Mike's Five Priorities:
Establish a Strategic Plan:
The plan would include as much input from the residents of the District as possible. This process should be repeated in each District to develop the overall county plan. The current planning process has very limited opportunities for resident input. This plan should give the opportunity for the residents to provide their list of items and priorities to be focused on over a 5-year period. These could include items such as open space for recreation, bike share lanes, enhanced trail system for walking or biking, canoeing, kayaking along the Shingle Creek Water trail, Traffic and Road relief to reduce commute time, Transit needs to find dedicated funding to increase routes and shorter wait times for buses, Sun Rail expanded service to include weekend routes and times. This plan could also include how to enhance the employment opportunities for higher wage jobs and training for a workforce to earn a living wage in Osceola. The strategic plan should also include language to reduce the clear cutting of old legacy trees to keep the natural beauty of Osceola, which is rapidly disappearing. While not an all-inclusive list, the above is a start to enhancing the quality of life that I believe will attract business without providing tax dollar credits or incentives.
Establish an optional system to elect County Commissioners:
During my tenure in office, I had the county attorney research the legal implications for funding County Commission races from fees paid to the county by all trash haulers to the Privately Owned landfill (JED) in Holopaw. The short answer was it could be done. By establishing this optional system, I believe we can stop the Special Interests and Influencers from pouring thousands of dollars into the commission races. This current cycle has already attracted over $150,000 into the District one race. The exact amounts are on the supervisor of Elections website under the individual candidate’s name. I am committed to bring that optional plan forward to the commission in the first year, if the voter allows me to serve. I challenge my opponents to make the same commitment to eliminate Special Interests and Special Influencers contributing funds into the Commission race to buy themselves into the future of the county.
Transparency and accountability:
During my previous opportunities to serve district one and the county, I was the only commissioner who published their calendar for the citizens to see who and when I was meeting concerning county business. I will continue to publish my calendar to inform the residents of what their commissioner is doing. I would like to revise the budget to allow the residents the opportunity to follow the money down to the transaction level, and ensure the budget is aligned with the strategic plan. Moving the Chamber’s Growth Management Task-force input to the county. Currently the Chamber meets with staff and management at sites not open to the general public. The County Commission gives thousands of dollars to participate in the chamber activities and the citizens are cut out of this process. This process needs to be open and transparent and the residents have the right to part of the decision-making process. Institute a mandatory annual review of the three employees who work directly for the Commission. The County Charter states that the Commissioners may annually review the Charter Employees (Attorney, Auditor, and Manager). While this process was looked at from time to time the review of the Charter Three has not been done in a long time. The residents and citizens of district one and the County deserve to know how the commission evaluates the Charter Three.
What motivated you to run for Office?
I am a lifelong resident of Osceola County. My children were born and raised here, and my grandchildren deserve a great place to live, work and play. I have always had a desire to serve my county as far back as my Osceola High School days when during Government Day I was elected by the students of Osceola High as the Sheriff of Osceola. I served in the military after high school but always returned home. This home is what motivated me to run in the first race back in 1984. I lost that race in a five way primary by coming in third. The person elected in that cycle went from a net worth of about 40,000.00 to 400,000.00 within the four years that this commissioner was in office. It was clear to me that special interests and influencers were alive and well in that campaign, as well as in this cycles race. In the 2016 primary I was attacked by a negative mail piece that used half-truths, from an out of County PAC. The PAC received $50,00.00 dollars from the Florida Jobs PAC (State Chamber of Commerce Pac) who received over 225,000.00 from Disney World. This was done to benefit the current Commissioner. While all within the law, I just don’t believe such outside influence has the benefits or the needs of the residents and the county in mind.
Growth has always been a concern of mine since that first race. While not succeeding in bringing growth under control as much as I would have liked, I know growth continues to dog the county and drive down our quality of life here. The only way to change is to continue to bring issues forward that will raise the living standards of all who call Osceola home.
What experience do you bring?
I bring approximately 36 years of participating in the process of democracy in Osceola County and have lived in District One since 1978 without moving to a different district to run for a seat. I have served twice as the School Board Representative for District One, then as County Commissioner from 2008 to 2016. I have served on various nonprofit boards and as President of the Kiwanis Club of Kissimmee twice, the oldest service club in Osceola founded in 1924. I am a licensed underground contractor that specializes in installing conduit by the directional boring method (trenchless technology). I have placed utilities under everything from Roads, waterways, trees, parking lots and even drilled under foundations to come up in a room in the building. Some work has been for developments however the majority is for utilities (water, Fiber optics, gas, telephone and cable). This broad experience allows me to understand government and ask the questions needed to get the work done in providing services to the residents of Osceola.
What more can local government do to help those Residents/businesses financially affected by COVID-19:
Local Governments are not the same as the Federal Government. By state statute, local governments must balance the budget. That means that the revenues must equal the expenses. I will admit that as I am writing this, I am not well informed on any of the current programs the Commission has or will do for the residents of Osceola. However, I understand priorities and know that those priorities can be adjusted to better serve the residents in this crisis. One of the ways to free up money set for other priorities may be to reduce the non-designated reserves funds to the minimum allowed by law. This could free up some funds to directly support the individual residents. I know that our low wage-based economy presents the county with the challenge of a steep drop in taxes derived from our over dependence on that revenue stream. My priorities are for assistance to those residents. This is the one place where extra money will be spent immediately thus keeping the economic cycle moving. That puts residents ahead of business as the resident will spend this money on food, rent, electric, car payments and health care. We are a consumer society and we need to spend the money to continue to move forward from this crisis.
What is the biggest obstacle facing Osceola County’s future and what role should local government play in solving it?
In my opinion the biggest problem in Osceola’s future is the money needed to participate in this democratic experiment we call home. The individual who wants to serve must depend on special interest and influencers funding to get their message out. This leaves the resident and voter out of the process. Priorities of those same special interests and influencers keep the discussion to sound bite and slogans instead of addressing the real issues of Infrastructure and services required to our citizens. We ‘buy’ businesses to come here with tax credits and incentives and then cannot provide the recreation, transportation, transit, education, healthcare we humans need for Safety, Shelter, and Nourishment (i.e. clean air, water, and food). If those are not satisfied, the individual denied those may act in a manner not acceptable in today’s society. I am here to serve and if granted the privilege to serve the residents of Osceola, I will work for the common good of all of Osceola residents. The future is yours and mine to reclaim, however, democracy demands your participation vote for Michael Harford on August 18, 2020.