Interview with Commissioner Bill Segal – Orange County – District 5
Conducted by: West Orlando News
Date: February 24th 2010
WONO: Commissioner Segal, could you begin by introducing yourself–tell us a little about Bill Segal?
Bill Segal: Sure. I was born in Orlando in 1949, and my family got here in 1929. My dad was a lawyer here and very active in politics. I went through the public school system, then to the University of Miami, came back, and went to work for a general contractor. I married a girl I went to high school with and we have two fine young children, two boys who still live in town here. One went to UCF, got his Masters Degree, and the other one works in a high tech business. Previously, I was in the home-building business, general contracting business, did some development work and started a chain of restaurants from the ground up. Subsequently, I sold those, invested in a couple of banks, an insurance company and was one of the original investors in the Sci-Fi channel. I did a lot of community work when I was a young man. When others were out chasing a buck, I was the youngest member of the Symphony Orchestra and a founding member of the Coalition for the Homeless. I served eight years on the St. Johns River Water Management District. In sum, a successful businessman, 30 years married to the same person and a father of two.
WONO: You were elected in 2004 to the Board of County Commissioners, District 5, and subsequently re-elected, what has that experience been like as County Commissioner?
Bill Segal: It’s been gratifying. It’s been a lot of work. I enjoy interacting with people, being able to help address their concerns with county government. I have been fortunate in that, I am able to speak to lots of young people, teaching them about government, and learning how to work hand-in-hand with other people. On the Board its about meeting others half-way, making compromises–you don’t always get what you want. But I always try to reach a good outcome for the people of the county.
WONO: The unemployment rate in Orange County last December 2009 stood at a high 11.8%. Against the backdrop of rising unemployment, what can be done to create jobs in Orange County?
Bill Segal:Well, we’re hopefully coming out of a worldwide recession, which almost turned into a worldwide depression, because of mismanagement in Washington. So, it’s very difficult to stimulate much employment locally with poor conditions nationally and worldwide. But, I would like to try to do my best to make sure we retain the employers we have here and try and bring in new employment, new good employment. So my approach is twofold: (i) try and bring in great employers and (ii) try and make sure that the employers here have all the help that we can conceivably give them.
WONO: Southeast Orlando is becoming quite a dynamic medical community, while at the same time, I think Florida ranks 47th in the country in terms of high school graduation rates. How do you reconcile those two things–moving in the direction of high paying jobs, with a graduation rate 47th in the nation?
Bill Segal: That’s a complex question, so I’ll try and break it down a little bit. The graduation rate is atrocious and let me just say that you can’t lay all that at the feet of the school system, because parents have really fallen down on the job. Sometimes, there’s only one parent at home. Americans don’t value learning as much as they used to. The kids come home, they play video games, listen to music and there is not an appreciation brought to them of learning, which I believe is a lifelong endeavor. So, the school system gets kids that don’t value learning and have not really been prepared before they get there; and while they are there, they don’t keep up with their schoolwork. So it’s a tough, tough situation and I just don’t always want to lay it at the feet of the school system, because a lot of it has to do with the failure of the home environment. But, we all have to keep working together to try and improve the school system. The other part of it is, we have the dynamic medical community and ironically, we have a lot of people that are qualified for those high-end jobs. So, we have a large enough work force to fill all of those high-end jobs. One of the things I want to do is, make sure that we have more middle-class jobs coming to Orange County that can be filled in the $12 to $20 per hour range. Those are important jobs too.
WONO: In order to have a balanced budget, the Orange County 2010/2011 fiscal budget would likely have to be cut by around 7%. The previous budget was already cut, where do you anticipate that these new cuts could come from?
Bill Segal:Well, yesterday, we talked about medical insurance, which is also a national topic of debate, with the President trying to do something, but apparently, he’s going to be stymied in his efforts. So, we’re going to have to look at redoing our healthcare delivery system for the employees of Orange County and all the other officers, constitutional officers we cover–looking at new ways, perhaps higher deductibles, looking at perhaps a medical clinic system for primary care that some large employers use or a combination. We need to grab hold of the medical charges–the cost for medical care for Orange County is spiraling out of control, going up at like a cliff, upwards of 18% in premiums; and this is happening nationwide. So, we’ve got to get control of that. I think we could probably save perhaps $6 million annually, if we changed our model.
Our utilities, water utilities pay fees in lieu of taxes and they also could perhaps turn over a larger portion of their income to the County general fund. That would help a little bit. We’ll just have to trim our government budgets throughout the county.
WONO: States, counties and, cities nationwide, are facing increasing demand for services at a time when revenues are falling short. What role do you see the business sector in Orange County playing in terms of leading the economic recovery? And similarly, is there a role for the non-profit sector?
