Burroughs, Brown spar over issues, county’s conditions

OKEECHOBEE — The two challengers for Okeechobee County Commission, running against District 2 incumbent Bryant Culpepper and District 4’s Terry Burroughs (the board chairman), faced off Monday evening, Aug. 6, at the Okeechobee Political Forum.

The opposing candidates, Noel Chandler in District 2, who’s a sitting Okeechobee City Council member, and Fred Darrell Brown were allowed along with the incumbent commissioners to give two-minute opening statements in the event at Osceola Middle School before they addressed questions submitted by county residents. Several dozen interested citizens sat in the stands, observing quietly.

Terry Burroughs


Fred Brown

First up were the District 4 candidates, and Mr. Brown led it off. “I would be a great county commissioner because I would listen to the community. I will not vote on things the way other commissioners vote. I will listen to the community, and I will listen to their input. I have asked the community what they need and what they want, and they want uniforms in schools, they want our drainage in Okeechobee fixed, and that is why I will be a great commissioner. And I will keep it short.”

Mr. Burroughs’ opening statement began with his thanking the audience and the Economic Council of Okeechobee County for creating the forum.

“I’ve been a county commissioner for the last four years; the last two years, I’ve been chairman of the board. As far as what I do on that board, there’s not an ‘I’ in ‘team.’ This is a focus of ‘we’ on the board. We work together; (there are) some times that we don’t agree.

But at the end of the day, we work together for the betterment of this community,” Mr. Burroughs said. He listed some of the things the five commissioners have focused on particularly: “trying to get a world-class resort in here,” referring to Bass Pro’s takeover of the Okee-Tantie Recreation Area; “we have put forth a mental health court in Okeechobee County”; and “the third thing we have done is to enhance our code enforcement.”

He ended his statement by saying: “We’re trying to make this place a better place for people to come and visit and open up a new business. I appreciate your coming tonight.”

Three questions were asked of the candidates, contributed by citizens and audience members.

What should Okeechobee County do to be more attractive and to create opportunities for new businesses?

Mr. Brown: “I believe we need to concentrate on our landscaping (to attract) businesses, be more appealing to them to come to Okeechobee. I’m not a politician, I am nervous; but we’ve just got to do better. We’ve got to spend our money wisely. To me we’re not spending it wisely, on the community to make the community look better, and I’ll do that. Thank you.”

Mr. Burroughs: “First, we’ve had a lot of conversation … relative to code enforcement. If the environment … doesn’t look nice, people will not come and open up a business. But equally as important … is that our infrastructure, our affordable housing and our work talent are not up to par. Most companies coming into rural counties are looking for a workforce that’s trained. One of the things that the school system has been doing … is that we just graduated about 150 people with certificates in various things, Microsoft, carpentry, etc. … We’re funding a coalition of all the colleges in the six-county region — I’m chairman of the economic development coalition — to try to put the talent with what those particular colleges offer … whatever it may be, focused strictly on vocational and technical skills so that individuals here that do not want to go to college will have an opportunity to gather a skill so they can become productive and enjoy the community.”

What is your understanding of the financial condition of Okeechobee County and its government?

Mr. Brown: “Well, the biggest problem I have is the sheriff’s budget is always shot down.

My daughter works for the sheriff’s office, and I would not want her on the road making $34,000 a year. We need to support our sheriff, his budget, first responders. We need to support them; they’re definitely our futures. And that’s what I would do as a commissioner.”

Mr. Burroughs: “We just got through the budget … (and) ended up with about 22 percent in our reserves. We took in about $15.3 million in ad valorem tax. And … the sheriff and I had a pretty lively debate about this budget. … I will say this: You only have so much money that you can come up with from the businesses. The businesses pay the largest share of the budget, so somewhere along the line, we have to figure out how to do this. We’re in good shape this year, but I feel that next year we’re going to be right back at the same issue and having those debates. The focus here is we want these deputies to be well-paid. The issue is that we cannot pay the same amount of money as the coastal (departments). … We got our officers up to $36,000; there’s enough money in there to do that. And it’s got a step plan by which those folks can see some light at the end of the tunnel. … Overall, I think the county’s in fairly decent shape this year.”

What are the strengths and weaknesses of the Okeechobee County government, and what changes should be made to improve those?

Mr. Brown: “First of all we need to come together. A lot of times in my district, we call, can’t get no one; leave messages, no returns; and it’s frustrating to the community because the work’s not getting done. … It just goes over their head, and we don’t hear anything about it. And we need to come together as a government and listen to the community and get our priorities straight.”

Mr. Burroughs: “What have to be the strengths in any organization are the assets, the personal assets, which are our people. In some cases … we don’t have enough people in order to do some of the things that we need to do. However, being that the county administrator is a very prudent individual, manages it well, we get through what we have to do with what we have. The weaknesses are that we need to be able to be more cognizant of what the future brings. We just put in a strategic plan this last year — there’s a three-year rolling strategic plan. … It talks about vehicle maintenance, new vehicles, things of that sort. So up until this year, we did not have a strategic plan that had detail into it, so I thought that was one of the weaknesses that we needed to take care of, and I believe that from the county administrator and working with the board, I think we have done that.”

Then the moderator moved on to the candidates’ closing remarks. Mr. Brown went first:
“Like I said earlier, I’d be a great county commissioner because the community is my heart.

I would love to get some type of prayer back in schools. I go to the Okeechobee Church of God, and I brought this to the pastor, and … the main thing we need is prayer back in schools, and I would want to get that. Thank you.”

Mr. Burroughs declared that “it’s been a great honor and with pride that I serve in this particular community.” He went on: “I was raised here, graduated in 1968; my mother had Sybil’s Flowers and Gifts, so I had a heart for this community. She labored in this community for 17 years, then had Alzheimer’s, and there’s a lot of people in this community that helped me out with her. The citizens of this community are great people. I am humbled beyond words at the opportunity to work for you and my commission colleagues to make decisions associated with positive growth management, economic development and the protection of our community. Just to point out a couple of those, we’ve talked about having a world-class resort coming in, reducing the jail costs, refocusing our attention on code enforcement and upcoming enhancements in the building department that will help everybody. These decisions will not only affect us but our children and the future generations that call Okeechobee County their home. And it’s my desire to continue making Okeechobee County into one of the top rural counties in the state. With this in mind, I would appreciate your support on Aug. 28 when you cast your vote for county commissioner in District 4. Thank you for your time.”

NOTE: The article above is a little longer than the one in the printed Okeechobee News.

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