Lakeland voters will go to the polls Tuesday to select two city commissioners from a field of six candidates. The city’s 27 polling places are open from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m.
Collectively, the candidates have spent about $63,000 campaigning in a race that has been very cordial.
First-term incumbent Chad McLeod faces opposition from Kay Klymko and Dennis Odisho for an at-large seat on the seven-member commission. Sam Simmons, who is completing his first year on the commission after being appointed to replace departing Commissioner Phillip Walker, faces Lolita Berrien and Guy LaLonde Jr. for the seat representing Northwest Lakeland.
Check LkldNow’s Voter Guide for profiles of all six candidates and to see their answers to five timely questions.
Both races are open to all registered voters who live within Lakeland city limits. They are the only two items on this fall’s election ballot. If a runoff is needed, it will be held Dec. 5.
A third incumbent, Bill Read, was automatically re-elected to a third term to the seat representing Northeast Lakeland in September when no other candidates filed for the office.
City commission races are non-partisan. Commissioners are elected to set policy for Lakeland’s municipal government, which has a $747 million budget, on a multitude of issues that include police and fire protection, growth and development, transportation, recreation and utilities — including water and electricity.
Commissioners’ pay for 2023-24 is $32,639 with an expense allowance of $1,800.
City Clerk Kelly Koos said 10,248 Lakeland voters requested mail-in ballots. As of Monday evening, 5,557 of those had been returned. In addition, 219 people took advantage of early walk-in voting between Oct. 23 and Nov. 3 at the Polk County Government Center, 930 E. Parker Street.
Koos said mail-in ballots must be received by 7 p.m. Tuesday to be counted. However, any voters who didn’t mail their ballots in time still have two options to participate in the election on Tuesday:
- They can hand-deliver completed mail-in ballots to one of the Supervisor of Elections offices at 250 S. Broadway Ave. in Bartow or 70 Florida Citrus Blvd. in Winter Haven.
- Or they can go to their polling place, surrender the mail-in ballot, and mark a new one.
Koos said most longtime residents will be voting in familiar locations. However, precincts and polling places can change between election cycles. For example, a new polling place was added at the Sun ‘n Fun Expo campus because of the tremendous growth in southwest Lakeland.
It’s a good idea to verify your polling place online before heading out to vote.
Once at the polling place, voters will be asked to show two forms of identification: a signature identification and a photo identification. Some IDs that have both a photo and signature, such as a driver license, can be accepted as a single form of identification. More on polling-place procedures.
Check candidate campaign finance reports to see who contributed and how the money was spent.
The candidates at a glance
Lolita Berrien, 67, is a lifelong Lakeland resident who has been a member of the Lakeland Planning & Zoning Board as well as as other city boards and active in neighborhood organizations. She is an administrative secretary at Lincoln Avenue Academy.
Berrien’s campaign has raised $1,985 — three-quarters of it from the candidate herself and spent $1,955.
Guy LaLonde Jr. , 56, is a U.S. Navy veteran and small business owner who moved to Lakeland when he was 12. He is a Lake Gibson High School graduate and Publix meat manager who owns Lakeland Moon Walk of Polk County Inc. and Under One Tent Events Inc.
LaLonde’s campaign has raised $28,695, the most of any Lakeland candidate in this election cycle, and has spent $25,878. He received 18 donations of $500 or more, most of them from real estate professionals. He has been endorsed by Lakeland Realtors, Business Voice of the Lakeland Chamber of Commerce, Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 185 and Lakeland Professional Firefighters.
Sam Simmons, 66, owns a housing and financial services company. He is a former president of the Webster Park Neighborhood Association and has been active with the Central Florida Business Diversity Council.
Simmons’ campaign has raised $5,573 and spent $4,419. The campaign’s only donation of $500 was from the candidate himself.
Kay Klymko, 73, is a family nurse practitioner and retired university professor (her doctorate in nursing includes a gerontology specialty) who moved to Lakeland in 2019. She also co-owned a small business for 20 years. As a relative newcomer, she says she offers a new perspective to the commission.
Klymko’s campaign has raised $6,375 and spent $3,476. She received four contributions of $500 or more, including one from herself for $1,500.
Chad McLeod, 41, is a public relations professional who is a Bartow native and fourth-generation Floridian. After working on the staff of U.S. Sen. Mel Martinez for five years, he co-owned a Lakeland public relations firm for nearly 10 years. He is currently employed by Compassion International, a nonprofit agency.
McLeod’s campaign has raised $25,525 and spent $19,454. He has received 33 donations of $500 or more, many of them from individuals and organizations involved in real estate and development. He has been endorsed by Lakeland Realtors and Business Voice, an arm of the Lakeland Chamber of Commerce.
Dennis Odisho, 44, is a construction executive with Tampa-based Barton Malow Builders who has spearheaded large healthcare projects. He moved to Lakeland seven years ago and is on the board of directors of the Lakeland Regional Health Foundation.
Odisho’s campaign has raised $8,178. His Nov. 3 campaign finance report showed he had only spent $978, but campaign treasurer Vickie King said the figure is actually $8,028 because several bills were paid after the Nov. 2 cutoff date. Odisho reported nine donations of $500 or larger, including several from Tampa Bay-area construction companies. He has been endorsed by Associated Builders and Contractors Gulf Coast Chapter and Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 185.
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