Bill Segal: Well, again it’s a very complex problem. You know, there’s an old saying in life that you get what you pay for– we’re not going to raise taxes and so, we have to diminish our services and that’s what we are doing. In terms of the business sector, oftentimes, the private sector says that they want to be left alone, so we’ll try and leave them alone, so they’ll have to fend for themselves. However, we want to make sure that they’re not burdened by too much regulation and too high taxes. But, we do have pretty much a free enterprise system and they’re going to have to do their best to grow their businesses and whatever we can do to help them, I’d be happy to.
The non-profit sector has undergone a loss, so charities are not bringing in the money they used to. It’s going to be up to the boards of those charities to decide if they are being run efficiently. It might well be that perhaps, they need to merge with another charity that’s doing the same thing or similar, in order to realize greater efficiencies. Unfortunately oftentimes, the boards and the employees of the charities don’t want to do that, because they see their roles being diminished. But it’s at times like this, more that ever, charities need to be effective. Charities have three obligations–they have an obligation to their donors, people that give them money and to the people that are supposed to be the recipients of the service. The third obligation, which is way down the track from the first two obligations, is to the employees of the agency. And I think, too often, that’s the first thing they look at.
WONO: It appears that SunRail and high-speed rail are closer to becoming a reality. How do you anticipate that SunRail would impact Orange County and would it have to be subsidized by Orange County?
Bill Segal:I have been here all my life and I remember when Disney World was announced. Between Disney World, the Medical City and SunRail–they would certainly be among the top five watershed events in my lifetime. I think SunRail will change the face of Orange County. It’s going to bring more development to the urban core, people are going to want to live near the stations. This won’t happen overnight. People will say “geez, nobody is riding”. But it will change the face of Orange County and it will spawn more urban growth–young people like to live in more urban areas, they don’t want to be driving out to the suburbs. So I think it’s going to have a big impact.
In the first seven years or so after SunRail is built, the state will pick up all the operations and maintenance. After that, Orange County will have to pick up a share–Orlando, the hospitals and other counties are picking up a portion. So, our share will have to be made up eight years from now–we’ll have a plan in place by then. Also, there will be community-wide discussions and the county will deal with that in the proper time.
WONO: You mentioned earlier, Commissioner, that you are a Founding Director of the Coalition of the Homeless. Orange County has a problem of homelessness and hundreds live on the street. What’s been done to address this problem?
Bill Segal:When I was doing my work on the Founding Board, we had long discussions about homelessness. There is a large element of homeless that choose to be homeless, that’s the lifestyle they choose. And that doesn’t mean that we don’t have a responsibility to help feed them, get them out of the cold and so forth. It’s just a fact of life that some people like that lifestyle. Trust me, I’ve been there, I’ve dealt in this arena for years. A good many of them, that’s the life they choose. But we still owe them food and a helping hand once in a while. There are two or three charities in this area that work with the homeless. At a time when government has less and less resources, it’s time for the community, those charities that are involved, to work hard in order to raise funds from the general public to help address those problems. People all want privatization, they want government to have a reduced role. Well, now is a good time for these organizations to step up, prove their worth and solicit money from the private sector. But, I should note that, homelessness is a nationwide problem.
WONO: The Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida said in a recent report that 47% of persons served by that agency are children and this represents an increase of 100% since 2006. What’s been done about hunger, particularly as this relates to children in Orange County?
Bill Segal: The state has School Lunch Programs, which I think is federally funded. Orange County has given, over the years what we could out of our general funds. Again, I think it’s another time when these charitable organizations need to go out to the general public, when government has little or no money to help. Now is the time for the community to step up and support, efficient agencies that can assist in feeding these children.
WONO: Almost one in 10 residential properties in Orange County is in foreclosure. Do you have any particular proposals in relation to stemming the tide of mounting foreclosures? And how do you see the foreclosure crisis playing out?
Bill Segal: Again this is a national problem and a failure of epic proportions by the federal government, three, four, five, six years ago in not regulating the financial institutions, who made trillions of dollars in bad loans to people who should not have been buying houses, had no reasonable expectation of being able to afford those houses. This will be written about in economics texts and history books for decades to come, as to what a horrible failure this was of the government.
We are going to have to absorb these houses; sometimes the building community comes and wants us to cut impact fees and I say, “Well, we already have more houses than we need, why should we be adding?” It’s a supply and demand problem–there is more supply than there is demand. So, our problem now is taking care of some of these abandoned homes so that they don’t drag down the values in neighborhoods. We also have to make sure criminal elements doesn’t move into those homes and we’re working hard within our budget constraints, with code enforcement to oversee the maintenance of those houses and telling the banks and owners that they have to keep them up. It’s a problem and it’s going to take time to work out of it. But, again, it took us a number of years to get into it and will take us some time to get out.
