Incumbent, District 2 City Commissioner
District 2 Commissioner of Winter Garden, 2021-2023
Alderman, Pacific, Missouri, 2003-2007
Information and Cybersecurity
Florida State College of Jacksonville, AA, 1992
Catholic and Lutheran
Ron Mueller, 59, has spent the last three years as District 2 Commissioner of Winter Garden. Now, he’s looking to spend the next four continuing to serve, as he states on his campaign website, “a voice of the people” of the city he loves.
“Being granted the opportunity to serve in public office is a profound gift bestowed upon us by the voters,” Mueller says on his site. “It is our sacred duty to safeguard and support every individual within our community.”
If no candidate garners 50 percent of the vote on March 19, a run-off election will be held April 16.
Mail-in ballots are beginning to arrive in mailboxes. You can request a vote-by-mail ballot until 5 p.m. on March 7. Early voting begins March 4 and runs daily 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. through March 17.
Before he ever appeared on a ballot, Mueller served as a sonar technician petty officer second class aboard nuclear submarines in the United States Navy. He received a Navy Expeditionary Medal for service in a foreign conflict and a medal for “expert pistol shot” with a .45.
He attended Florida State College at Jacksonville, earning an associate’s degree and has worked in product and risk management-related positions for companies such as Wells Fargo, Hewlett-Packard and The Walt Disney Co. He got into politics in the early aughts in Missouri, serving two terms (2003-2007) as an alderman in the small town of Pacific, outside of St. Louis.
With a strong sense of community, Mueller revels in the beauty and the good will in Winter Garden. He is a frequent poster on social media — find him on NextDoor and Facebook alerting residents to holiday changes in recycling schedules, sending out holiday wishes, or appealing for help for a struggling single mom of three who had her car repossessed on Christmas Eve. When Winter Garden was rocked by back-to-back hate speech incidents, Mueller was the only city official to condemn those actions and appeal to residents’ better angels.
One constituent, posting in Winter Garden Insider, commented that Mueller has been “everything you could hope for in an elected official.”
His will to do good has occasionally tripped him up. He stepped on Orange County Commissioner Nicole Wilson’s toes by talking with television reporters about annexing the Orange County neighborhood Tildenville into Winter Garden without so much as a heads up. And he recently fended off what he describes as a politically motivated move to oust him from his seat ahead of the election. But the whole process might have shut down sooner had he heeded the city manager’s direction to send city-related communications through him, no matter how trivial.
A few weeks ago, Mueller and VoxPopuli contributing reporter Kathryn Brudzinski connected via Zoom to look back on key achievements and talk about what voters can expect from a second term.
VoxPopuli: To start, how are you feeling at this point in the campaign process?
Ron Mueller: I certainly feel confident in what we've accomplished over the last three years. And I’m running to complete a lot of the work that we started: Tucker Ranch, continuing our annexation issues, continuing our very mindful approach on growth and spending on programs and prosperity and safety throughout the community. So those things I feel confident are going to resonate well with the voters.
VoxPopuli: What else can voters expect to see from you if re-elected?
Ron Mueller: If you see me come into the second office there's not gonna be a whole lot about me that's going to change. I'm going to continue to go out and meet with the people and continue to be the voice of the people. I'm certainly not going to be a rubber stamp on the board. People expect us [on the commission] to listen and to govern smartly.
I think the first [issue to tackle] is annexation. We have a lot of properties within the city limits of Winter Garden that are still [governed by the] county. The city has no say over [what is built on them] is a single family home or a 750-unit apartment complex. We're voiceless. So I continue working with [County Commissioner] Nicole Wilson and other members of the county commission to continue annexing property which will give us greater control.
VoxPopuli: The last time we spoke, we discussed Tildenville and the desire of some of its community members to be annexed into Winter Garden.
Ron Mueller: And Tildenville continues to be very high on my list. The community leaders within Tildenville who expressed the desire to come into Winter Garden, we're happy to hear that. And I have pledged back that not only do we want to annex them, but we want to ensure that they continue to operate with their own voice. You know, they certainly don't need the city to come in and tell them how to run their community. But we do want to make sure that they have the services available. You know, they certainly talked about some of the crime issues. There's just not as many patrolling officers in the area from the county. So response times can be 45 minutes to an hour and even two hours. And that's unacceptable.
So now we have the opportunity to have a voice here. And I am trying to spend about once a week reminding the city manager to remind the county that we want to move forward with this. I'm hoping that that happens relatively soon.
VoxPopuli: In June of 2023 the city commission voted to annex and rezone property next to Crown Pointe Equestrian for residential development despite overwhelming public opposition. Owner Anne Binger, who breeds horses there and trains them for Olympic-level competition, said building additional houses would severely impact her operations, and she’s suing the city for lack of due process. Six months later, what do you think about the annexation and changing the land-use designation?
