By Lacey McLaughlin
Published: Saturday, August 16, 2014 at 10:19 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, August 16, 2014 at 10:50 p.m.
All the candidates say they are not beholden to their contributors. But the source of their support may give voters an indication of where candidates’ sympathies lie in the ongoing battle of wills between an old guard that seeks stability and their critics who point to a string of spending errors as evidence of the need for change.
Port Orange District 1 incumbent Bob Ford faces Sonya Laney, a CPA with her own practice, and businessman and former Councilman Jim Meadows. District 4 Councilman Dennis Kennedy’s open seat is being sought by former police lieutenant Scott Stiltner, former Daytona Regional Chamber of Commerce president Larry McKinney, citizen activist Newton White and contractor John Junco.
Ford, the District 1 incumbent, and White, who is running in District 4, have received donations from several citizens — such as Ted Noftall — who are heavily involved in the city’s affairs and have been cited by former City Manager Greg Kisela and others for contributing to the resignations of six department officials amid heavy scrutiny in the wake of $411,500 in unauthorized water meter purchases this summer.
The activists say Noftall and his supporters are playing a vital role in local government by holding leaders accountable and demanding transparency. White, who has raised $2,440, said he considers himself a citizen activist, but the term now has a negative connotation among some.
“Those contributions were early in my campaign and the landscape has changed a lot since then,” White said. “I don’t think being a citizen activist is a bad thing, but being uncivil is. There is a public decorum that needs to be followed.” Ford has raised a total of $6,575, which includes money from several active citizens and a $250 donation from the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, a national union of electric workers. The former police chief said he refused to accept any donation from unions that represent current city employees. “The other unions I didn’t take from because they have employees working in Port Orange and that would compromise my ability to vote on their contracts,” Ford said. Key contributors to candidates opposing Ford and White include Mayor Allen Green and Riverwalk developer Buddy LaCour. LaCour has donated $1,000 to both of Ford’s District 1 opponents. He’s also donated money to Junco in the District 4 race. Meadows, who has raised a total of $8,500, previously served on the council from 1996 to 2000 and said he has been a proponent of Riverwalk for decades. LaCour’s donation represents the developer’s confidence in Meadows’ ability to move the stalled riverfront development forward, he said. “Whether Buddy gave me $1,000 or not I’d still be for Riverwalk,” Meadows said. Laney, who has raised $21,330, including $498 in cash and in-kind contributions from Green, said she did not solicit any contributions and if she felt a donation would compromise her ability to vote on an issue she would consult the city attorney for advice. “I don’t look to anyone for how to think or what to do,” Laney said. “I am an independent individual.”
“Those contributions were early in my campaign and the landscape has changed a lot since then,” White said. “I don’t think being a citizen activist is a bad thing, but being uncivil is. There is a public decorum that needs to be followed.”
Ford has raised a total of $6,575, which includes money from several active citizens and a $250 donation from the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, a national union of electric workers. The former police chief said he refused to accept any donation from unions that represent current city employees.
“The other unions I didn’t take from because they have employees working in Port Orange and that would compromise my ability to vote on their contracts,” Ford said.
Stiltner, a retired Port Orange police lieutenant running in District 4, has raised $13,335, which includes hundreds of dollars in donations from former fire and police department employees and union federations such as the Volusia Flagler Cope Labor Council and the Florida AFL-CIO.
Stiltner said contributions with union affiliations make up only 19 percent of his donations, with the majority coming from residents and small businesses. He said he has not taken any donations from labor unions involved in Port Orange.
“I want to represent everyone,” Stiltner said. “I kept a close watch over my contributions because I wanted them to be balanced. If you look at those numbers you won’t find a candidate with more balanced contributions.”
McKinney, also running in District 4, has obtained contributions from several business owners outside Volusia County and has funded nearly half of his $9,878 campaign himself. By taking many contributions from outside the county, McKinney said he can remain objective when voting on city issues.
“I think everyone has questions about who will support what based on what money they get,” McKinney said. “You shouldn’t feel beholden based on your contributors.”
The finance reports also revealed two apparent violations.
McKinney’s June campaign finance report shows two Winter Park companies donating $500 each in cash, which exceeds the state limit of $50 in cash contributions. When a News-Journal reporter notified McKinney about the error this week, he said he mistakenly labeled the contributions as cash instead of checks on the report.
“No one has brought this to my attention until now,” McKinney said on Thursday. “We will re-file the reports tomorrow and I have proof of those checks I can provide.”
Reports also show Meadows received two $100 cash donations. When questioned about the violation, Meadows cited literature he had received during a candidate information session at the Volusia County Department of Elections earlier this year.