Apopka's John Land hits mayoral foe on Niagara water deal
Orlando Sentinel, 2014-02-21
Feb. 21--Apopka's 93-year-old John Land showed Wednesday night that he still has plenty of the political cunning that's made him the longest-serving mayor in Florida.
Facing his toughest election challenge in two decades, the 19-term mayor slammed his best-funded foe, Apopka Commissioner Joe Kilsheimer, by criticizing a state agency's unpopular decision allowing Niagara Bottling to draw nearly 1 million gallons of water a day out of the Floridan Aquifer.
Kilsheimer is Niagara's spokesman.
During a City Council meeting, Land suggested Kilsheimer's role as media consultant for the California-based bottling company was in conflict with the interests of Apopka.
"You're a very good public-relations man," Land said. "But I'm for Apopka."
The mayor, whose policies have been challenged often by Kilsheimer, said he understood that his opponent spoke for the bottler because the company pays him.
"But when you're elected to look out for Apopka, it's a different thing," Land said. "We should be five people up here looking out for the people of Apopka."
In an interview Thursday, Land further described Kilsheimer as a "PR person who can say it smoothly."
Kilsheimer, a former Orlando Sentinel reporter, called the dust-up "a desperate political attack" by Land and Vice Mayor Bill Arrowsmith, who initiated the discussion near the end of Wednesday night's City Council meeting.
Arrowsmith said the city should "go on record as opposing something like [Niagara]" and insisted that he was motivated by his concern for Apopka's future and not politics.
"I think our natural resources should be used right here where they come from," said Arrowsmith, a city commissioner for 38 years.
Kilsheimer jumped to Niagara's defense, saying the California-based company uses a "sliver of a fraction" of the water pumped from the aquifer by commercial or industrial interests; less than the amount sucked out by breweries and soda makers; and far less than used by a sand-mining operation in Clermont.
He said Niagara has brought 125 high-wage jobs to Lake County, where it is located, and fattened that county's tax base.
After the meeting, Kilsheimer pointed out that his council critics were members of an elected body who voted unanimously two years ago to accept a "host agreement" that would have allowed Waste Management Inc. to convert a landfill in South Apopka into a dump that could accept a wider range of garbage. Before his election to council, Kilsheimer, 56, was part of a grass-roots effort that successfully opposed the landfill conversion.
"Their new-found concern for the environment is heartwarming but probably more attributable to their fear that they will lose the election March 11," said Kilsheimer, who later said he thought he'd been baited by Land and Arrowsmith.
Land and Kilsheimer are among four candidates in the March 11 race for the mayor's post that Land has held for all but three years since 1949. Glen Chancy and Gregg Phillips, the other two candidates, did not attend Wednesday's meeting.
Niagara was granted a 20-year permit Feb. 11 from the St. Johns River Water Management District to double its pumping from the Floridan Aquifer to nearly a million gallons a day at its facility in Groveland. Before it handed down its decision, the regional water agency reviewed nearly 1,000 comments from citizens and groups opposed to Niagara, but none from Apopka officials, district spokesman Hank Largin said.
He also said the time to object to Niagara's permit has passed.
When Wednesday's discussion ended, Apopka City Council unanimously adopted a resolution to direct the city's attorney and its staff to contact "the entities involved and maybe even put the state on notice" about Apopka's position.
Kilsheimer, who seconded the motion, said he did not believe he had to recuse himself from the vote because the resolution "has no bearing on Niagara."
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