As part of our year in review, The Beacon reached out to every official elected in November 2018 to a position in which they had never before served, and asked them to look back at the year and evaluate themselves — their accomplishments and failures, and on how the job lived up to their expectations.

Of 14 officials, half responded. Here are their answers, lightly edited for clarity and length:

MARTIN HARPER, ORANGE CITY COUNCIL DISTRICT 5

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MARTIN HARPER

1. What has been the most rewarding and/or informative experience for you this year?

First let me say it is an honor to succeed Evelyn Durant Robinson in this position. She was a true citizen patriot. The Blue Spring St. Johns River recharging project is one of the most important things our area can accomplish. It brings together three cities and the St. Johns Water District, and will have a lasting effect on our environment.

2. Have you made progress on the issues you ran on? How so? If you feel you haven't, what obstacles stand in your way?

Progress on my issues is positive. Our budget for the City is accurate and reasonable without much debt. I continue to work on communicating with our citizens on important matters. This week, we are holding a town hall to answer questions concerning the 2020 census and try to get folks to register to vote.

3. If you could go back to when you first were sworn in, is there any advice you would give yourself?

Finally, the best advice I could give is to “Pay attention.”


KAREN CHASEZ, MAYOR OF DEBARY

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KAREN CHASEZ

1. What has been the most rewarding and/or informative experience for you this year?

The most rewarding experience has been to make progress on issues that are important to our residents when for numerous reasons an active response by the city had been delayed.

One illustration of this would be the acceleration of long-delayed stormwater-infrastructure projects to alleviate flooding in certain parts of our city. While the city had made major investments over time and addressed the needs in many areas, there remains a long list of smaller projects that have been “waiting their turn” for a long time. This budget year, we were able to fund several significant projects that were on that list for many years, fulfilling promises to residents.

2. Have you made progress on the issues you ran on? How so? If you feel you haven’t, what obstacles stand in your way?

When I ran, I said I believed some of the skills and knowledge gained from my experience as a corporate executive would be well used in the role of mayor, given the numerous developments underway or proposed for DeBary and the infrastructure needs confronting us.

I believe that these skills have been helpful as the council has deliberated development proposals and infrastructure needs. They also contributed to processing competing demands for limited tax and grant dollars during the budget process.

3. If you could go back to when you first were sworn in, is there any advice you would give yourself?

At the time I was sworn in, the council faced the daunting task of creating a smooth transition from an interim city manager who had made significant contributions to the stabilization and progress of the city over a couple of years, to the new permanent city manager.

If I were to go back and give myself advice, it would be to rest assured that at each juncture in a difficult journey the next steps will become clear if you work to:

  • be as open to the input of residents, staff and contributing professions as possible;
  • do extensive homework to make sure you have as much relevant information as possible; and
  • vote what you, at the end of deliberations and consideration of all viewpoints, believe is in the best interests of those who have entrusted you to represent them, no matter how adamant the competing voices.

BEN JOHNSON, VOLUSIA COUNTY COUNCIL AT-LARGE

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BEN JOHNSON

1. What has been the most rewarding and/or informative experience for you this year?

It’s rewarding to work with the citizens again. That’s something I missed after being with the Sheriff's Office so long. I mean, I got involved originally to help people — I’ve been doing that since 1971. I missed that, being part of the solution.

As sheriff, you can see a problem and pretty much attack it right away, but this line of work requires more patience. It’s more about working as a committee, working together. The speed is different, but it’s still the same sort of thing — doing what is right for people.

The biggest difference, like I said, is the speed. We’re policymakers — we’re not involved in the day-to-day, that's why you hire a manager. But I am very pleased with county staff — this is a team. And it takes teamwork to get the job done.

2. Have you made progress on the issues you ran on? How so? If you feel you haven’t, what obstacles stand in your way?

I believe we have made progress on some of them. I’m just finishing 10 months, and a lot of that time is spent getting your feet on the ground. But we’ve made strides on economic development and job creation; we’re getting there; we’re working on infrastructure, and bringing in the business community. We’re making progress — and now it’s really starting to show.

It’s funny, even though we’ve failed with the half-cent sales tax, the effort brought cities and the county closer together, closer than they ever have been before. Part of successfully working together is just to get the friendship going.

When I first got onto the County Council, I thought “What have I gotten into?” What am I doing here?... It took several months to actually embrace it and enjoy it. It was kinda rocky at first. But even though it’s a change of pace, I’m enjoying it. I’m enjoying being part of the solution.

3. If you could go back to when you first were sworn in, is there any advice you would give yourself?

Be patient.


BARB GIRTMAN, VOLUSIA COUNTY COUNCIL DISTRICT 1

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BARB GIRTMAN

1. What has been the most rewarding and/or informative experience for you this year?

The most rewarding is the opportunity to work for the people of Volusia County and ensure the people of West Volusia have a voice for issues that matter.

