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By Robert Connors
Managing Editor 

Commission Candidate Forum Brought Few Surprises


Last updated 3/21/2023 at 8:15pm

Robert Connors

Four candidates, including (L to R) Keith Thompson and Michelle Threatt, seeking seat three, and Danielle Pride Gibson and incumbent Deputy Mayor Robin Gibson, seeking seat five, addressed questions submitted by the audience in addition to five pre-submitted questions prepared by forum organizers AAUW and Lake Wales Womans Club.

Four city commission candidates facing an April 4 election shared a stage at the Lake Wales Womans Club Auditorium Tuesday evening to compare their positions on a variety of topics raised by audience questions. Few major differences were apparent on subjects ranging from public transportation to electric car chargers.

The candidates responded to five questions submitted in advance by the two organizations, followed by others submitted by the audience. Surprisingly, none of the questions raised pertained to the proposed rezoning of a 96-acre tract at 11th Street and Hunt Brothers Road to allow construction of a plastic pipe factory. The issue has raised sharp opinions and comments at recent city commission meetings. Commissioners are considering allowing the final decision to be made by planning staff rather than facing the thorny questions themselves.

The forum, hosted by the Womans Club and the American Association of University Women, was the second of three planned of three planned forums offering citizens an opportunity to learn more about the people seeking to represent them on the five-person commission.

Current Deputy mayor Robin Gibson and challenger Danielle Pride Gibson sat side by side as they responded to questions posed by moderator Jessica Bray, a member of both hosting organizations. The questions were read from cards written by the audience.

Sharing the stage were Michelle Threatt and Keith Thompson, both seeking a seat being vacated by 12-year commissioner Terrye Howell.

Deputy Mayor Gibson brought much laughter after almost being accidentally denied a chance to answer a question related to a proposed resolution on equal pay for women, which was denied adoption by Mayor Jack Hilligoss.

"The question was about discrimination against women..." he quipped when given his chance to respond.

The issue of resolutions was raised by two questioners, as current commission policy makes the mayor the gatekeeper of what may be heard. His controversial choice to deny recognition of women's issues and a pride resolution last year put him at odds with minority groups in the city.

Hilligoss' decision to read a resolution proposed by an out of town Hibernian society at a recent meeting after denying the gender pay gap resolution proposed by the Lake Wales AAUW drew criticism at the meeting last week.

"I do think it's interesting that proclamations are being decided by one person in the city," Thompson said when the issue of equality was raised. "I think that they should be brought to the full commission to decide. I don't know how that happened...I would encourage...for that to stop, and for the entire commission to vote on it. I think that we should be allowed to talk about it as a group and come to a decision on the different proclamations."

Also raised was the issue of installing electric vehicle charging stations in the city after Commissioner Danny Krueger called electric vehicles "a fad" during a commission meeting.

"Sure," Thompson replied, while Threatt instead raised the issue of cars "on TV going on and doing what they want."

Robert Connors

Meeting moderator Jessica Bray, on stage left, introduced the four candidates competing for two seats on the Lake Wales City Commission in the April 4 election at the Tuesday forum at Lake Wales Woman's Club.

Deputy Mayor Gibson recently replaced his first electric vehicle with a newer model, a process he described at a workshop meeting.

In response to the question, which pointed out that every major auto manufacturer is converting most of their production to electric vehicles, Gibson compared the process to the replacement of horses and buggies to the internal combustion engine. "It's a fact of life, my friends," he added, pointing out that the Lake Wales Connected designs call for two charging stations downtown. The adequacy of that number was not mentioned.

A final candidate forum is slated for Tuesday, March 28 at 5:30 pm at the Lake Wales History Museum.


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