Interview with Teresa Jacobs, Candidate for Orange County Mayor
Conducted by: West Orlando News
Date: July 20, 2010
WONO: Mayor Crotty said in his final State of Orange County address that despite the worse economic recession since the Great Depression, the state of Orange County remains strong. With the unemployment at 11.4 percent, still record foreclosures, declining revenues including tourism receipts and the potential negative impact of the oil spill, how would you rate the state of Orange County?
Teresa Jacobs: I would rate the state of the country in terms of our economy, currently as probably a “D” and I think Orange County is in the same boat, in terms of our economy.
WONO: Mayor Crotty has been in office for ten years, is there anything that you would have done differently?
Teresa Jacobs: There are a lot of things that I would have done differently and most of those things, I try to do differently. As your readers may recall there were a lot of reforms that I championed that would have taken Orange County in a different direction and we certainly worked on diversifying our economy. I think we needed to do a better job at protecting our quality of life because, part of bringing new business and new industry into a community is creating a place where you want to work, or you want to raise your family–a place that you want to call home. In my eight years in office I was frequently battling with that issue–whether we were doing a good enough job to prevent overcrowding in our schools and traffic congestion on our roads, which we added quickly to meet the demands created by growth. And so I would have done those things differently. Another important issue for me is having a government that is responsive and accountable and open to the citizens—a government that really incorporates community input into the decision-making process. I would have done that very differently and I look forward to that opportunity to try to change the way Orange County interacts and relates to its citizens.
WONO: A just released report from the Department of Education, found out about 35 percent of Florida students who graduated in 2009 have no college plans and that is well above the national average of 30 percent. Central Florida is targeting high paying jobs, which assumes a higher-educated population. Do you see a problem here and if so, how is it resolved?
Teresa Jacobs: I think we must have opportunities for our citizens in Orange County and throughout the country, that don’t require college education because, not all of our jobs require that. We need training programs and naturally, this is more of an issue for the educational system and school districts. What I think you are alluding to is, we seem a bit dyslectic in terms of where we want go and how we are going to get there. We want to create an economy based on more high tech, high education jobs and yet we don’t have the trained work force for it and so, there’s a disconnect. The question becomes where does that work force come from if we are successful in creating those jobs? Are we bringing in the workforce and if not, how do we generate the work force internally? And the goal ought to be one of accommodation. It’s wonderful that we are a great melting pot, but we also want our families–and I certainly want it for my children–to have opportunities here and to have the education that allows them to fill those opportunities and I think that is what most folks in Orange County want, as well.
But, how we change the educational system and make it more effective is a question that is largely for the School Board and not the County Commissioners. We have a role to play and I will certainly work hard, as we talked in the previous interview, to make sure the schools are a cornerstone of each new development. But beyond that, I think the question is probably better posed to the School Board.
WONO: Innovation Way East which would have seen the construction of thousands of homes, shops, and offices and generated thousands of jobs and stimulated growth in the area was voted down by the Board of Orange County. Did the Board make the right call?
Teresa Jacobs: Well, we need to talk about whether it would have really stimulated thousands of jobs, as you suggest. The Board has already approved a tremendous amount of development in the Innovation Way corridor that isn’t developed. None of it has moved forward. So, to suggest that more projects needed to be approved at this time and that it was somehow going to generate jobs, there is a huge disconnect in my mind between those two arguments. If those developments approved were so critical to jobs, then why haven’t the jobs come to those that have already been approved?
There was one parcel of land, a very sensitive ecosystem, the Turkey Creek Tributary that the Board wrestled with in 2006. When we adopted the overlay for all of Innovation Way, not just Innovation East, that tributary was an area that I wanted to remove from future development, because of its sensitivity; you’d have to build roads and water pipes across Turkey Creek. There is so much land that has been approved out there that it just seemed completely pointless. In 2006, I could not get this sensitive ecosystem removed from future development and I was frankly stunned. It seemed like a no-brainer that it shouldn’t be developed. And here we were in 2010 and the Board spent hours debating that very parcel of land. So, I think they were right in not moving forward with that parcel of land.
I don’t think that we should ever be in a position where we choose between the environment and the economy. There is so much land still to be developed in Orange County; there is no reason why we can’t preserve the environment, while at the same time promote jobs. In fact, if we don’t protect the environment, long term we won’t have the jobs. Everyone needs to understand that we depend upon this earth and if we don’t take care of it, it won’t be here for us. I think that there is a right way to move forward with Innovation Way and this decision is yet in front of us.
WONO: There is a Pine Hills Redevelopment Task Force working on a plan to revitalize that area. Commissioner Moore-Russell has said that once complete, she will take the plan back to the Board of Orange County to seek funding. If elected Mayor, could Pine Hills count on your active support for its redevelopment and would you be prepared to designate funding for its implementation?
Teresa Jacobs: I’ve always been a supporter of Pine Hills in the eight years I was in office. It wasn’t directly in my District; it abutted up to my district. Although I don’t know exactly what would be involved in terms of the cost– and obviously, I would have to know how much funding we are talking about–but I am very supportive. I would imagine that many of the plans they are coming up with are cost-effective plans. I would certainly expect them to be. I can’t say I’d write a blank check without knowing what the cost is and without seeing the study.