Ron Mueller: I'm trying to preserve that green space and that horse base that we have out there and those beautiful farms we still have and I think it’s important that we do that. One of the things I have proposed moving forward is that Winter Garden creates an agricultural zoning. We have residential zoning, industrial zoning, commercial zoning, but as an urban community you normally don't see agriculture, and that's one of the cruxes that we have fought with the county is a lot of these [properties, like Crown Pointe Equestrian] are zoned agricultural. They certainly get the tax exempt statuses on agriculture, a lower tax benefit, but they don't get the benefits of our city.
So what I want us to do as a community is create that new zoning and then allow all these farm properties that are all over Winter Garden to annex in and they will retain their tax status. The city attorney has said that, while not common, it has been done in other communities, and it's something we can do. So that's how I plan to address that. By creating those agricultural zonings they can come into the city and they can get our services, and then they're not pressured to change the [land-use] designation to some kind of residential development.
VoxPopuli: You spoke out during last summer’s hate speech incidents, such as when antisemitic flyers were thrown into people’s driveways. Is there a difference, if any, in “Commissioner Ron Mueller” speaking out versus “Winter Garden Resident Ron Mueller” speaking out? How did you feel about the city’s response to that particular incident?
Ron Mueller: There's certainly a strong overlap. I try to put forward a very clear message that we do not condone hate, we are a city of love and unity. Personally, I was furious with what happened. It was disgusting. I want to try to be a fair and equitable person and recognize others' opinions, but when your opinions degrade other human beings and find them not worthy of being a human being, I’m just not on board with that. But, yes, the person you see on dais and the person that you see here before you today is really the same person that has the passion for defending our community and respecting the diversity of others.
I was disappointed in the city's response. I felt that we should have been unified and had a really strong message that came out instead of this kind of muddled message [that leads to] members of the public and members of the press come up to question us. And I found that to be lacking, it should have been crystal clear where we stand as a commission and as elected officials, that we absolutely, unequivocally do not support that type of hatred in our community.
VoxPopuli: Your fellow commissioners pursued a forfeiture hearing against you in an attempt to remove you from your seat ahead of the election for allegedly violating the city charter. Then recently the hearing was dropped altogether. They voted on a statement that said they’d seen “copies of emails that rose to the level of possible forfeiture” but weren’t pursuing it. And that was that. What do you want voters to know about the whole experience?
Ron Mueller: I'm certainly disheartened over the self-serving actions of Commissioner [Lisa] Bennett. The timing of her actions certainly reek of someone trying to influence a political outcome. She has been very vocal of her support of Iliana Ramos Jones since the first election, and she has spent much of her time in the last three years attempting to get me out of office so she can move her friend back in and that's not the will of the voters. That's not the will of the people. That's not what we're elected to government for.
Even before I was in office, Commissioner Bennett and some others like [former District 2 Commissioner Bob] Buchanan were just so adamant that they really wanted their candidate to win. And they continue to badmouth me and spread lies.
Over the three years I've been in [office] — without evidence by the way — they put me through numerous open records requests that didn't really find any material (there’s nothing to find) and even paid for private investigators that not only looked at my background, but literally followed me around. That's a very frightening thing to have someone following you or sitting outside your house. That's terrible.
The culmination in December of 2022, one of my cats had its head chopped off and placed in my backyard, which is noted in the police report. Without proof or any evidence, I certainly think that members of that party that have been accusing me took those actions.
VoxPopuli: Are there any other issues on your agenda you plan to look at?
Ron Mueller: One of the things that I do want to revisit is Resolution 23-02. That was the media resolution. At the time, the advice of the city attorney lent itself that this would hold up well, under both the Constitution and rule it was necessary. And there were parts of it, I agreed [with]. As a citizen, we certainly encourage those [public] comments there. Personally, I believe there should be a back and forth. I know the mayor just needs people to come up to make comments and walk away. I would rather have it more interactive. Should the press really use the public comment side to come up there and bring up issues and try to get quotes? No, I actually don't think they should do that. I think the time to be interviewed is after or before. But do I think in hindsight that resolution intrudes on the First Amendment, and I think the proper step for me would be to go back and remove that resolution, and if there are other rules we want to put in place that don't infringe on the rights of others, then certainly I'm willing to take a look.
VoxPopuli: Any final comments before we wrap up?
Ron Mueller: I love Winter Garden. I love the people. We take care of one another, we invest in our community that we care about. Even a simple thing is just walking downtown and you don't see people throw litter on the street because they respect the city. I'm so proud of what we've accomplished and where we're going.
And that's probably one of the most touching things we can do as a community is just be there for one another and recognize each other. Even when I'm out going door to door, someone may talk about a medical issue or a sudden need. I kind of take off my commissioner hat at that moment and say, Here's my car. If you need a ride to the medical center, call me. If you need me to run to the grocery because you have COVID, I'll go do that for you. It's not to garner favor or votes. It's to help a fellow human being because at the end of the day, that's what we're here for.