Interview with Ms. Teresa Jacobs–Candidate for Orange County Mayor
Conducted by: West Orlando News Online
Date: April 29th 2010
WONO: Mrs. Jacobs, could you begin by introducing yourself? Tell us a little about Teresa Jacobs?
Teresa Jacobs: I would describe myself first as a mom and wife. I got involved in politics indirectly about 15 years ago. At that time the county was looking to put a road in my neighborhood and I was concerned about that as most people would be. Up until then I had never been involved in politics. As a result of that experience I went on to become president of what was then a coalition of homeowners associations representing about 100 neighborhoods. I cut my teeth, if you will, representing neighborhood associations, before my stint in Orange County government.
Through that I took an interest in what was happening on a local government level and realized the important role the county and city governments play in our quality of life and our children’s futures. It was as a natural out-product from that I ran for County Commissioner in District 1, in 2000 and was termed-out in November, 2008.
WONO: You served two terms on the board of the Orange County Commissioners, what was that like?
Teresa Jacobs: Well, at times it was a lot more challenging than I expected. It was suppose to be a part-time job and it turned into a very full-time job; but it was extremely rewarding. I found public service to be personally very rewarding, also, the public policy aspect of it. The decisions made at that level, which affect the future of the community, were fascinating and extremely important. I got very involved not just here in Orange County, but I went on to become president of the statewide coalition of County Commissioners. The involvement there was very beneficial for me as I learned what other cities and counties were doing across the state. So, when there was a challenge in Orange County, I would have resources across the state on which to call for guidance and input. There are so many nuts and bolts to county government, from building landfills, to environmental matters, transportation and social issues, to providing parks and programs for our youths.
It was really a very fascinating opportunity, not only for me, but really for my whole family. My children got much more interested in what was going on around them. I think they are much better people from the experience. So, for all the negative things people think about politics and being in politics—and there are certainly negative aspects, politics is sometimes not very pretty—but public service and public policy is very rewarding and very enriching.
WONO: You are running now for Mayor of Orange County. What prompted you to run?
Teresa Jacobs: Several things. When I left office I was pleased to have a break to reflect on my time as a commissioner. I knew I would never have any regrets and I don’t. However, the role of Orange County Mayor is quite different from that of an Orange County Commissioner; it’s full time. It will take an enormous amount of commitment, passion, and mental and emotional energy, to make the important decisions, while wrestling with the conflicting interests that we often deal with in making the right decisions. So, it wasn’t a decision that I jumped into easily or lightly. I wasn’t one of these people that was born to become Orange County Mayor; that wasn’t the driving force.
But, as I watched the race unfold and as issues developed, I realized that if I remained outside of the process, I wouldn’t have the voice and the influence and I didn’t feel there was anyone running that represented those issues for which I fought and cared about most. Last October I finally got around to deciding that I wanted to run. I also needed to be in a financial situation where I could run because, I have kids in college and a third one starting. Running for office would require leaving my quite secure job at the office of the Florida Department of Transportation in the worse economy that I’ve ever lived through.
So, there was a lot involved in making that decision. I made the decision with my family around December, feeling pretty comfortable that I could leave my job and take the risk. So, in January I got in the race.
WONO: The unemployment rate in Central Florida is around 12%, probably a little higher now, and similarly so in Orange County. What are the key issues that ought to be tackled in helping to increase job creation, and what role should the private sector play?
Teresa Jacobs: You know that figure is questionable. Our unemployment rate varies state by state, region by region across the country. We have high unemployment because of factors that are largely beyond the control certainly, of local government– issues that were brought about by decisions made by the federal government. But, we do have to recognize the role of the private sector versus the public sector. I think there are things we could do in Orange County that will help stimulate job growth and will help stimulate companies that want to locate here in Central Florida or that are already here and want to expand. But government alone is not going to be the solution.
