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Oviedo candidates answer residents’ questions

OCN passed along your questions to all five Oviedo office candidates

Oviedo Community News solicited resident questions for the candidates running in the 2021 election in our weekly email newsletter, on our Facebook page, within Facebook groups and at community events and public spaces, such as the Oviedo Farmers Market. The objective was to cast as wide a net as possible in order to get an accurate representation of the community’s concerns and priorities.

Vying for the mayor seat is incumbent Mayor Megan Sladek, a native Oviedoan, attorney and real estate broker at SunFlorida Realty; Kevin Hipes, a Florida native, former Sanford city commissioner and Oviedo Mall development director and business owner; and Abe Lòpez, who moved to Oviedo 3.5 years ago from New Jersey, is a seventh-grade civics teacher at Westridge Middle School in Orlando and owner of public relations firm Abraham Lòpez Consulting.

In the running for the Group 1 Council seat is incumbent Judith Dolores Smith – a native Oviedoan who had a career in mental health and social services, owned several businesses with her husband and wrote four books, one of which was about local segregated schools – and Natalie Teuchert, Oviedo resident of 20 years and a mechanical engineer at Siemens.

The candidates were limited to 100-word answers, which are published here in their entirety. We know it’s a long read, but we thought it would be helpful to read the answers straight from the folks who are asking for their vote.

Early voting is from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 30, and Election day is from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 2. Get more information including your polling location here.

Editor’s note: OCN received responses from all candidates except López. We reached out to him after the deadline for answers but did not get a response.

1. When are you going to put a senior center in Oviedo?

Kevin Hipes: I feel doing this is much overdue. The old post office was supposed to be upgraded for this use but this is no longer the case. Seniors are very close to my heart, and I propose in my contract a community program to help the elderly. I preach in a retirement center on Sundays. This is the most encouraging hour of my week. I can assure you I will get to work on making this happen as a top priority when elected.

Megan Sladek: In my opinion, we should not have publicly-owned age-specific buildings in Oviedo. The all-age community space that we want could be any number of places. The old post office will be demolished to build a road to access Solary Park, so the space can now be built where it is most useful. I’ve discussed putting it at the Oviedo Mall with the developer of the apartments going where Macy’s once was, as that project will trigger payment of over $1 million in recreation impact fees. Ultimately, the community at large must make that choice. Please chime in!

Natalie Teuchert: I would like to move quickly on this topic. Realistically, it would take quite some time to get a new facility approved and built but I don’t believe we have to wait to have a new building to start services. All we really need is someone to start coordinating services. We have city-owned properties that should be utilized to start providing services and opportunities. I will work with the council to support the development of a position of director for senior services and see if we can get this moving within a year.

Judith Dolores Smith: Plans are in the works when the budget allows.

2. Where do you stand on mask and vaccine mandates?

Megan Sladek: I don’t believe in mask or vaccine mandates. I do believe in personal responsibility and using my free will to choose to take steps that science says will mitigate a health crisis. My continued observation is that people who are not voluntarily wearing a mask are not wearing it properly. We get better results when people fully understand why measures are being recommended and why there is value in complying with the request.

Kevin Hipes: I am fully vaccinated. And I’m proud to say that I allowed the county to use the vacant Sears space at the mall to vaccinate many in this community. I don’t have a firm position on mandates. I see this as a national issue. Personally, I know that we beat polio with most Americans being vaccinated. However, I do see valid reasons on both sides on this issue.

Judith Dolores Smith: This is a decision made between physician and patient.

Natalie Teuchert: I am a firm believer in following the advice of medical professionals. I think it is our responsibility as citizens to take care of each other. Right now the CDC advice is to get vaccinated and wear masks in closed public spaces, where other people may have to be, in order to protect the immunocompromised population. I support the position of those experts.

3. The government response to COVID has been the greatest challenge to elected officials. We saw who steps up and leads, and who doesn’t. What is each candidate’s plan to convince every Oviedo resident (including school children) to get vaccinated as soon as vaccines are approved?

