize with those whom our decisions affect. I also bring the notion that all policy decisions should be filtered through the concept of quality of life, which simply means that we ask ourselves does the decision contribute to the quality of life of Lakeland residents or detract from it.

OPPONENTS: What is your assessment of your opponents and the kind of city commissioners they would be?

Lolita Berrien: Both opponents have their individual visions; which each of us has similarities in the vision for the future. Either one of us would be good a commissioner. However, we know there is only one seat available. Regardless, whatever we present to the board a vote of agreement must transpire.

Guy LaLonde Jr.: For more than a year I have either sought appointment or campaigned relentlessly to serve OUR beloved City of Lakeland’s citizens for a improved quality of life.
I have a great respect for my opponents, both whom have outstanding records of community service.
Their dedication to our city is commendable.
However, I believe that it is my work ethics set me apart. My track record of community service, military service, and successful running of a small business reflects my unwavering commitment to serving our city with unmatched dedication and and determination.
As I have emphasized numerously, I am committed to working tirelessly maintaining open communication with community stakeholders, attentively and actively considering city staff recommendations, and decisions that put our city’s best interest first.

Samuel Simmons: I think each one has the intelligence and the passion to be a good city commissioner.

At-Large Candidates

LIVABILITY: What is the main barrier keeping Lakeland from being a more livable city? How can you as a city commissioner help solve it?
Kay Klymko

Kay Klymko: I believe Lakeland is a livable city at this time for many residents, but there are areas for improvement to make it more livable for all. The population density and resulting congestion is a problem for safety, security, and competitiveness in affordable housing and employment. Affordable housing needs to have continued advocacy. Road improvements, maintenance, and more energy efficiency can leave an environmentally friendly footprint. We need a public-private partnership to address the homelessness in our city along with a standing committee of the city commission to work with current organizations for humane 24-hour service. Our population is aging with 40 % of people above age 50, many of which are being sandwiched with care of older and younger family members. I advocate for the partnership with Vision for a senior service center.

Chad McLeod: In many ways, Lakeland is a very livable city. We have great amenities at an affordable cost of living compared to many cities in Florida. The area that I see that would make Lakeland more livable is connectivity throughout the city. While we use the word connectivity often in planning discussions, it can be challenging and costly to connect different parts of the city in ways that can be easily reached by different modes of transportation.

Our recent discussions about improving pedestrian and bicycle access to Bonnet Springs Park is a great example. As the west side of downtown sees more redevelopment and new projects, there is an opportunity for us to improve the connections not only to Bonnet Springs but also to the other side of Florida Avenue and into the heart of downtown. If re-elected, I will continue to advocate for well-planned connectivity that makes it easier to get around Lakeland.

Dennis Odisho

Dennis Odisho: Lakeland is one of the fastest growing cities in the country and we need someone that has experience with construction and development, business development, team building, and a proactive, not reactive, approach to growth. Our city will continue to grow and we must be prepared to facilitate that growth in order to maintain the quality of life we’ve all come to love while living in Swan City. We need to ensure the assets we own in our city do not become liabilities by continuously subsidizing them and propping them up with taxpayer dollars. We need to ensure our infrastructure has the ability to support the growth that is coming to our city and create strategic alliances with national, brand name firms and facilitate their entry into our market so our citizens have high paying and livable wage paying jobs. And we can do this while respecting our history and maintaining our identity.

GROWTH: Lakeland’s rapid growth is adding stress to roads and other infrastructure. What are your priorities in dealing with growth?
Kay Klymko

Kay Klymko: Public safety infrastructure needs to grow with the city just like water, sewer, and electric. It is one of the most important aspects of our community. We need additional personnel and structures for the growth of public safety to include our fire and police departments. The need for Station 8 has been identified since 2018 and now its 2023. We must hold our commission accountable for the status of station 8 plans. One of my top priorities is to get this station in operation as rapidly as possible. Human life in the NW district depends on it.

Chad McLeod: My priorities in dealing with growth include:

Major roadway improvements, including the I4/State Road 33 interchange redesign, South Wabash Avenue extension, Lakeland Park Connector Drive project, and additional intersection improvements such as the planned roundabout south of Bonnet Springs Park.

Water and wastewater infrastructure updates. The decisions we make now related to planning for future waste and wastewater needs are among the most important we face. For example, the wastewater master plan that the city is currently developing to make sure we’re adequately planning for future wastewater capacity is a critical project that will help us move forward as a city.

Strong regional and state partnerships. As many of our infrastructure needs involve the county and state, it is essential that our city commissioners keep our partnerships strong with Polk County commissioners, state legislators and leaders at key agencies such as the Florida Dept. of Transportation.