Some of the things I think we need to do are to create an environment in Orange County government where businesses know what it takes to get their permits approved; create a fair, level, predictable permitting process, so that government is not a problem for job creation, but rather facilitates it. Other things we need to do are longer-term in nature. Part of our higher-than-average unemployment rate is because our dependency on growth in the construction industry is fairly high, relative to other communities. We have an economy based on tourism as a major component, which is cyclical but sustainable over the long term. Then there is agriculture, an important but shrinking part of the economy. However, it can be sustainable if we protect it.
And the other major component of our economy until recently has been construction and growth-related jobs. So, with the current recession, brought about largely by the housing crisis, we are taking a greater hit than most communities.
Part of my goal as County Mayor will be the same as it has been for the last eight years, to help diversify our economy, to bring in more jobs — more high-wage and diversified jobs. We’ve made a start with the creation of the Medical City. We have more opportunities ahead of us. But, government is only one part of the equation; a very important part of the equation.
New industries do not want to locate in an environment where they feel there is an insiders club or a pay-to-play environment where they have to know the right people in order to get their developments approved. We have to change the reputation that Orange County has, and we change that reputation by changing the culture of Orange County–getting rid of the “good-old boys” insiders’ club mentality.
WONO: Florida ranks 47th in the country in relation to high school drop-out graduation rates. How do you reconcile attracting higher paying jobs on the one hand with a graduation rate of 47th in the nation?
Teresa Jacobs: There is no question that a great education system is a good driving force in economic development for two important reasons. Firstly, if we are not educating our current population we will not have the business force that is needed to fill those higher paying jobs. As new and existing companies look at Central Florida, including Orange County, as a place to possibly locate, they look at our education system, without question. We all do that. When we have kids, we look at that system, for those of us who have children. That is one of our first criteria for buying a home. So, that is fundamental.
In the State of Florida, as in many other states, we have a school system totally separate from county government and city government. So, there are some limitations in terms of what the county mayor can do to change the education system. But in my eight years in office I championed quality school education through good planning, which puts our schools first when we start looking where new developments should go. We want to make sure that our kids aren’t sitting in portable classrooms or eating lunch in 9:30 am, like my own son in middle school and then not having another meal until 4:30 pm. That was not good for his education.
I fought that and put on the ballot a charter amendment to make school capacity the first component that gets looked at, in every city and in Orange County, when land-development permits are being granted. These are very important things that the mayor of Orange County can do. One of the other things that I proposed before I even ran for office was an annual meeting between the school board and the Orange County mayor and commissioners, to discuss the needs of school districts with the aim of determining how local government could help in ensuring success. Again, the academic aspect has to be handled by the school district but there are important things the county government can do to be supportive. So, local government has a critical role to play in partnering to build an education system that is first class.
WONO: To balance the 2011 Orange County fiscal budget it will most likely have to be cut by about 7%. As a former commissioner who is against higher taxes, what advice would you give your colleagues in order to balance the budget?
Teresa Jacobs: When I was in office I had a reputation for being a pretty decisive commissioner. But what people may not have known about the decisions that I made and certainly my staff knew it, was that I am a very data-intensive decision maker. I don’t shoot from the hip. My nature is to collect as much data and information as I can; to collect as much input from as many people as I can. And then once I have all of that I make the decision.
I share that with you because one of the things that I have wanted to see Orange County do that they haven’t done to date, and one of the things that I will do when I am in office, is to evaluate how Orange County and each of their departments and divisions are functioning, compared to other county governments’ divisions and departments. That will give me a better sense of where the waste is and where are we operating efficiently. I don’t agree with an across the board 7% cut on all of the departments, which is currently being discussed. The reason is, all departments and divisions are not equally important in terms of public service, and all are not equally efficient in their operations.
I will give you an example. There has been a 13% decline in the jail population; this is not to say that the jail is not functioning extremely well. But I would start by not cutting 7% from jails and 7% from the sheriff’s department. If we have enough patrols on the street, we do a better job of keeping a handle on crime. Actually, we had a decrease in crime, as we have had an increase in law enforcement officers. I think that the money spent patrolling our neighborhoods helps to keep our jail population low. So, with a 13% percent decline I would cut Corrections more than I would cut our law enforcement officers that are keeping our streets safe.