Kevin Hipes: As I mentioned above, we beat polio with vaccinations. However, you can’t make people get vaccinated. I am fully vaccinated and think all should be. I would bring attention to how we defeated polio. It was through vaccination.

Megan Sladek: I am not a doctor and it is not appropriate for me to give out medical advice about vaccines. That being said, I have been encouraging residents to consult with their physicians for months, and I will continue to do so and to share information about where vaccines are available.

Natalie Teuchert: A leader never asks someone to do something they aren’t willing to do themselves. I am vaccinated and encourage following the recommendations of the medical professionals. The best way the city can encourage vaccination is to continue to work with local leaders to make sure accurate information is communicated from health care professionals and that there is continued access to free vaccinations.

Judith Dolores Smith: This is a decision made between physician and patient.

4. Will you work to synchronize the traffic lights in the city?

Megan Sladek: Yes. I have been doing this the past two years. It is a constant battle as traffic patterns change with the seasons.

Kevin Hipes: Yes as best we can until I can negotiate a new joint planning agreement with the county to share the cost of upgrading our road systems.

Judith Dolores Smith: Traffic lights are currently on timing systems from rhythm engineering and adjust throughout the day based on real-time traffic.

Natalie Teuchert: When elected, I plan to sit down with the traffic engineers and identify changes that can be made to ease some of the pressure off of Mitchell Hammock Road. A lot of lights are already synced, but the streets that get priority are outdated in some cases. This will be included in my questions as I look for a solution with the experts.

5. Do you believe a candidate can be truly locally focused if he or she accepts a lot of out-of-state funding?

Kevin Hipes: Really depends on the candidate and who is contributing. I have many supporters from out of state. Almost all are family and friends. However, none have any ties to Oviedo, and stand to gain nothing if I’m elected. Megan says 85 percent of her funds are from local folks but this is about 300 people. There are 41,000 residents and 25,000 registered voters. Not exactly a mandate from the people.

Megan Sladek: No.

Natalie Teuchert: The vast majority of my funding is from smaller contributions in the area and some of the surrounding Seminole County areas. It seems to me that the people paying for your election should be the same people who expect you to work for them if elected.

Judith Dolores Smith: A statesman can.

6. Where do you see Oviedo in 25 years?

Megan Sladek: Thriving ‒ and the place I will still live. Oviedo will be on the other side of development/redevelopment with more local jobs, which will allow more people to work near where they live (reducing traffic). We will have three distinct activity centers (Oviedo on the Park, the Oviedo Mall and the Ace Hardware plaza area). We will still be a Tree City  and the trees planted back post-construction will be large enough to provide shade so walking/biking/car sharing will be genuine options for getting around our city.

Kevin Hipes: If you elect me, I will work to put a plan in place to have beautiful suburbs to the east with open space, parks and protected areas for wildlife. Dense residential and commercial to the west near the Mall in the commercial core district.

Judith Dolores Smith: An ever-evolving, vibrant community, protecting the rural boundary. See the Smart Growth section of smithforoviedo.com.

Natalie Teuchert: My hope is that Oviedo stays a place where my children will want to raise their families. I see the future Oviedo as a place where the quality of our local workforce drives businesses to want to be here, and a place people continue to want to be to eat, play, live, work and raise their families.

7. Would you be in support of a community-based clinic in Oviedo for the underserved community?

Kevin Hipes: Yes, in the right area and if the residents support it.

Megan Sladek: Seminole County’s Health Department brings mobile vaccines and check-ups to communities that need assistance as they become aware of issues. I am not in support of the City of Oviedo creating its own separate program. We are a town of 42,000 and though both the county and state have funding set aside for health care, this has not traditionally been a city-level service and we have no funding source to create or maintain such a program.

Natalie Teuchert: Absolutely.

Judith Dolores Smith: This is a viable goal for Seminole County to address. St.Luke’s has a private clinic called Shepherd’s Hope.

8. How do you plan to lure business to Oviedo without giving tax breaks?

Megan Sladek: With good planning and eliminating more red tape. During my first term, I proposed we adjust the code to allow micro industrial uses in more places without requiring people to apply for a “special exception”. The city’s staff looked into it, and Council agreed to make the change. I want the rules to be easy to discover, easy to follow and applied equally to everyone. We can also encourage people to move businesses here with well-planned public spaces that lure prospective patrons to the area so they can discover these businesses and find traveling to them pleasant and worth repeating.

Kevin Hipes: Yes but a limited amount. There should be some tax incentives for the right businesses. Those who bring high-paying jobs and many of them, and can show that they will be making a long-term commitment and investing significant funds into their facilities. I am working with many firms already to accomplish this at the Mall. These incentives should be spread out over a 10-year timeline that reverses if the business does not perform.

Judith Dolores Smith: Make Oviedo desirable. Mutual interest between parties. See the Smart Growth section of smithforoviedo.com.

Natalie Teuchert: Right now the biggest challenge businesses have is finding and keeping the best employees. Businesses, particularly STEM businesses, want to settle in areas where they will be able to hire competitively. Oviedo has everything a business needs in order to be successful. The simulation and STEM industry hub is right next door at the University of Central Florida. That can be a big draw to tech companies. People already come to Oviedo to live, eat, play and raise their families, but unfortunately they have to commute out of city limits to work.

9. What would you do to improve the walkability score in Oviedo?

Kevin Hipes: I would engage the public and private enterprise to come up with ideas. Then challenge private investment into this with incentives for these businesses and others to execute a plan. Also, some city regulations can assist in this to some degree.

Megan Sladek: Connect all the sidewalk gaps and plant shade trees (not crepe myrtles) to cover sidewalks so people will actually consider using sidewalks more often.

Natalie Teuchert: We have great biking and walking trails that lack connectivity in the city. Fortunately, there are already plans to connect the trails in downtown Oviedo. Along with expanding trails, I am very much in favor of expanding sidewalk widths on one side of the road to allow for bikes to commute away from the dangers of the road, and increase walking room on the other side of the street.

Judith Dolores Smith: See the Smart Growth section of smithforoviedo.com.

10. Do you run any businesses that are not properly licensed to operate inside city limits? If yes, why don’t you believe the law applies to you?

Megan Sladek: No.

Kevin Hipes: I was at the city this morning. Apparently even if I am working at the mall, I still need to have a business license for my home office. I have the application and will be getting the needed paperwork to them in a day or two. I was unaware of this. I fully agree we should all comply with all city regulations.

Judith Dolores Smith: No.

Natalie Teuchert: No.

11. What initiative remains the top initiative for the Oviedo mayor’s office and how does the mayor impact this initiative?

Megan Sladek: Going greener – both more money in residents’ pockets and more green around our town than would otherwise happen if we don’t shift how we do business as a city. Though the mayor is just one of five votes, the mayor also is holding the biggest megaphone. By helping educate people about long-term fiscal liabilities like roads and water lines that run alongside them, the mayor can help the community better understand how environmental stewardship and fiscally responsible development go hand in hand.

Kevin Hipes: An overall comprehensive traffic solution plan. I have proposed my plan to spread the traffic out over three major east-west corridors–Mitchell Hammock Road, State Road 426 and County Road 419 and create a new corridor by extending Slavia Road. Most importantly, we must negotiate and execute a JPA (joint planning agreement) with the county to get them to pick up most of this cost. The mayor is the key. You must have a solid negotiator and strong leadership skills to win a majority City Council vote. I am best qualified for this task. This will be my top priority.

12. How are you going to decrease traffic?

Kevin Hipes: An overall comprehensive traffic solution plan. I have proposed my plan to spread the traffic out over three major east-west corridors: Mitchell Hammock, 426/419 and create a new corridor by extending Slavia. Most importantly we must negotiate and execute a JPA (Joint Planning agreement) with the county to get them to pick up most of this cost. The Mayor is the KEY. You must have solid negotiator and strong leadership skills to win a majority Council vote. I am best qualified for this task. This will be my top priority.

