WINTER HAVEN — Someone will be sent to serve on the City Commission for a third term during Tuesday night’s runoff election. The question is whether it will be for a third consecutive term.
Incumbent and current Mayor Steven Hunnicutt will seek a reelection for City Commission Seat 5 against challenger J.P. Powell. Powell served on the commission from 2007 until 2015 before being defeated in a runoff election by Commissioner William Twyford by just 20 total votes.
“I have the experience; I have the desire to serve,” Powell said. “I have the desire to listen to the people. One of the things I’ve been hearing since I’ve been out of office is the commission is not listening and that has to change.”
The two advanced to a runoff election by being the top two vote-getters during the Nov. 7 election. Hunnicutt was the top vote-getter with 1,109 votes or 36 percent of the vote. That was 145 more than Powell, who got 964 or 31 percent of the vote, received. James Hogan and JoNathan “Joey” Hilliard were eliminated after each received less than 17 percent of the vote.
“I look at things that are going to make the biggest impact,” said Hunnicutt, who noted that he has opposed automatic increases with water rates and a fire assessment. “These are issues that matter to the residents as a whole. I look at the financial impact. Is it something that is going to go back into the community or adversely affect the citizens financially?”
Hunnicutt, 55, a manager at Sign Effex and a former code and law enforcement officer, said he's not afraid to make the tough decisions. Hunnicutt has championed his accomplishments in helping create the Winter Haven Economic Development Council, Youth Commission League and Veterans Memorial Park and bringing podcasts of meetings to the city’s website.
“I’m approachable,” the mayor said. “I’m no different than anyone else. To only be here since 2005 and to have the residents open their community to me and let me represent them is humbling.”
The mayor has noted that the city is in the process of starting a number of key projects and wants to see things continue to move in a positive direction. Hunnicutt said his voting record speaks for itself.
“I get away from behind the desk,” Hunnicutt said. “I champion things. I’ve brought transparency with the podcast. The charter review is our citizens telling us what they want to see from us and that was something I was very much behind.”
Powell, an assistant manager at Ott-Laughlin Funeral Home in Auburndale, has vowed to give residents their voice back. He noted the firing of City Manager Deric Feacher in September 2016 where dozens of residents urged the commission to retain Feacher, but Powell said they were ignored.
“I have the willingness to listen and be available,” Powell said. “It doesn’t matter what time of day it is. I keep my phone beside me. I’ll always have time for the people.”
Powell said he wants to enhance quality of life and be a good steward of taxpayer money. Powell said he wants to prioritize traffic issues, the Chain of Lakes master plan and bring quiet zones to areas where the CSX train runs.
“Whatever decision comes up – pro, con, good, bad – I will research it thoroughly,” Powell said. “I’ll take the public comment into consideration. I won’t make decisions before I get to City Hall. I’ll always do what I think is in the best interest of the citizens.”
The winner of Tuesday’s runoff will be seated in January. Commissioners in Winter Haven serve four-year terms and earn $8,912 annually.
Mike Ferguson can be reached at Mike.Ferguson@directgates.com or 863-401-6981. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikeWFerguson.