The two candidates for mayor offered starkly different visions for what is needed to develop northwest Lakeland at a forum on Tuesday. Incumbent Bill Mutz called for mentoring, training and creating minority business financing, while challenger Saga Stevin pushed for more policing in an area she claimed is marked by gangs and violent crime.
Tuesday’s forum was held at the weekly meeting of The Rotary Club of Lakeland. The candidates for mayor and three of the candidates for City Commission were asked four questions, including this one: “What are your thoughts for developing the northwest part of Lakeland?”
Stevin was the first of the mayoral candidates to answer and noted that it was the same answer she had given to previous questions, such as how to manage growth: more policing.
Answering the growth question, she talked about “one district in particular that takes up 90% of our resources for police calls.”
She amplified that when asked about northwest Lakeland. Mentioning a recent ride-along with Lakeland police officers, she said, “We went through the neighborhoods. The neighborhoods are not safe. There’s gangs there. There’s a lot of crime there. There’s homicides there. There’s shootings there. There’s a lot of things there. The police can’t take care of it if they’re not well funded.”
As a case in point, she told of a bowling alley north of I-4 where “the bad guys” chased all the families away. The owners hired off-duty police officers and within two months they had chased away gang members and drug dealers so that families could return, she said.
“The same thing can happen in the northwest,” she continued. “You can have a safe neighborhood. Everybody wants safe neighborhoods. Those people deserve safe neighborhoods, too. We need more neighborhood liaisons.”
LkldNow asked the Lakeland Police Department’s public information officer on Tuesday afternoon whether there is data to back up the claim that 90% of calls for service involve northwest Lakeland. She responded that she wasn’t familiar with that statistic but would try to see if there is data for calls for service by patrol zone. We have not heard back yet on any findings.
UPDATE: LPD provided the data on Thursday night. It led to a follow-up article that said Patrol Zones A and B, which cover northwest Lakeland, have together accounted for 25.26% of police calls between Jan. 1 and Oct. 4 this year, not 90%.
Mutz’ answer to the question about developing northwest Lakeland centered around investing in people.
“It is not a policing problem. The problems are opportunities, and the opportunities are what Lakeland is all about … What we really need to do is more complicated than just the infrastructure answer. It’s investing in the lives of people. It’s getting mentoring going. It’s getting training going. It’s creating minority business financing opportunities. It’s the equipping of people in the changing the lives and transferring of hope that makes an area better.”
Regarding police staffing, Mutz told the audience: “For the record, LPD is fully staffed and the chief has requested no additional employees. It’s important for you to know.”
Voter Guide: Election Day is Nov. 2. To learn more about the candidates and voting procedures, check LkldNow’s Voter Guide.
Two incumbent city commissioners seeking re-election answered the question about developing northwest Lakeland by discussing infrastructure improvements, especially the need for better roads.
Commissioner Sara Roberts McCarley, who represents southwest Lakeland, talked about the importance of housing redevelopment initiatives in northwest Lakeland such as the Lincoln Square development where the city bought and demolished a blighted apartment block and worked with private developers to build single-family homes and provide incentives to urban homesteaders.
She also spoke of the need to improve roads and sidewalks to interconnect better with other parts of the city. “Right now, they’re kind of cut off because you have George Jenkins Boulevard and Kathleen Road” acting as barriers, she said.
McCarley’s opponent, Allyson “Al” Lewis,” is a high school history teacher and said she was unable to attend the noon meeting.
Commissioner Mike Musick, who represents southeast Lakeland, picked up on the infrastructure theme, saying better roads will promote economic development in northwest Lakeland. Noting there is a lot of undeveloped land off of Kathleen Road, Musick said, “If we don’t have the infrastructure that needs to be out there, if we don’t have the sidewalks and roads, it’s going to stay undeveloped. And when undeveloped land stays undeveloped, that’s when it stays lower income. It stays poor because we don’t have the businesses and the higher-wage jobs.”
His opponent, Shandale Terrell, said northwest Lakeland already has vibrant small businesses on Kathleen Road, U.S. 98 North, 10th Street and Martine Luther King Jr. Boulevard. But housing help is needed, he said.
“It’s all about redeveloping the homes, providing the residents there with some type of program to develop their homes and upkeep. And once you do that, that’s when you’ll see the beautification of the northwest area and then it will mirror the south side.”