Megan Sladek: I’m not. No one is. We are out of places to add new roads, so our current plan is to make it pleasant and safe to travel by bike, foot, golf cart or any means, other than a car. MetroPlan [Orlando] says that 19 percent of car-based trips in Oviedo are two miles or less. If we can entice those people to make these shorter trips without using a car, we can eliminate almost one in five cars on the road. This will mean enhanced sidewalks, more shade trees and very likely low-speed lanes for golf carts, electric bikes and the like.

Judith Dolores Smith: Manage capacity. Construction begins soon on roads to widen them. See the Smart Growth section of smithforoviedo.com.

Natalie Teuchert: When elected, I plan to sit down with the traffic engineers and work with them to identify changes that can be made to improve our traffic situation. As an experienced engineer, I can understand their studies and speak their language. I believe with the right experts and information, there are solutions we can implement. We already have a lot of studies completed, so it is time to start making changes.

13. One resident asked about the change in the garbage collection company and a subsequent bill increase. How would you handle changes to city services and associated charges, if elected?

Megan Sladek: The bidding process is highly regulated. We did not have to select the company that offered to perform the identical service as before at the lowest price, but that did seem like the best option. The old company was not willing to continue collecting our waste for the old price and their contract expired.

Kevin Hipes: First I would need to meet with staff and gain a full understanding of this. However, in my contract, I am offering all city employees an “out of the mayor’s pocket” bonus program whereby if any employee proposes an idea that will reduce expenses or increase revenue, and it’s adopted, they will get a bonus out of my salary! This should generate such great ideas!

Natalie Teuchert: The city negotiates contracts with the companies that provide our services, such as trash and recycling. My goal as a City Council member is to stop unquestioningly depending on external recommendations and to make sure the Council directly looks into details and fully understands options so we can select the best choice for our citizens. This would include contracts with trash and recycling providers.

Judith Dolores Smith: The contract was competitively bid.

14. Are you planning to keep open-space open?

Kevin Hipes: Yes. A high priority as proposed in my contract with the people is clean water, and protecting the environment and wildlife.

Megan Sladek: Florida’s Constitution gives property owners a lot of rights, and I will not attempt to prevent private property owners from using their land in accordance with existing zoning regulations if they ask to build on it. But I have (and will) fight to keep established city-owned parks as open space. That being said, I do support the effort to allow a non-profit to build (at its own expense) an Olympic-quality shooting range on unused city-owned park lands. It would be the first such facility in the State of Florida and would be great for our community on many levels.

Judith Dolores Smith: Yes, Oviedo has more preserved space per capita than any city in the county.

Natalie Teuchert: Yes. We need to work on our infrastructure before considering any change in our open-space areas.

15. Why is the water bill so high in Oviedo compared to other cities?

Megan Sladek: Water rates are highly regulated and reflect the actual cost to operate the facility. We pay our employees living wages and do not press our luck with deferring maintenance. One reason some peoples’ bills feel extra high is because not all areas of town have access to reclaimed water, which costs less to buy. We also have a tiered rate system, and people who water their lawn with potable water tend to get dinged with the super high rates designed to deter people from using that much water. We cut our irrigation system and our bills tanked by $100/month. [Sladek is referring to her personal irrigation system].

Kevin Hipes: I would have to look into this.

Natalie Teuchert: I agree that Oviedo’s water bill is ridiculously high compared to unincorporated Seminole County, and I am concerned that if we don’t properly explore and manage our city infrastructure in the future it will get worse. If elected, I will focus my engineering expertise on infrastructure issues including our water supply.

Judith Dolores Smith: Bill includes charges not found in other municipalities.

16. Have you received any monies or donations from any developers, real estate professionals or their relatives?

Kevin Hipes: Yes. I have been in the real estate business for 35 years and have many close friends who believe I would be a good mayor. However, very few are in this area and will not benefit from me being mayor.

Megan Sladek: Yes. All mayoral candidates have.

Judith Dolores Smith: Yes.

Natalie Teuchert: Not that I am aware of. Donations under $100 do not require an occupation disclosure.

17. Do any of the candidates own property in Oviedo or the surrounding area that they will be selling to a developer?

Megan Sladek: No.

Kevin Hipes: No, I only own the home I live in, which is in Sanctuary.