2. Have you made progress on the issues you ran on? How so? If you feel you haven’t, what obstacles stand in your way?

I believe my election as supported by voters from all parties demonstrated the need for fresh eyes, independent diverse thoughts and the courage to challenge the status quo. I have encouraged management to empower staff to be more proactive to assist our residents/customers to improve the culture and trust of those taxpayers who keep staff employed and allow elected officials to serve.

I believe I am contributing to the positive change necessary to move Volusia forward.

3. If you could go back to when you first were sworn in, is there any advice you would give yourself?

I am pleased with my approach this my first year. I spent time with the departments and staff to take the pulse of management, services, moral and culture to determine recommendations. I would tell myself, “You cannot be everything to everyone nor can you be everywhere people expect you to be.” I choose a variety of events to get in front of a diverse mix of community programs and needs.


PHYLLIS BUTLIEN, DEBARY CITY COUNCIL SEAT 4

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PHYLLIS BUTLIEN

1. What has been the most rewarding and/or informative experience for you this year?

First and foremost I want to thank everyone for a great year, and a great year it has been. Hiring a permanent city manager in April and making great choices and recommendations through my first budget as a councilwoman was very exciting.

2. Have you made progress on the issues you ran on? How so? If you feel you haven’t, what obstacles stand in your way?

The City of DeBary recently hired a public information officer, which will make some of the issues I incurred on the campaign trail resolved. Many residents were not getting information on city and community events, so this will help with that process.

Keeping the tax base clean of debt was also an accomplishment that I feel the city manager and some of the council were very successful in doing.

3. If you could go back to when you first were sworn in, is there any advice you would give yourself?

Listen and be prepared. Ask questions, and don’t try to please everyone.


RUBEN COLÓN, VOLUSIA COUNTY SCHOOL BOARD, DISTRICT 5

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RUBEN COLÓN

1. What has been the most rewarding and/or informative experience for you this year?

The most rewarding experience was selecting Dr. Fritz as our new superintendent. I am optimistic that under his leadership, Volusia County Schools is headed in the right direction.

2. Have you made progress on the issues you ran on? How so? If you feel you haven’t, what obstacles stand in your way?

For many years, our K-5 students did not have reading or math textbooks. As a candidate, I recognized this to be a huge problem. I am proud to say, we began this school year with new reading and math books.

Deltona Middle School replacement was a project placed on hold by the previous School Board. This year, we secured the funding, and construction will begin in the coming months.

3. If you could go back to when you first were sworn in, is there any advice you would give yourself?

If I could go back, I would not have waited so long to bring about changes I knew were inevitable.

The role of a School Board member is very limited. The superintendent is responsible for the everyday operations, and for hiring and firing. Our students deserve the very best. I am convinced the board has made a great decision in hiring Dr. Fritz. “We are on our way to an A, the Volusia Way.”


KEVIN REID, DELAND CITY COMMISSION SEAT 5

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KEVIN REID

1. What has been the most rewarding and/or informative experience for you this year?

The most rewarding part of this experience is getting this opportunity to serve the wonderful residents of DeLand. DeLand is a complex city with a ton of moving pieces. It is amazing how much information goes into making informed decisions that benefit all residents. I am constantly impressed with the care and effort our city employees put in to make DeLand the envy of other municipalities.

2. Have you made progress on the issues you ran on? How so? If you feel you haven’t, what obstacles stand in your way?

I am happy to see movement on most items that were concerns in the election; unfortunately this still leaves room for improvement. Both the Spring Hill Resource Center and The Bridge will be completed in 2020, helping to improve community for individuals in need.

One of the most promising items is movement towards improvement for our current road conditions, an item that will improve the safety in our community.

At the start of 2020, I look forward to keeping DeLand moving forward and working to enhance the attributes that make DeLand a wonderful community.

3. If you could go back to when you first were sworn in, is there any advice you would give yourself?

Take it one day at a time; change doesn’t happen overnight. Remember that you can’t be everywhere that you would like to be, and be sure to maintain a healthy home and work balance.


Elected officials who didn’t respond

Questionnaires were emailed to 14 elected officials using their governmental email addresses. One or two follow-up emails were sent.

We didn’t hear back from:

  • Elizabeth Fetterhoff, elected to represent District 26 in the Florida House of Representatives
  • Jamie Haynes, elected to represent District 1 on the Volusia County School Board
  • Kellianne Marks, elected to represent District 4 on the Orange City Council
  • Patricia Stevenson, elected to Seat 3 on the DeBary City Council
  • Maritza Avila-Vazquez, elected to represent District 3 on the Deltona City Commission
  • Loren King, elected to represent District 1 on the Deltona City Commission
  • William Bliss, elected to the Volusia County Soil and Water Conservation District