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Random Musings About Local Issues


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Sometimes things change so fast in central Florida that we neglect to ponder shifts in the way things run or how we'd like to see them in the future. Two things occurred to me this week: the first validated something we already knew and the second offered a peek into how things will be different a few years from now.


Tuesday, an amazing thing happened: it was all the more incredible because it took place with almost no one saying a word about it.


We've known for some time that the politics of Orange County were changing. Even national commentators like incoming Meet the Press host Chuck Todd have noticed it. The effects of those changes were brought home with the local elections.


Not only was the election in a non-presidential year, it was only a primary. Historically, the last thing you'd want to do is to try to pass a tax at such a time because just about the only folks who'd show up are old folks who always vote "NO!", particularly if it involves their pocketbooks. (In fact, turnout was about 15% as usual).


That didn't happen this time. Not only did the voters of Orange County agree to extend the sales tax on school construction, it passed by a 2-1 margin. This was despite the best efforts of poor "Ax the Tax" leader Doug Guetzloe (who's apparently finished his brief stint in jail) to rally his ever-faithful nattering nabobs of negativism one more time. We truly seem to have crossed the Rubicon - this bodes well for infrastructure investments as required to build a world-class urban environment here.


The second thing hasn't happened yet but is coming in the next few years. UCF President John Hitt will soon be reaching his 25th anniversary leading the Orlando school, a rather long run for a university president. When he does at last retire, it will be interesting to see which direction the school chooses to go, particularly as it begins to rediscover the city of Orlando.


The presidents of FTU and later UCF have mostly been anonymous administrators who have served competently in assembling a solid foundation for growth. Indeed, Dr. Hitt has been particularly successful at getting attention for the school far beyond what one would expect from what was primarily a commuter school perennially in the shadows of its older brethren in Gainesville and Tallahassee.


The one exception to that model of presidential selection, Steven Altman, went awry shortly after his arrival due to an odd sex scandal that no one ever really understood and seemed to have been engineered because he ruffled the feathers of some FFO. (It's been 25 years and we still don't know "the rest  of the story".)


Florida's universities alternate between solid academic picks (Bernie Machen, John Lombardi at UF) and politicians (TK Wetherell at FSU, Betty Castor at USF). Which way will UCF lean this time? Will he/she choose to continue the reconnection with the community? It will be interesting to watch how this unfolds.

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