Meet The Candidates for Mount Dora’s At-Large Seat

Harmon Massey (l) and Jim Murray (r) are vying in the only competitive race in Mount Dora’s Nov. 7 municipal election.

By David Cohea, Mount Dora Topics editor (djcohea@gmail.com)

This year, there is only one competitive race in Mount Dora’s municipal election cycle, and it’s for the at-large council seat being vacated by Mark Slaby. (Mark Crail of the Fourth District and Laurie Tillett of the First are running unopposed for re-election, as is mayor Nick Girone.) Sample ballots sent to Mount Dora voters have only one choice — that between Harmon Massey and Jim Murray.

It is, however, an important choice. After several years of turmoil that saw four city managers and the loss of other senior city managers — some who have yet to be replaced — contentious decision-making and numerous rookie mistakes — council now faces crucial development issues on its east side (arguably, too, from its western entrance and on the south end of downtown), with a tight budget and lingering debate about everything from murals to downtown landlords to trees.

This campaign has had highs and lows, ranging from a recent invitation for the two candidates to appear at a Lakes of Mount Dora event on Nov. 1 (previously, candidate access has been selective and limited) to an endorsement of one of the candidates from a council member using official stationery that made some recipients believe it was a government endorsement.

So far, Harmon Massey and Jim Murray have appeared together twice, at events at the Country Club of Mount Dora and Chamber of Commerce in mid-October. And media coverage has been limited: The Leesburg Commercial wrote a piece about the two candidates here.

Without local news media limited to blogs like this one, Mount Dora voters have few opportunities to get to know candidates for local office beyond their campaign mailers.

To assist voters in making informed decisions, Mount Dora Topics asked each candidate to respond to three questions:

  • What can you tell voters about yourself and your qualifications for the office?
  • Why are you running for city council?
  • More than individual district seats, Mount Dora’s two at-large council seats represent the city electorate as a whole. What issues do you think are of greatest city-wide importance, and what do you intend to do about them?

While Jim Murray replied with his consent on the first email, Harmon Massey did not respond to intial e-mailsand telephone messages. Finally he emailed saying that answers to these questions could be found on his campaign website, www.harmonmassey.com. I asked him to reconsider and respond in writing or by interview, but he did not reply to that request.

I interviewed Jim Murray on Oct. 20, and his responses have been transcribed from that recording. And as he so wishes, Mr. Massey’s responses are gleaned from his website.

What can you tell voters about yourself and your qualifications for office?

Harmon Massey

Massey on his website says that while he is “a first-time candidate for Mount Dora City Council” — he has “spent a lifetime in public service” with a 28-year career in the Air Force, first flying some 150 missions in Vietnam as a B-52 pilot and aircraft commander and then 19 years as a judge advocate and military judge, retiring as a Colonel. Following that Massey served 9 years as a Florida assistant state attorney and prosecutor. He has an undergraduate degree in political science from Mississippi State University and a law degree from the University of Mississippi.

A resident of Mount Dora for the past 2 years, Massey has served locally as trustee for the Firefighters Pension Fund and is a member of the Community Redevelopment Advisory Agency (CRA) “working to protect the unique character of our downtown.” He’s an active member of the Mount Dora Lawn Bowling Club and current President of the Lake Dora Villas Condo Association.

Harmon has been married to Lyn for 47 years, has 3 children, six grandkids and 4 great grandkids.

Jim Murray

Murray served on the Miami-Dade police force for 31 years. After retiring, he and his wife Bert moved to Mount Dora and have lived here for seven years. Between the two they have a “blended family” of eight kids (five of them adopted) ranging in age from 19 to 34. Their oldest son works in Jim’s old job with the Miami police (he even has the same badge.)

Murray says his experience as a community policing supervisor taught him some important things about city government. “My department had presence while three communities incorporated into cities,” he says. “I watched how they developed and observed the mistakes they made when creating their charters. For example, in Sunny Isles Beach, a lovely beachside community that formerly had 3-story limits for construction, quickly transformed into a 2–1/2 mile stretch of 40-story condos. Over-development destroyed its beautiful character, and I do not want to see that happen here in Mount Dora.”

Murray says he is already deeply immersed in Mount Dora government and affairs. “I’ve spent the last four years in active city service — sitting on the CRA citizen committee and running for the Third District council seat in 2016. I’ve also attended every city council meeting, workshop, and budget meeting, as well as attended at least one of each citizen board meeting. I have finished my learning curve.”

