UPDATED NOV. 1: Lakeland’s mayor election has been hit with three last-minute attack mailers from an out-of-town political action committee run by a man whose name has been associated with last-minute attacks several times.
The first mailer reached selected Lakeland voters’ mailboxes Friday — four days before Tuesday’s election — and two more came the day before the election. They were paid for by Make America Florida PC of Jensen Beach in Martin County. Michael Millner of Jensen Beach is listed in the organization’s registration with the Florida Elections Commission as chairman, treasurer and registered agent.
The organization is one of 59 political action committees that have been registered in Florida with Millner as treasurer. An Internet search of his name yields news stories about last-minute attack ads spreading across Florida from Miami to Appalachicola, among others.
The first Lakeland mailer claims incumbent Mayor Bill Mutz is a “tax and spend liberal” and “Biden’s buddy.” Its main claim is that “Bill Mutz voted for a 26% one year spending increase and raised your property taxes by almost 5%.”
Mutz responds that the 2022 city budget is “responsible” and that the $158 million increase is attributed to three needed capital projects:
- Remediation of the Lake Bonnet watershed paid 100% by a $40 million state grant. Gov. Ron DeSantis came to Lakeland in April to announce the grant.
- An $8.9 million project to replace failing wastewater lines paid by the American Rescue Plan Act. Without the federal funding, local dollars would have been needed for the necessary work, he said.
- Six reciprocating internal combustion engines at Lakeland Electric to replace the retired MacIntosh Unit 3 coal-burning plant. The $100 million capital project had been planned by the city “for a number of years … and is the most significant greening initiative the city could possibly address.”
Mutz said there were no new personnel or services associated with the 2022 budget: “Departments were asked to limit the costs they could control to less than a 2% increase. This is a responsible financial discipline which forces review of anticipated expenditures.”
Regarding property taxes, he said the City Commission has lowered millage for two of the last four years and kept the millage rate even the other two years. “Any increase a property owner sees with the reduced amount of millage is simply because the value of their property has increased over the prior year,” he said.
VOTER GUIDE: Before you vote, research the candidates and two ballot issues with LkldNow’s Voter Guide.
Mutz’ response to LkldNow did not address the “Biden’s Buddy” statement in the mailer.
Lakeland city elections are non-partisan and candidates are careful not to mention party affiliations. That said, Mutz and his opponent are both registered Republicans and Mutz was vocal in Facebook posts in 2016 about his support for the presidential candidacy of Donald Trump.
He has long described himself as a conservative and is president of the faith-centered Florida Family Policy Council, which notes on its website that the organization’s affiliates in 38 states “are the leading pro-life, pro-family organizations in their respective states.”
Voters received two more mailers from Make America Florida PC on Monday. One aligned Mutz with liberal policies of the U.S. Conference of Mayors even though he does not belong to the organization and doesn’t support the policies mentioned. The other called him a “cancel culture warrior” who sides with Biden over Florida’s governor.
Under Florida Law, political action committees can give financial support or communicate on behalf of a political candidate or cause but may not coordinate with a candidate.
Indeed, the mailer attacking Mutz makes no mention of his opponent and doesn’t even mention that an election is pending.
Make America Florida PC has not contributed to any candidate in Tuesday’s Lakeland elections. Likewise, neither candidate for mayor has received a donation from a PAC associated with Millner.