Winter Springs City Commissioner Victoria Colangelo was removed from her post on a multi-city organization Monday after her fellow Commission members said that she had made them feel “embarrassed” on behalf of the city.
“What I saw was my representative for that organization tearing down our city,” resident Sheila Benton, wife of Commissioner Matt Benton, said during the public comment portion of the meeting. She added that at one point Colangelo made a gesture “acting like a cheerleader” while announcing that the city was being audited.
Colangelo, who after being elected to the Commission in November had asked to be the city’s representative to the Council of Local Governments in Seminole County (CALNO), attended that group’s Feb. 1 meeting, where representatives of other cities and government agencies in the county traditionally give updates on what the cities are working on.
“I do believe our job is to paint the city in a good light,” Mayor Kevin McCann said.
He said rather than updating other city officials on projects and achievements the city was working on or had recently completed, Colangelo used her speaking time to air “personal agendas.”
“I’m just surprised someone in that role would use that opportunity to, quite frankly, throw the city under the bus,” Commissioner Ted Johnson said. “I don’t think that was the intent when we agreed to have that sort of representation.”
When asked about the city’s recent development moratorium while it studies the stormwater impact of new developments, Colangelo, representing the city, indicated that she was at odds with fellow city officials about the moratorium, saying that she feels the problem is with current development, not future development. Seminole County Soil and Water District Supervisor Jennifer Webb, who also attended the CALNO meeting, offered that if there’s an issue with stormwater in the city, future development could exacerbate it, which appeared to confuse Colangelo despite being discussed during multiple recent Commission meetings.
In a discussion about the length of other cities’ meetings compared to Winter Springs’ 4-to-5-hour-long meetings, Colangelo exchanged a series of joking remarks about her own Commission, while referring to the city she was representing as “they” more than half a dozen times. Casselberry City Commissioner Anthony Aramendia said that he cursed repeatedly at the screen while watching a Winter Springs City Commission meeting, and agreed they were too long.
Commissioners in Winter Springs had been working to reduce meeting times, as the topic has been a consistent theme of discussion in the past year. The Commission in 2022 had added more meetings to cut back on the time spent in each meeting, but then Commissioners said there weren’t enough discussion topics to justify having as many meetings.
Recently Commissioners had proposed moving the meeting’s start time back to a previous time of 5:15, or reducing public input times or reducing awards presentations to help truncate meetings, though the Commission has yet to enact those proposed changes.
Johnson said that because of issues that occurred at the CALNO meeting, a more experienced Commissioner should be representing the city to the county.
“I would suggest we reconsider for the rest of the meetings of 2023 somebody who has more experience and is quite frankly more in tune with some of the good things that are going on with the city,” Commissioner Ted Johnson said.
Colangelo sat mostly silent Monday while the Commission discussed whether to strip her of her CALNO assignment but, in a brief statement, Colangelo said, “I had no malfeasance in doing what I did. I thought I was representing my residents as best as I knew how.”
Commissioner Cade Resnick, agreeing with some residents who would speak in opposition to Colangelo losing her role representing the city at CALNO, said that she needed time to learn.
“Knowing the role and being part of the role is a very large learning experience,” Resnick said. “It’s kind of like drinking from a firehose when you first enter here. Adding committees and things like that makes it even harder.”
“I would venture to say that we use it as an educational opportunity,” he added. Resnick did not address Colangelo’s negative remarks about the city toward other cities’ officials, but said that he hoped she would be given more time to grow into the role.
City Manager Shawn Boyle said that Colangelo had already received four hours of training from two staff members plus “Several more hours” with Boyle, learning city protocols after being elected.
Johnson said that Colangelo did appear to be trying to learn.
“To their credit the other [CALNO Commissioners] were providing guidance to Commissioner Colangelo in regard to her role as a City Commissioner, and they were trying to help her along, making certain things to her what can be done, what should not be done, those areas that are better left to a city manager,” Johnson said.
“It just seems to me like instead of sharing some of the positive things that are going on in your municipality, as you are a member of this group, everything seems to be negative, and even at one point, ‘We’re having an audit,’ and the body language is almost like cheering,” Johnson added.
The Commission would vote 3-2 to strip Colangelo of the assignment, soon afterward voting 3-2 to return the role to McCann who, as mayor, is the city’s traditional representative to outside governments.
That angered some residents, who said they didn’t approve of the city trying to “silence” Colangelo, who recently had broken city protocol to talk to a television news crew on behalf of the city about the state audit.
“I just caution you from trying to silence a commissioner because you don’t approve of what she’s exposing or talking about,” said Bryan Bruce, Colangelo’s fiancé.
“We voted her in, and she did what we voted for,” resident Mark Caruso, who recently ran for mayor, said.
Watch the full CALNO meeting here (The portion of the video most referenced in this article starts at the 1:56 mark).
Listen to the Feb. 13 Winter Springs City Commission meeting here.
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