Murray has also done some heavy-duty volunteering, “everything from Lake Cares Food Pantry to just about every Visit Mount Dora event — the craft show, Bike Festival, art show — and every other large production show downtown.” He recently helped Mount Dora police with their Puerto Rico food drive, collecting four trailer loads of supplies in just four days.

“By volunteering, I’ve gained a different point of view from that of government,” Murray says. “I get to see what individuals want in town, what they think works and doesn’t work.”

Why are you running for office?

Harmon Massey

“Council members need to be elected based upon experience, education and accomplishments, not just talk or showing up for meetings,” Massey says on his website. “I have a solid track record and a steady hand.”

Elsewhere he says: “I have spent a lifetime in service to country and community. My personal motto: Never stop serving.”

Jim Murray

“I’ve been watching council closely for the past four years,” Murray says, “and I see that it gets easily sidetracked by smaller issues. We’re going to be growing fast in the coming years, but we still don’t have the staffing we need. We need to make sure we take care of these things or we aren’t going to keep up with the growth.”

“We are running about a year behind on major development issues. We can’t afford to wait for council to get up to speed with an inexperienced new member. I’ve been attending council meetings every week for four years, so I know what has to be done. I’m up to speed and ready to get to work on critical city issues. My opponent still has a learning curve.

“We were two years behind when Eustis proposed its extended interlocal boundary. We can’t let that happen again.”

More than individual district seats, Mount Dora’s two at-large council seats represent the city electorate as a whole. What issues do you think are of greatest city-wide importance, and what do you intend to do about them?

Harmon Massey

“I highly value the quality of life we enjoy in our neighborhoods,” Massey says on his website, “but recent and bold criminal activity in our area underscores the need for strong support for police, fire protection and EMS. Having served nine years as a Florida assistant state attorney / prosecutor, I know firsthand the value of professional and well-equipped first responders. Making sure our city is safe is a priority.”

Another priority: “With the soon-to-be-completed Highway 429 extension into Mount Dora, growth is obviously coming,” he says on his website. “That growth MUST be carefully managed so it benefits Mount Dora’s citizens. The path charted now, by your elected representatives on City Council, is vital to the future of Mount Dora and maintaining the city as we currently know it.”

Jim Murray

“Growth on the city’s east side is my number one concern,” Murray says. “The JPAs (joint planning agreements) and Innovation District plan are well laid out, but we need to look at those plans and make sure we are properly filling them in. We need to stay well ahead of the Department of Transportation’s road work and get in all the water, wastewater and stormwater and electric utilities ahead of schedule. It would be absolutely horrible if a large corporation came in and we were behind on supplying their juice. We need to be learning ahead of time.”

“We also need to attend to growth on the city’s west side,” Murray says. “We want to make sure it is developed and developed correctly. We can’t dictate who rents in the two shopping plazas at the western gateway, but we want to be sure the right kind of managed growth is going on and that homeowners around that area are protected.”

He continues, “For example, this weekend the new Royal Palm Railway Experience is offering train shuttle service from the parking area of the Mount Dora Plaza into the Mount Dora Crafts Festival. Maybe that will develop some great new uses for that area. It’s a great example of public and private enterprise working together.”

Public safety is important to Murray, too. “Every time you add growth, you add the issue of public safety,” he says. “You’re going to add more people into a small area, you’re going to add more traffic accidents, you going to have more forms of crime. The question is how is it going to be controlled. Are you giving police and fire departments the resources — the equipment, the police officers and firefighters and paramedics — all they need?

“People are worried about what’s happening in the Golden Triangle area. They hear about shootings and wonder about their safety. Mount Dora is growing, and if we don’t give it the safety resources it needs, public safety is going to be a problem. We’re not up to our own standards from 10 years ago.”

Murray also places a high priority on addressing the city’s ordinances. “Code enforcement has challenges which probably won’t improve until the city’s ordinances have been updated,” he says. “We have parts of our charter that are ten years out of date. A committee needs to make a thorough examination of the codification process — are they valid, do they need to be updated, do they meet current court standards. Once we’ve done that, we’ll have a much better idea of how the ordinances should be enforced.”

A final priority is redistricting. “I think we need to look at redistricting as the city grows out on its east side. We have to ask who will be representing these new residents. We should not be adding more seats to council, so the question becomes do you add them to the existing districts or create a sixth district (and eliminate the two at-large seats). Redistricting follows each ten-year census — we’ll complete the next one in 2020 — but we need to start talking about it now so we have a plan in place when the numbers are in.”

November 1 is the last day to request a vote by mail ballot, and Tuesday, November 7 is Mount Dora’s municipal election day.

For more details, see the City of Mount Dora’s Elections page and the Lake County Supervisor of Elections website.