Dennis Odisho

Dennis Odisho: We need to act in the best interest of the city’s future and be prepared to make tough decisions that will benefit not only our current citizens, but future citizens as well. Before we approve large residential developments, we need to ensure these developers are prepared to commit to their fair share of the costs required to make our streets safer and more navigable. Smart growth is the key and we need to negotiate deals that favor our taxpayers in a open and transparent matter in which everyone has the ability to voice their opinion. There are cities in our region that have not managed this rapid growth properly, and not only have they lost their identity as a city, but gridlock and accidents are a common and expected way of life. By keeping our CRA Development plan current and staying up to date on the latest technology to utilize the latest maintenance of traffic technology and plans we can anticipate and support the future growth that is coming.

ROLE OF GOVERNMENT: Is there something that Lakeland’s city government is doing that should be ended? What is it? Is there somthing the city isn’t doing that should be added? If, what is it and why is it needed?
Kay Klymko

Kay Klymko: We need to allocate funds to appropriate human priorities first. Although we love our dog parks, perhaps we should put issues such as human dignity, public safety, and mental health as a priority!

Chad McLeod: As a city, Lakeland does many things well. If you had asked this question several months ago, I would have said we need to find ways to engage more youth — more young leaders — with our city government. I’m excited that we recently established Lakeland’s first Youth Council, made up of 15 high school students who will have the opportunity not only to learn about all things Lakeland government, but they will provide ideas and recommendations to the city commission.

Something we’re not doing yet that I hope to see in the near future is bringing a commercial airline to the Lakeland airport. This has been an area of focus since I joined the commission in 2020, and I’m hopeful that we will make this happen soon. Having the option to fly commercially from Lakeland would be a benefit to many of our residents.

Dennis Odisho

Dennis Odisho: I don’t believe in subsidizing city parks, entertainment facilities, or negotiating contracts that aren’t favorable to the citizens we represent and their tax dollars. I believe in leveraging city owned property and facilities and working with private sector firms to upgrade, renovate, manage, and promote them to enhance our image to the outside communities and bring talent, high paying jobs, and events that people want to attend and invest in. We need to provide entertainment, shopping, and dining options to our citizens and keep the money we as Lakelanders spend in Lakeland and not other municipalities. I believe we can create micro-districts that provide a village type feel with local business owners for grocery, dining, and entertainment and promote these districts with respect to the current residents and history of the neighborhoods.

UNIQUE QUALITIES: What do you bring to the City Commission that has been missing?
Kay Klymko

Kay Klymko: I bring a fresh perspective that is unique and not currently present in the commission. My lifetime experiences in the administration, coordination, and provision of human services positions me to efficiently analyze complex data and make responsible decisions that represent our people. I have the knowledge of how to effectively approach problem solving, conduct research on best practices, and bring to the table the best solutions that are available. I am a team player with respectful communications and willing to navigate complex negotiations.

Chad McLeod: We are fortunate as a city to have a commission that works well together. Everyone brings a different perspective and background into each issue we address. The one area that I think I’ve been able to bring to the commission is an ability to strengthen our outreach to Lakeland’s Hispanic community. Having lived in Venezuela in college, where I learned to speak Spanish, has given me a connection to the Hispanic culture. Lakeland and Polk County have seen significant growth in the number of Hispanic residents in recent years, and it’s been exciting to find ways to improve our city’s engagement in this area.

It’s an honor to serve as our commission’s representative to the Mayor’s Hispanic Advisory Council, which is planning to host the city’s first bilingual town hall — focusing on the theme of “getting to know your city government” — sometime later this year.

Dennis Odisho

Dennis Odisho: I moved from a town of 30,000 people in a blue collar region of Northwest Indiana where people brought their lunch to work. An overwhelmingly majority of people work in the Steel Mills. We tighten our belts and budgets when the economy begins to falter and have to make the tough decision to ensure our families are fed and the bills are paid. There is a clear time and place for needs and wants and we grew up knowing this and we rallied together to ensure the community survived intact. I will represent the City of Lakeland in the same manner, making sound decisions based upon the current economy and with the best interest of our citizens in mind. My experience as a construction executive, negotiating almost $800 million dollars worth of contracts, establishing firms, building teams of subcontractors, architects and engineers and managing projects in excess of $100 millions dollars while maintaining schedule, scope, quality, and budget and have made me uniquely prepared for this.

OPPONENTS: What is your assessment of your opponents and the kind of city commissioners they would be?
Kay Klymko

Kay Klymko: I have not had the opportunity to discuss my opponents’ views on the issues that confront our community’s future. I look forward to upcoming forums and debates to better understand their positions and how our approaches may differ or where there are commonalities. I have to believe we are all working towards making a better Lakeland.

Chad McLeod: I didn’t know Kay or Dennis before they entered the race in September, so I’m still learning about them. However, they both seem to have strong professional backgrounds and a passion for the City of Lakeland.

Dennis Odisho

Dennis Odisho: I do not know my opponents personally or professionally, therefor it wouldn’t be proper of me to assume what type of commissioners they would be.

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Barry Friedman founded Lkldnow.com 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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