I would also look at existing programs with the view to determining whether or not they are meeting the desired goals. We need to have a system in place where there are benchmarks and criteria on what is supposed to be accomplished. Accountability is critical. We simply can’t take taxpayer dollars and use them without being accountable. Those are some of the things that I would do differently going forward to help make these decisions and which we will probably be implementing next year. There is a good chance we will be looking at a further reduction in revenue and if that happens, it will be important to have this type of data in place to make good sound decisions.
WONO: You are a strong proponent of accountability and transparency in government. I believe in 2006 you proposed a number of ethics reforms. What is the status of those reforms and are you satisfied with the current disclosure filings for elected officials?
Teresa Jacobs: I proposed basically three primary changes. One was that elected officials should disclose on a quarterly basis rather than every year or year and a half, all of their business relationships. Currently under state law, you only have to disclose the companies you own, but not the business partners. Under state law it is illegal for elected officials in Orange County to vote for anything that benefits them directly, their employers, or business partners. But, there is no way for the public to know if that law is being broken because the public doesn’t know with whom an elected official is in business. So that is one change I wanted to see–quarterly disclosure of business partners.
The second change has to do with creating a greater time-frame by which a “voting conflict” is determined. Right now under state law an elected official can be in business with someone today and discover that something is on the agenda that would benefit that individual next week. Further, they can terminate the business partnership, cast a vote that would benefit the individual next week, and then get back into the relationship two weeks later. This is technically legal. But, for everyone watching we would know that it’s wrong. I wanted to create a one-year ban around voting, so that if you were in a business relationship a year before, you can’t vote for something that would benefit that person. Likewise, if you vote for something today, you can’t get into a business relationship for a year after that vote.
I also wanted to mention an enforcement mechanism, a Whistle-blower Protection Act that would provide a way for people working in government or the private sector that knew about an inappropriate relationship, to report it anonymously, following which there would be an investigation.
In 2008, the board unanimously adopted most of my recommendations. The whistle-blower protection proposal was scrapped because they didn’t like the idea of setting up a process where people could file complaints. I strongly believe that that is important. I am disappointed that there is no enforcement mechanism right now. I wanted to see an independent body that would investigate and decide whether these rules have been broken; this is not in place.
We are seeing the consequences of that today when we have commissioners that are taking gifts that clearly exceed the limit of the law, and yet there is no way to deal with that because there is no enforcement mechanism.
The third part is disclosure. There is one county commissioner who is a candidate for mayor right now who has the greatest objection to the “business partner” language, and built loopholes to that law. One is, as long as you say you don’t know who you are in business with, then you are not guilty of anything. I don’t accept that from any public official who is running for office and asking the public’s trust. I don’t accept the fact that elected officials can claim they don’t know who are their business partners. I think that they have an obligation to know who their business partners are and they have an obligation not to vote for them. So, that particular provision troubles me the most. No place in the law do we have ignorance as an excuse; we always say “ignorance of the law is no excuse.” But somehow or other for elected officials in Orange County ignorance became an excuse in 2008.
I also put those same provisions on the ballot in 2008 and 87% of voters supported those measures. I am very concerned about the fact that we have at least one candidate in the mayoral race who is not even following the laws that exist; to my knowledge he still has not listed his business partners, and it’s been more than a year after the law became effective.
In sum, we need good laws which do not have loopholes, and that’s what I sought to change, but we didn’t get as far as we needed to go. And we also need strong enforcement mechanisms to make sure that elected officials follow those laws because, there is a consequence for failure to follow those laws.
WONO: A county commissioner was recently charged with accepting illegal campaign contributions, among other charges and has been suspended. What are your thoughts on this? As a former commissioner, would you expect the work of the Commission to be affected?
Teresa Jacobs: No, I would not expect the work of the Commission to be affected at all. I think that the governor will be appointing a replacement. We functioned with the District 2 commissioner being in Iraq for about one year when I was in office, although it was not an ideal situation. Certainly, it would be much better for the citizens in District 3 to have a representative to replace Commissioner Fernandez, and I am sure Gov. Crist will move quickly to fill that position. The work of government and the decision-making process goes on.
So, I think that the effect that it has on the functioning of Orange County government is not significant. The effect it has on the pride and confidence of our community in their elected officials is a much greater issue, and that is why I proposed those ethics reforms. The relationship or bond that exists between the citizens and elected officials should be founded on trust, and when that is broken or severed, it is devastating for the community. I am not casting judgment on the commissioner you are referring to. I don’t know the facts. She is entitled to a fair hearing. In our justice system one is presumed innocent until proven guilty. But, I will say, the more we hear about elected officials doing things not in the interest of what the public expects, the more harm it does to the trust of the community.
WONO: Still on the question of ethics. Some of your opponents have recently charged that as county commissioner you steered hundreds of thousands of dollars to an engineering firm, which now pays you. How do you respond to that charge? And one of your opponents is asking for a change in the County Ethics Ordinance to forbid any commissioner who voted on a particular company from working for two years for the business. Do you agree that such a change should be made?
Teresa Jacobs: It is so interesting that this comes up, because when I talked earlier about the three things that I proposed in 2006, one of them was that one-year ban. That is, if you voted for a company while on the commission, you cannot enter into a business relationship for one year. That is what I initially proposed.
The Ethics Task Force that we created suggested the ban be two-years from the time that you voted. The commissioner that is raising this issue, ironically, is one who didn’t like those proposals at all, at that time.
Secondly, my vote on the commission that is being referred to occurred in 2005, five years ago. The firm was on a list of companies that had placed a bid on an impact-fee contract. It went through the Procurement Committee which is established by the County. I didn’t serve on the Procurement Committee. I wasn’t a part of ranking this firm. The company was ranked number one. If you look at my voting record in Orange County I voted with the chairman’s recommendations every time. I followed the recommendations of the district commissioner who sits on the Procurement Committee. It was a unanimous vote. I could not have fathomed in 2005 that, five years later I would be working for that firm, nor could the firm have fathomed that we would be in this relationship.
So, the particular commissioner who is raising this issue is the same one who has not disclosed publicly his business partners, one year after the effective date of the ordinance, as he is required to do by law. He has refused to do it. So, to deflect attention away from what he hasn’t done, he is focusing on what I have done, and what I have done is absolutely consistent with every law in Orange County and the State of Florida. You will not find a law in the entire country that restricts elected officials from taking a job at a company they voted on five years before.
So, I would like to see the county’s ethics ordinance re-opened. I think we need to close the loopholes that the commissioner created to try to protect himself from having to disclose who his business partners are. I am all for making the restrictions greater against taking employment with people that you voted for in the last year, or two years. I think five years is extreme. There is a risk because, the County Commission votes on so many things that affect businesses and companies throughout Central Florida that, when they are termed-out, they can find themselves in a period of one-to-two years of forced unemployment. It can literally be an unemployment mandate, and that could deter good, working class people like myself from running for office, because we couldn’t afford the cost of being out of office.
So, I make no apologies for the fact that I voted for something in 2005 and five years later I am working for the company that benefited from that vote. I am not working on any projects that I voted for. The contracts that I voted for have run their course and are no longer in place, which I also think is an interesting thing. The contracts don’t even exist anymore. They now have new contracts, which by-the-way, I didn’t vote on.
So, I think it is just that particular commissioner trying to deflect attention from himself and paint a picture that we are all bad. We’ve got a bunch of bad commissioners, he would have us believe, so now let’s move on to the next subject, which seems to be how much money he is raising from the interests groups that want him in office.
WONO: Orange County has a problem of homelessness and along with Osceola and Seminole over 3,000 people are chronically homeless. If you are elected mayor, what would you do about this problem?