WONO: Minorities African Americans and Hispanics, comprise close to 50 percent of the population in Orange County. As Mayor of Orange County, how would your office reach out to this diverse group who have often complained of being left out and taken for granted?
Teresa Jacobs: I think that comes through a cultural change in Orange County, which reaches out to all citizens. We have talked about this before. My first priority is to change the culture of the organization, to make it more inclusive, to make it more open to its citizens. Then, I think, when you are talking to specific groups, you have to undertake targeted outreach and I’ve done that in my district, in representing District 1. I would do that countywide. In some cases you have community leaders that are well respected in different ethnic groups, and I would pull them in. But, I think it goes beyond handpicking people in the Hispanic community, the African American community that are going to be part of your administration. I think it is also about getting to the heart of those communities–being accessible, having outreach programs, community forums where you do more listening than talking. You need to make sure you understand what the communities need, what they expect, what they want of our government and then you build the government around those needs. I think we should go back to the basic idea that government is here to represent its citizens.
WONO: One of the candidates running for mayor, Bill Segal, recently got the backing of key Black legislators in the county. How is your campaign reaching out to minorities who remain largely undecided as to whom the next Mayor of Orange County should be?
Teresa Jacobs: Well, we are doing a lot of out-reach. We are walking neighborhoods–different committees within the campaign that represent different minority groups. I think we are doing a very good job with minority groups. We are not running a campaign on political endorsements; we are not running a campaign on trade group endorsements. I didn’t run my first campaign in 2000 like that. I really don’t think that it is about a handful of political leaders or community leaders deciding the direction of Orange County. Maybe it has been thay way for years and in a way that is what I am running to change. This is about the people of Orange County. So the groups of Hispanics and African Americans that I am talking to have real solutions. They are not the figureheads, they are the people. That’s who I want to represent, that’s who we are talking to and that is part of my campaign.
WONO: How is your mayoral campaign going?
Teresa Jacobs: It is going very well. We have done extremely well. As you probably recall from our last interview we did qualify by petition, we collected 7,000 petitions in 60 days, I think that was a record. We’ve got hundreds of volunteers supporting the campaign. We are about to start getting our message out because we are just a few weeks away from early voting. I guess at the end of the day, the question is answered by the voters on August 24.
WONO: Final question–Why should Orange County voters elect Teresa Jacobs as the next mayor of Orange County?
Teresa Jacobs: The reason they ought to elect me is because of the record that I have–my record of public service, the tough issues that I tackled while I was in office. This is a really uncertain time in our economy and people need some predictability and some stability. They need to know that they can count on their elected officials to make promises they will keep. I did that for eight years and if elected, I will continue to do that. I understand the economy. I am the only person in the mayoral race with an economics degree and financial background and the only person who has stood up for the citizens time and time again, on the County Commission. I want to fight for their right to be heard in public hearings, to fight against overcrowding, to fight for ethics reform so that you can have trust and confidence in the people that we are representing. I think those are all the reasons that I would ask the citizens of Orange County to vote for me on August 24.
WONO: Thank you, Mrs. Jacobs.
Teresa Jacobs: Thank you, too.
More About Teresa Jacobs
The catalyst that led Teresa to where she is today ultimately began with a proposed road that would disrupt multiple neighborhoods and split her neighborhood in two. She poured over records and found ways to save taxpayers literally millions of dollars by using a different alignment, one that enjoyed the support of nearly all the affected neighborhoods.
In the end she lost that fight, but was determined to change the way county government engages and responds to its citizens. As a private citizen, she proposed a new way of engaging the public in road widening projects. That proposal has been incorporated into every major roadway improvement project since.
In 1998, she was elected President of the Orange County Homeowners Association Alliance (an organization that represented approximately 100 neighborhoods).
In 2000, she ran for the county commission against a well-funded incumbent and won in the primary with over 68% of the vote.
Her first initiative was to ask the commission to create a Public Notification Task Force. The Task Force made 13 recommendations to improve the way citizens are notified of upcoming public hearings, all of which were implemented.
In her two terms on the county commission, Teresa passed ethics reforms, championed school and road concurrency reforms. And when she couldn’t get support from the county commission, she took her charter amendments for school overcrowding and ethics reform to the citizens who voted overwhelmingly in favor of both.
In 2006 when escalating property values caused property taxes to escalate, as well, she was the lone vote against the millage rate.
During her eight years in office, she was elected to numerous state and regional boards, including:
President, Florida Association of Counties (FAC)
Chair, East Central Florida Regional Planning Council (ECFRPC)
Member, Central Florida MPO Alliance
Chair, Central Florida Smart Growth Alliance (CFSGA)
Member, MetroPlan Orlando Board
Gubernatorial Appointee, Wekiva River Basin Commission
Member, Myregion.org Executive Board of Directors
Member, Florida Transportation Plan Steering Committee
Prior to her political background, Teresa had a successful nine-year career in banking (she graduated Cum Laude from Florida State University with a degree in Economics). Teresa managed the bank’s short-term investments and evaluated and approved the bank’s investment strategies, earning profits while minimizing risk.
Teresa and her husband Bruce have been married for 29 years and are the proud parents of Josh, Max, Lisa, and Chase, all now young adults.
Contact Teresa Jacobs
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