WONO: You have been County Commissioner for about six years now, is there anything you would have wanted to accomplish that you weren’t able to do?
Bill Segal:Well, that points up the difference in a Commissioner and the Mayor. The Mayor sets the agenda, we’re the legislative body and the Mayor is the executive. Had I been the Mayor, I think I would have been going out as I proposed earlier, hustling all over the country, the world, trying to bring in good employers here and making sure that the local employers are satisfied. So, I wish I could have played a role in bringing more businesses to this community. But generally, that falls under the Mayor’s purview.
WONO: Which leads me to my next question, Commissioner– you are in fact running for Mayor of Orange Country, could you share a little bit of your vision for the County, and in particular District 5? What would be your priorities, if elected Mayor?
Bill Segal: Well, District 5 will just be another part of the county to me. It’s been my pleasure to be the Commissioner for six years. But, the interesting part about District 5 is, a lot of the people live in either the City of Winter Park, Maitland or Orlando. My goals for being the Orange County Mayor are: getting jobs, recruiting good employers to come to this area and keeping the employers we have happy and making sure they know how much we value them here. We have four, five major industries. I expect to have, as Mayor, experts in all those industries and will be working hard to recruit people from all over the world.
WONO: Would “green” industries be one of the major ones?
Bill Segal: Yes, that’s a pretty hot buzzword right now–green industries, clean industries; everybody wants to go along with the next great thing. And quite frankly, yes, if we can attract the solar industries or green industries that would be wonderful. But, I’m looking for any good clean industry, no matter what it is. So, again, “green” would be wonderful, but I’ll take any industry that brings good jobs. Again, and you touched on it earlier in your interview, I’m not just looking for jobs for college graduates and specialists at the high end of the range. I want good jobs for the middle-class too, the middle-class in this country have been neglected far too long.
WONO: Commissioner, last question. How is your campaign going? Will we be seeing Orange County Mayor Bill Segal come November?
Bill Segal: I’ll be working all the way through to election evening. I take nothing for granted. But I have support throughout this county, bipartisan support, support amongst all the ethnic groups and we’re working hard to continue to press our advantage. We obviously have out-raised everybody, I think by 2.5 to 1, but money is normally only one way of judging a campaign. The other is, to go out and see the organizations we’ve created throughout the county and the amount of public officials that will be endorsing us. So we’re going great, I expect to be the Mayor in January of 2011 and I’ll invite you to the inauguration.
WONO: Thank you very much, Commissioner.
Bill Segal:Thank you.
More About Bill Segal:
Bill Segal grew up in Orange County and graduated from Edgewater High School in 1967. In 1971, he graduated from the University of Miami with his Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration. After college, Bill entered the real estate industry and remains a Certified General Contractor. Over the years, he built a highly successful diversified real estate company and also started a restaurant chain that he grew to 7 locations before selling it. Bill and his wife Sara, have two grown sons, Zach & Joe.
In 1993, Bill was appointed by Florida Governor Lawton Chiles to serve on the St. Johns River Water Management District Board, one of five water management boards across the state whose mission is to manage and preserve Florida’s crucial water resources. Bill was elected by his fellow members to be the Chairman of the Board. He is continuing this work today by championing a holistic approach to the concept of water by bringing together Orange County’s ordinances and rate structures to a common focus on conservation.
Bill and his wife, Sara, share an interest in the arts. He is a member of the Orange County Arts and Cultural Affairs Advisory Board and serves as a Trustee at the Orlando Museum of Art. He is also a former director for the Florida Symphony Orchestra. In business, Bill is a member of the Winter Park and Goldenrod Chambers of Commerce
In 2008, Bill Segal was re-elected to the Orange County Commission and serves as the District Five Commissioner. District 5 encompasses the northern and eastern parts of the county. He is currently a candidate for Orange County Mayor in 2010.
Bill was appointed Chairman of the Orange County Workforce Housing Taskforce and continues efforts to implement the recommendations of the Taskforce that were unanimously approved by the County Commission. This effort seeks to ensure that those who serve our community in law enforcement, fire fighting, teaching and in the medical field can live in the community they serve. He is also a founding member of the Coalition for the Homeless and a member of the Orange County Council of 100, an organization founded by the Dr Phillips Foundation to assist families of public safety officers who have been injured on the job. Currently, Bill serves as Chairman of Metroplan, the region’s transportation planning organization.
Contact Commissioner Bill Segal:
Commissioner Bill Segal
201 S. Rosalind Ave., 5th Floor
Orlando, FL 32801
Bill Segal Campaign Headquarters
1350 North Orange Ave.
Winter Park, FL 3278
Telephone: 407-644-3832 – Campaign Headquarters
Telephone: 407-629-4224 – Bill’s Business Office
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