Teresa Jacobs: You know, homelessness is a very challenging problem and every day it affects more people. A lot of people think it’s just men, alcoholics that are homeless. The statistics prove a very different picture. Homelessness affects families, including young children. It is a very serious problem as you have pointed out. Again, I think we have to look at other communities to see what has worked. There aren’t simple solutions. There must be better solutions than what we have in place.
So, we need to look at what works best and the root cause of homelessness. How can we as a community, not just government, do a better job of creating a better environment and support system, a culture that helps people that need help? I think it is a community-wide problem. I think it has to be a community-wide discussion, not just the City of Orlando city council or the Orange County Commission or the Homeless Coalition coming together to try and solve this problem. I think it needs to be the whole community recognizing the causes of the problem and then looking for the solution.
WONO: The Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida in a recent report said that 47% persons served by that agency are children and that it represents an increase of 100% since 2006. Again, if elected mayor, how would you tackle the homeless particularly among children in Orange County?
Teresa Jacobs: Not wanting to sound redundant, but similar to the problem of homelessness, we have to look for a community-wide solution. We have the private sector — all of us have to partner together to understand the challenges that we are facing. The hunger our children face has to be addressed, both by the public sector and by the private sector. We have some good programs in place, and certainly Second Harvest Food Bank is one of them, but these are challenging times. We have more and more people that are unemployed. In previous years we would have citizens who were able to help each other, but now we have more and more citizens who are in that same predicament. So, we have to pull through together and recognize basic needs like food have to be addressed before those higher wants we have are taken care of. But, again, it must be a community-wide effort, a conversation with everyone to identify solutions to these problems.
WONO: Crime is a major problem in Orange County and there are lots of guns on the streets. What is the root cause of this crime and how would you go about tackling this problem? Does law enforcement have the capacity to impact the problem?
Teresa Jacobs: Yes, I think that is a great question. I appreciate the fact that you are asking the question about the root cause because, all too often in government there is a focus on the symptoms and treating those and ignoring the cause. Law enforcement is treating the symptoms. Do they have the capacity to solve the root problem? No. But, they are a part of the solution, because more active law enforcement patrols on the street help to deter crime. But we have to get a handle on what lies at the root of it.
Culturally, we need to start with our youth because, as people become a part of the law enforcement system, as people get put in jail and prisons, we develop hardened criminals. It becomes much more difficult to change someone in their 30s or 40s that has had a life of crime, than it is to change a 13-, a 15-, or an 18-year-old who is just embarking on that life. That is where we, as a community and a government, need to have in place mechanisms for our youth to change course.
One idea that is popular with a lot of people is, just “lock them up and throw away the key.” With our youth I’d take a different approach because, when you lock them up and throw away the key, sooner or later they are going to get back out, and the only way they will know how to survive is through crime. So, that mentality is counter-productive, not only for those individuals, but for the whole society; there is need for a more forgiving approach when we talk about our youth.
We have to give our youth options. Part of the “lock-them-up” ought to be about putting youths in facilities where skills training is provided, so they have an option to be productive citizens when they come out of jail. It would be important to also change the culture and attitude of our kids towards law enforcement, so they are not seen as the enemy, but rather as partners. I’ve seen our sheriff’s department do some good programs. They do midnight basketball and run other programs. Our youth should perceive law enforcement officers as possible mentors and partners, as opposed to guys who chase them down. So, that’s a cultural shift which, if we can make that happen, would turn this into a community like none other.
WONO: Orange County has a record number of foreclosures at this time. As an investment banker do you have any particular proposals in relation to stemming the tide of rising foreclosures and how do you see this crisis playing out?
Teresa Jacobs: I think there are some measures that the federal government has adopted, like using stimulus dollars to provide assistance to some who face foreclosure. But measures dealing with encouraging banks to create second chances for folks facing foreclosure also make a lot of sense.