Natalie Teuchert: I do not.

Judith Dolores Smith: I can only answer for myself: Not at this time.

18. What is a specific change you would like to see in the next 3 years in the city of Oviedo?

Kevin Hipes: Focus the residential growth to the west near the mall where there is direct access to S.R. 417. Develop a large business center in the same area. This will create no traffic on Mitchell Hammock Road and keep our residential neighborhoods as they are.

Megan Sladek: I’d like to see Oviedo quit using herbicides and pesticides in its parks. We know enough about how the world works for us to transition to more sustainable methods. We know that Round-Up is carcinogenic. We can do better. We should do better. And I can say this because we’re in amazing shape with our financial trajectory and our planning docs.

Judith Dolores Smith: Continue to protect and serve the Citizens of Oviedo. Work toward being debt free. See smithforoviedo.com.

Natalie Teuchert: I would like to see a lot more initiatives brought to the city that can help out local communities. We are in a fortunate spot where the middle 50 percent of our population has been taken care of with parks and amenities, and now we need to focus on building out other areas. I would love to see a senior/community center, open wifi at the parks and more improvements to our infrastructure overall.

19. Residents also submitted questions for specific candidates. We have grouped them by candidate below:

Question directed at Megan Sladek

1. Why did the city return the $50,000 grant that you pushed for?

The United States Conference of Mayors awarded me (as mayor) a Sustainability Award, and I think Council’s hesitation to accept the prize money was that my colleagues didn’t fully understand the opportunity or the fact pattern. Within a month of Council’s decision to decline the funding, Council approved budget adjustments to spend $40,000 on edible landscaping at Solary Park. We also spent more than $10,000 on the Smart Start Program. The award application was structured to make sure that, when we won, we could spend it on pre-approved concepts. It’s water under the bridge now.

Questions directed at Natalie Teuchert

1. Can you share how your engineering education and experience will help Oviedo?

Currently the technical issues Oviedo faces are all outsourced to outside parties to be analyzed and solved. When these issues come back to the city, the council gets a recommendation that has generally just been accepted. I plan to bring my education to Council to make sure we are thoroughly vetting these recommendations not just for the build at hand but for the community at large. I am an experienced engineer who is invested in Oviedo. I have the unique ability to provide technical input that keeps the needs of the city and residents in mind with these challenging decisions.

2. How could the city create opportunities for more civic engagement by its citizens?

Currently, if a person comes to a City Council meeting, there is very little information on the items voted on. I believe if we are more open, even with simple summaries, that people would be more interested in going to the meetings and getting involved. I also think we can make better use of social media to get younger people involved, informed, and interested in their community.

Questions directed at Kevin Hipes

1. What is the future for the mall in 15 years?

To become a mixed-use regional community center. With residential/entertainment/businesses/large employers/restaurants/hotels and far less retail. This is the future. This will be an eat/sleep/work/play/ walkable complex with totally internal traffic flow and direct access to S.R. 417.

2. How could the city create opportunities for more civic engagement by its citizens?

Please read my Contract with the People of Oviedo. I have an entire section that asks/challenges the community to get involved and help those who have needs in this community. They include mentoring, assisting those recovering from mental health issues get re-engaged in the work force and spending time encouraging the elderly. There is much more we can do civically as well.

Questions directed at Judith Dolores Smith

1. Do you respect the religious beliefs of all citizens of Oviedo?

Only free countries respect religious freedom for all. I live in a free country. Please see the Constitution of U.S.A.

2. Your mailer showed a picture of the building of a new public school building. What was your involvement with that? It is my understanding that school building is a school board matter, not a city matter.

At the ribbon cutting to support initiatives and collaborations that we have as a city with the school board. Show appreciation for education.

3. Is Jesse Phillips working on your campaign? (Jesse Phillips is the vice president of the Winter Springs Community Association and worked as a campaign manager for Bob Cortes in his bid for Florida State Representative in 2014

No.

For more information about all of the candidates, visit their websites
Megan Sladek, Kevin Hipes, Abe López, Judith Dolores Smith, Natalie Teuchert 

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