For this month’s “men’s issue”, I was asked to write a piece on some of the most influential men in West Orange County. After seeking wise counsel on this assignment, one community leader suggested to me that I do the piece on the West Orange Town and City Managers. This revelation was an excellent one, as our towns and cities are all Commission/Council-Manager forms of government. Meaning that our elected commissioners, or council members, appoint a single executive authority to run the city or town, which holds the title of “City Manager” or “Town Manager”. The below four men are objectively the most influential people who are shaping West Orange through their decisions and actions. Being a “Man of the People” myself, I am glad to report that, via our influence over the political leaders who appoint them, we are still in control of our communities. I spoke with these men and am happy to deliver the below reports.
TOWN OF OAKLAND | Steve Koontz
Oakland is truly a hidden gem within West Orange. Ironically it is one of the oldest communities and was established in 1887. Hugging the bottom end of Lake Apopka’s South Shore, it is home to many beautiful historic water-front and water-view homes along dirt roads and huge trees. With a population of just under 4,000 people, many are aware of who their town manager is, Steve Koontz. Mr. Koontz believes in the preservation of green space and dirt roads but also understands property rights and labors tirelessly to keep the historic charm of the community. A true servant leader, he told me how his role is to follow the vision of the elected Town Commission. Out of the 100 staff members, about 60 of them hold positions related to Oakland Avenue Charter School, the town’s very own elementary school. One major initiative for this town manager is to keep his town quiet and peaceful. Therefore he is focusing on traffic issues on Oakland Ave. He has been continuing the development of roadmap plans for traffic calming measures and sidewalks on the road. On this he stated, “We need to keep Oakland Ave a community road. If you want to move fast, you need to be on Highway 50. If you are in town, then you are here to be in town.”
TOWN OF WINDERMERE | Robert Smith
Out of the four West Orange communities we are looking at, Windermere is one of two which meet the classification of “town” rather than “city”. The town is located on the southeastern side of West Orange, and webs between three main lakes which are Lake Butler, Lake Bessie, and Lake Down. 12 years ago, this very popular community was facing a dark period in its history, as the former police chief had been arrested and subsequently, the town manager of that time resigned. However, times have changed drastically, and Windermere is now a shining community of excellence. Great thanks to an incredible new police chief and with the overarching leadership of the current head of the town, Town Manager Robert Smith. He stated that his favorite thing about Windermere is the sense of community, “being able to interact one-on-one with residents and being on a first-name basis with them”. This is possible as the town has a population of only 3,300 residents. He leads 36 staff members to run the town. Among many initiatives in progress, this town manager seeks to complete the Windermere Ward Trail and wants to bring potable water to the residents of the town (the town currently uses a well-water system).
CITY OF OCOEE | Rob Frank
The City of Ocoee is the most eastern part of our West Orange Community and goes north, hugging Lake Apopka above the Winter Garden areas that do the same. It ends when it meets the City of Apopka border about a mile south of Magnolia Park. The City Manager is Rob Frank.
He has led in this position for 18 years and was the tip of the spear for many changes within the local government. In 2004 when he took this powerful role, he began to make many adjustments including repositioning individuals in their ranks within Ocoee staff. He seems to have focused not just on the citizen experience, but the staff experience as well. Mr. Frank told me that City of Ocoee employees get some of the best medical insurance and petition benefits there is. Through chains of management, he leads nearly 480 employees that labor to make the city run. Having both an engineering technology degree and a master’s degree in public administration, one may be surprised to learn that his first role in government was that of a police officer. Now through nearly two decades of leading a city with a population of over 49,000, Mr. Frank told me that “Ocoee is a great place to live”, and that he would “put it up against any other city in Central Florida”.
CITY OF WINTER GARDEN | Jon C. Williams
Geographically, and to some perhaps in other ways too, Winter Garden is the heart of West Orange. However, it was not always that way… for those that have been around long enough to remember, it was once nicknamed “Winter Garbage”, highlighting the downturn the community felt after the citrus freezes of the 1980’s. However, with the leadership of many different men and women, Winter Garden came back in a huge way. Former City Manager, Mike Bollhoefer had a lot to do with the progress and success we see now, indeed his strong leadership style is legendary in the West Orange community. This is why his recent resignation had many wondering if the city will continue on its strong path. A new powerful leader would be needed to fill his shoes. Winter Garden found that in the newly appointed City Manager Jon C. Williams.
In 1999, Mr. Williams began his government career in Edgewater as a code enforcement officer. Eventually he would become City Manager of Longwood and from there came over to Winter Garden. He now is the head of over 373 full time equivalent staff members for a city of nearly 50,000 residents.
Mr. Williams attributes the city’s wild success largely to the people who are on staff. He explained that they do a lot of “lean” thinking and work together in all manner of roles.
There is no doubt that with Winter Garden’s beautiful and incredibly popular downtown area, the city is at risk for over development. Mr. Williams seems to understand this risk well. It appears that he will be a great leader for Winter Garden… because he understands what most Winter Garden residents want. That is, to “maintain our family friendly atmosphere,” according to his own words.
Austin Arthur is a local business owner and community advocate for West Orange County, Florida. Along with his brother, Zander Arthur, he is the Co-CEO of Stars and Stripes Management Systems in Winter Garden, which is a multi-brand digital marketing and management company which includes the very popular “Gymnastics USA”. A promoter of traditional family and community values, he has been writing about, and advocating for, West Orange County for some time and is active on many boards and other community groups. Austin and his wife, Kellie, are residents of Winter Garden, where they are raising their three children. www.austinarthur.us