We have to be very careful about government stepping in and trying to fix the problem. The government had a large role in creating it by taking away some of the accountability factors that were crucial in the financial market. The role we can play as local government is to make sure we are doing the best job we can with code enforcement, maintaining properties that are in foreclosure. Foreclosure of one or two homes in a neighborhood can have a domino effect on the property values of the whole neighborhood, resulting in greater foreclosure. This is difficult because we have certainly seen an increase in demand, as we have had a decrease in tax revenue. But I think it is primarily the job of local government to look at how we can best and most efficiently maintain the foreclosed properties so that they are appealing to new-home buyers. Fortunately, we are seeing an uptick in second-home sales; homes that are in disarray and in distress are less likely to be re-sold and more likely to have a negative impact for the community. So, I think that’s the one area in which Orange County needs to play a crucial role.
WONO: Amendment 4 will be on the ballot in November. If more than 60% of voters support it any major plan on this city or county would not take effect unless approved by voters. You have said that is not the right solution. What is the right solution? You have also said that the problem today is not our representative democracy; you believe it is our representative. What exactly do you mean by this?
Teresa Jacobs: What I mean by that is, we have a system in place where we are suppose to elect people that will make most of the decisions that affect our community, most of the growth decision. We as citizens, and I am right there with them, are very disappointed in the decisions that our elected leaders have made both at a local and state level. Frankly, a lot of the decisions the Orange County government has made about growth–that is, with regard to infrastructure, schools, roads, water to serve those new developments so that each one doesn’t lead to more taxes, the quality of life in the existing community–have been very disappointing.
I’ve been an outspoken advocate for better growth management, planning and ensuring that every new development pays for the impact it creates on our community. On a few occasions I’ve been out-voted. I understand the sentiment of the residents. I often think that the legislature has taken away some of the authority local governments needed, or at least the mandate to make sure that the infrastructure–the schools, roads, and so forth — were in place. But, when we try to solve the problems by treating the symptoms rather than the solution, we won’t solve the problem.
The problem isn’t the form of government that we have. The problem is the elected officials that we have put in office. We need to put people in office that are going to put the best interest of the community ahead of their political ambitions and ahead of those private-sector interests that fund their campaigns. It is hard for us to know when we vote how candidates will turn out, because lots of promises are made during the campaign. Then they get into office and don’t live up to those promises, and we get disappointed. Too often citizens get disappointed, figure it is hopeless and they check out. I think that is part of the reason we see low-voter turnout, because people don’t believe they make a difference.
The fact is they do make a difference. They don’t make a difference only when they don’t try.
There is no place that they can make a greater difference than at the local government level. What we need is citizens showing up at public hearings, and we need them to hold elected officials accountable. When it is time for re-election, they should be voted out of office if they haven’t lived up to their expectations. I think that is what we need, rather than forcing on citizens very complex decisions for which there are special campaigns. I don’t think that will be the right solution, and I fear what will happen when the legislature intervenes and tries to figure out how to change that process, to take back the power that the citizens are trying to take.
So, you need to get rid of the problem. We need to judge people on their records. I would encourage everyone who is looking at the Orange County mayoral race to look at my record in office and to compare it with the other elected officials who are running. There is at least one gentleman who is running who has only voted once or twice in elections in the last 15 years. Then voters should determine who has the best record — who has stood up to the special interests, who has put community interests first, who has fought to stop school overcrowding and road congestion, and then make their decisions based on those facts.
WONO: You were county commissioner for two terms, is there anything you would have liked to accomplish but just didn’t get done?
Teresa Jacobs: Absolutely. First, the culture of Orange County needs to change. I know when I initially got involved, Orange County seemed much more respectful of citizens and more interested in citizens’ engagement. I have watched that change dramatically to an environment where I felt, along with many others, citizens are now viewed as nuisances in this government decision-making process. And perhaps this was probably the most disappointing thing I saw in my eight years.
Citizens are now treated as nuisances in our public hearings. That culture has to change. That is one area that will be my first priority; to change that culture, to make sure all county staff understand this. I really think it starts with the commission and with the mayor; the mayor and commissioners and staff must understand that our citizens are our bosses. The citizens are the true owners of county government, and I think that cultural change would be tremendous and is terribly important.
