Five City Candidates Discussed Issues At Monday Forum
More Than 70 Residents Heard Agreement, Dissent
Last updated 3/21/2022 at 10:40am
More than 70 guests gathered Monday evening at the Lake Wales Woman's Club to hear all five candidates for election to two city posts discuss issues and answer questions. Speaking from the stage all five candidates received polite applause following most of their answers, but there were also moments of division.
All five candidates were asked the same questions. Mayoral candidates Curtis Gibson, Jack Hilligoss and Tammy James generally agreed on most issues, including that high standards and impact fees for new development are necessary for the city to defend the quality of life of citizens.
Hilligoss, 49 and pastor of a large local church, cited the years of service his congregation has given to the community under his leadership, while Tammy James, 58, offered her 20 years of financial and team leadership experience in both business and not-for-profit fields. Gibson, 37, pointed to his four years previously spent on the commission as evidence of his readiness to lead the city.
Questioned about dangerous conditions on Chalet Suzanne Road and Thompson Nursery Road, all the candidates stressed the need to work with other government on the county-maintained roads. Gibson suggested that the city might "take over" the road, but didn't offer a way to fund the millions it would require to widen the roads.
Asked to explain how they would find the time to do the job of mayor, Hilligoss said that he would simply "find the time." Gibson said that his employers at Geico, where he works as an insurance adjuster, were very understanding of the demands of his office.
James explained that she has already made arrangements with the World Wide Fund for Wildlife to reduce her consulting hours to ten a week if elected, saying that because of the time difference with her international team that she would go to work at 5:00 am and "be showered and ready to go" at 9:00 am.
Asked whether they would prefer the three-way election to be decided simply by plurality or a runoff election, Hilligoss asked what the City Charter said. Assured that it was a simple plurality, he responded with "Let's do that,"
Later, however, when questioned about what they would change in the operations of Lake Wales government, Hilligoss said that one change he would like to see in the city charter was allowing county residents vote in City Elections. Voting in elections is determined by residency in the political unit, so county residents, who pay no city taxes, are ineligible to vote in municipal elections. Florida statutes also warn that "A person is not permitted to vote in any election precinct or district other than the one in which the person has his or her legal residence and in which the person is registered." There are severe penalties for voter fraud.
On the topic of the Walesbilt Hotel, Loydd cited the ongoing lawsuit by the city to regain title as a step toward finding a developer who could make a redevelopment project a reality. Hilligoss called the project "probably a loser" and said that it would require people who "really love Lake Wales" to pay for it.
James cited the value of having people on the streets downtown, supporting shops and restaurants, acknowledging that many local residents were dismissive of the building's prospects, but that "somebody new" can more easily see the enormous potential it presents.
The two commission candidates, Danny Krueger, 75, and James Loydd, 49, differed more sharply in their answers to several questions.
In response to a question about resiliency and how the city might prepare for climate change, Loydd, a former local football standout who earned a scholarship to Austin Peay University where he earned degrees in Sociology and Political Science, suggested gradual conversion of the city's fleet to electric vehicles and incentivizing developers to use solar panels. "Anything that we can do to lower our impact on the environment, I think we should try to do that," he said.
Krueger, a former dairy farmer who moved to Lake Wales from Wisconsin eight years ago, cited a city survey which did not address the issue, saying that climate change "wouldn't affect us for two or three hundred years," drawing a mix of laughter and boos from the audience. In his opening statement Krueger had mentioned a number of divisive national issues not relevant to city government before denying that the United States is a democracy.
After the prepared questions had been answered, organizers gave the audience an opportunity to come to the microphone and ask questions. It was during that period that the bigger differences in the candidates were revealed, and more response generated.
Asked by a resident about the city's racial divide and the need to bring people together, Krueger dismissed racial discrimination as differences over "shades of tan," saying that he wasn't white because he was darker now that he had relocated from Wisconsin to Florida, and that the questioner was simply "a darker shade of tan."
Loydd reacted forcefully, saying that "that sounds good, some people applaud because that sounds good, but it's not true, and we know that's not true in America, so let's be honest," he said. "The first thing we have to do is be honest about what we're trying to do, and if we want to mislead people and say nice things, and leave everybody feeling happy, then the same thing's going to happen next week."
The largest crowd response came after Krueger, who repeatedly cited Bible verse in his responses, said that "there are only two kinds of people in the world: sinners that are saved, and sinners that are not saved."
Challenged by a Jewish citizen who asked how he would be treated, Krueger said he would treat him the same as any other citizen, "put you on my prayer list" and that if he didn't agree he should "take that up with God."