Seeking her 5th term as District 2 commissioner, Rosemary Wilsen brings a social worker's acumen to city government
Thursday, March 4, 2021
Rosemary Wilsen: "I’m trying to follow CDC standards because I believe as a city representative, I have to do what we’re asking other folks in the community to do."
Few people are as fascinated by local government as Rosemary Wilsen. Long before she ever considered running for office, she would go to city commission meetings. She would attend budget meetings. Every one of them. For fun.
“I would just need a bag of popcorn and a drink; I’d be fine,” laughs Wilsen. “I probably spent 10 years sitting in the audience. I wanted to watch what was going on. I gained a lot of knowledge.”
Eventually she moved out of the cheap seats and onto some commission boards, like those for redistricting, education and parks and recreation where she soaked up even more insight. Twelve years ago, Wilsen tossed her hat in the ring for a commissioner’s chair, and she’s been representing the good folks of District 2 ever since. Now she’s heading into her fifth election, on March 9, hoping to be re-elected once again.
I met up with Wilsen late one February afternoon via Zoom, not a kitten filter in sight.
“I talk to my friends over Zoom. A lot of us are the same age, and we’re trying to be careful. I’m especially trying to follow CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] standards because I believe as a city representative, I have to do what we’re asking other folks in the community to do. I feel I’m expected to follow the same rules. I even hate to take my mask off when I’m talking [at commission meetings, but you can’t hear on the microphone]. How can I not wear [a mask] when I ask those who come in and sit in front of us to wear one. I think that’s a double standard, and I can’t live like that.”
ND: I’m with you on that. Ocoee does a good job in that regard. It’s great to go into a city commission meeting and see all of the commissioners and staff wearing masks. Plus, you have dividers up between the seats and around the speakers podium.
Okay, switching gears, now that you’re running for re-election, what are some things you’re proud of accomplishing?
RW: The city owns property on Montgomery Ave. They were discussing putting a fire station there. There was already a neighborhood there. I didn’t feel it was appropriate to put a fire station in a residential area. When the trucks leave at 2 in the morning, we know you can feel the weight of the truck on the road. Whether they put the sirens on or not, the neighbors are going to know it. Put them in an area that’s not as highly residential as that is. And now that property is a park. I am so excited. That’s something we’ve been working on since I’ve been on the commission. It’s a community park. It doesn’t have a lot of parking, but you can walk to it. The playground is just finished. We have an activity field, it’s a place where you can come throw a frisbee. And it’s the site of our first dog park.
ND: What else?
RW: The downtown project — that is in District 2, I’m very pleased to say that. I take a little possession of that, shall we say. I think those of us in District 2 should.
We laid the infrastructure on Bluford Avenue — I hate to call it sewer pipes. But you have to lay the infrastructure to accommodate any business that will eventually come to the downtown. You can’t put a restaurant on a septic tank, let’s be honest. If you want to invite businesses in, we had to put the money into the infrastructure. Now Bluford Ave. looks really sharp with the palm trees. I love it because I had a lot of complaints, and then one of my volunteers — who’s about 90 years old, so she’s been here her whole life — said, “It looks so nice.” And when she said that, you think, “We won!”
We’re going to be getting a new city hall next year. On Oakland Ave., we’re moving along with construction. The plan is to put a 12-foot sidewalk down the middle with traffic on both sides, and eventually, it will connect to the West Orange Trail. That’s what the residents wanted.
ND: What do you want to make sure gets done if you’re elected to another term?
RW: There’s a big interest in building warehouses. With the onset of home delivery, there’s more businesses with trucks coming in and out. These types of businesses are what help the tax base, it’s what reduces the millage rate for your residents. But I want to be very careful where these go. I do not want to see them in a residential area. Along Maguire Rd. and back to the SR-429, you’ll see those large warehouses, and they have loading docks.
Someone came in who was interested in doing a similar light industrial project but on a smaller scale on Clark Rd., though they never submitted a formal request. Now, that backs up to some neighborhoods. It would require re-zoning. We need to be very careful with this. For example, Clark Road only allows certain size trucks; you don’t see many semis. We need to hold firm and keep those types of businesses that will have trucks all day and all night where the highway traffic is. They need access to the SR-429, access to the turnpike. Let’s keep that in our industrial area. And let’s keep our residential areas residential.
ND: What else do you want to continue working on?
RW: I have an interest in parks — I’m the liaison to the Parks and Recreation Board from the commission. In Tiger Minor Park, also in District 2, we are planning — I am so excited about this, too — an inclusive playground for children with, I don’t like to say “disabilities,” but maybe “varying abilities” or “limitations.” Maybe they’ve never been on a swing or a seesaw, or they’ve never been on any kind of a playground because it’s not accessible or a parent/grandparent has limited interaction with their child because they’re on a scooter. On an inclusive playground, we’re going to be able to offer some of these activities — like with an eggshell swing that might help buffer sound if a child is bothered by noise. It’s a slow process, but we’re going to get there. It would be such a value to our young folks and parents.
ND: What are the challenges facing Ocoee?
RW: We have a lot of challenges, and as time goes on we’ll have more challenges. We’re a growing community. I know we have issues with our roads. It’s not our district, thank you. But when it affects any neighborhood, it affects all of us.
When I vote, I’m one vote of five. When I vote on something, it does affect another district. So I need to be realistic that I’m representing those residents, too, when I’m giving my vote. It’s important to me that folks in other districts tell me what they think. It’s important for me that the other commissioners tell us what their residents are thinking. We need to realize that we are representing them also.
When there’s something that will affect my residents, I go out and let them know. I’ve gone door-to-door on a weekend to tell them, "This is what’s proposed in your neighborhood. If you don’t like this, I need to know and I need you to write [to me]." Prior to Covid-19, it was coming down [to the meeting]. I love to go to the grocery store and talk to people. A freezer bag was my friend because two hours later I might get home with the food.
If I know something is happening close to a neighborhood, if it’s an HOA [homeowner’s association], I notify the president or people in the neighborhood. I think it’s important that the community knows what’s going on. I collect email addresses, and I send out developer agreements [the contract between the developer and the city]. It’s important to know if something’s been submitted in your neighborhood, or if you see a sign go up on a piece of land that something’s been presented, it’s important to read it and know what’s going on in your community. Knowledge is power. Our residents want to know what’s happening.
I believe our [city] government is very transparent. All of that information is on our website. It’s easy to access. You can read the agendas and past minutes. There’s a plethora of things to read if you want to.
ND: Ocoee’s commission is somewhat diverse with you and two Black commissioners holding seats. What more would you do if re-elected to continue to bring in more women and more people of color and those from other constituencies to serve on the boards and committees that help run the city so that Ocoee’s government reflects its community?
RW: I think our boards, our commission should represent our community. When I’m concerned about appointing someone, I want to make sure we have representation from each district. You don’t want to be heavy in one district. You want to make sure you have representation and opinions from all the districts. My only criteria is to make sure each district has a fair representation.
ND: Sure. But how do you do outreach into communities where you don’t necessarily have a connection?
RW: Activities in the community — like our Spring Fling [free annual event at Bill Breeze Park focused on child protection] — sometimes entice someone to join these boards. I think word of mouth is great. You never know what will draw someone, but talking about the boards is so important. Going to HOAs, where you tell them about what’s going on, you may see an application come in. Like the advisory board I was on, it met once a month, so you’re not committing a night every week. People may have to understand that. And it’s fun. Because you’re going to talk about things that are going on in the city. You get input into the community. That’s exciting!