I also think that Orange County has to do a better job of planning the future of this community. I fought for years to do build-out studies in areas like Dr. Phillips, where traffic congestion is ridiculous and there is no solution. As developments kept coming forward, I wanted a build-out plan, I wanted to know, when all the properties were built, what transportation system will we need in place. I wanted to know before we built anything else, so that we could ensure there was a plan in place and new developments were helping to provide the roads, trolleys or whatever it would take to move people around. I could not get the support of the mayor and the commissioners to do that build-out plan. That is one of the things that we will be doing all across Orange County. We are going to make decisions that will result in good strong communities, rather than just reacting to each developer that comes through the door.
WONO: This brings me my next question, which is to share your vision for Orange County. What are those four or five priorities you would be working on from the get go, should you become the next mayor of Orange County.
Teresa Jacobs: We have talked about several throughout this interview. You have asked excellent questions–I think you have probably covered every topic I would want to discuss.
But clearly, in these difficult economic times the top priority has to be to create an environment in Orange County government that helps create and foster job creation, rather than act as an obstacle or barrier. We have discussed my desire to create a culture that brings about a fair, level, predictable playing field so that, when people interact with Orange County government, they know what is involved and how long a particular process is going to take.
We need to streamline our approval process. There is no reason why it should take six months to a year to move forward with a development.
We need to engage citizens to participate in the decision-making process, not just change the culture of Orange County to create an environment where they are welcome, but to actually reach out throughout the community and dialogue with our citizens about our tax structure and about the services we provide.
It’s important to find out from our citizens what do they want, what they expect, what they need and what are they willing to pay for, because there is likely to be a big difference in what they want and what they are willing to pay for. We have to know what our citizens want and then figure out how best to provide it. And this may differ from one area of Orange County to another. We are a very large county with over one million people. So, we may not have a one-size-fits-all government in the future for Orange County. We may have different levels of service in different areas. We need to create a real plan on how we are going to move forward–a vision for this community that I believe should include: a more diversified economy; strong protection of our environment; a transportation system that works and is reliable and paid for in a tax structure that we can afford; a school system that works in concert with county government to help ensure we are delivering the best education in the best facilities that we can afford and are willing to pay for.
We also need to create that sense of pride; we need to restore that sense of pride that we once had in this community and in our elected officials. A lot of neighborhoods are proud of their community even though the most expensive homes may not be located there. And yet you can live in other neighborhoods where there are expensive homes, but where there is little pride. Pride and values are two different things. Pride is something you feel when you are part of a community. I want to restore that. I want us all to be proud of Orange County. I want us all to roll up our sleeves to make this a better place for us and for our children. I think I can do it, but we really do have to change the culture; I believe it starts with the cultural change.
WONO: Mrs. Jacobs, final question. How is your campaign going and will be seeing Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs being sworn in come January 2011?
Teresa Jacobs: Well, thank you for that question. I can answer the first part; the voters will have the answer to the second. As far as the campaign is going, it is going great. We jumped in the race in the middle of January. We had an awesome first quarter. We have a tremendous team of supporters who are passionate about this community, and they are passionate about this election. They are probably not your traditional types that are involved in campaigns, but I am really excited about them too.
I love bringing people along that are like me — I didn’t think I could make a difference in any kind of political arena. I suddenly discovered at the local government level, if I rolled up my sleeve and tried, I could make a difference. And that is exactly who I have supporting my campaign–a team of dedicated volunteers that realize they really can make a difference, and they are excited about that opportunity. So, we are off to a great start. We’ve got a lot of work ahead of us in a very short period of time.
And to the latter part of your question, whether I will be the next mayor, that is in the hands of the voters. I am hoping they will engage and find out as much as they can about their candidates, because it really will make all the difference in the end. We’ll get the level of government that our citizens demand.
WONO: Mrs. Jacobs, thank you very much.
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 SteeringCommittee
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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