Change will come one way or another, candidates say
The nonpartisan runoff for the District 1 seat on the Volusia County Council features one candidate who wants to give residents more of a voice in their government and an incumbent who knows change is inevitable in governing.
Barb Girtman, a real estate agent from DeLand, was the top vote-getter in the August primary, garnering 31.58 percent of the votes cast for four candidates.
DeLand resident Pat Patterson, an insurance executive and the incumbent, came in second with 29.79 percent of the votes.
The other candidates were farmer Jeff Brower of DeLeon Springs, who raked in 28.8 percent of the votes, and veteran Eddie Molina, who got only 9.83 percent.
District 1 covers, generally, the northwest quadrant of the county, including DeLand, Orange City, Lake Helen, Pierson, DeLeon Springs and a bit of northern DeBary.
READ THE CANDIDATES’ STORIES ON THE FOLLOWING TWO PAGES
Meet Barb Girtman
Barb Girtman considers herself an agent for change. She told The Beacon county government should place a greater priority on input from the general public.
“Essential services, like first responders, are a critical concern, and there should be more accounting of the needs of locals, especially West Volusia locals,” she said. “I’m also interested in learning more about how we go forward on growth.”
Not that Girtman is against growth, since she’s in the real estate business, but she wants the county to “be smart and more prudent, especially on where we are and where we need to go.”
Girtman also believes in making West Volusia — and Volusia County overall — a more desirable destination.
“We need to make it One Volusia that works for everybody,” she said. “That will create better and higher-paying jobs.”
As the search for a new county manager gets underway, Girtman would like that new manager to be someone who wants to be transparent — something many people have accused former manager Jim Dinneen of not being.
“Transparency is very important,” Girtman said. “We need someone who looks at where we are and where we want to go while building diversity. Experience is great, but sometimes that produces someone not open to fresh eyes and new opportunity. We need someone who can think globally or holistically about where we want to go. Someone with experience either in what they’ve done or ideas they’ve been exposed to.”
While many people would like to see the SunRail commuter system extended to DeLand, Girtman doesn’t necessarily believe it is that important.
She said she supported SunRail when it was first proposed, but thinks it was mishandled and is not a good deal for the county. She would like to see other options explored to meet the county’s transportation needs.
“I look at our transportation needs more holistically. But our needs are far more than just extending SunRail. We need to be connected in better ways to Orlando, Daytona Beach, Tampa — and we need to do it in a different way than we have,” she said.
According to campaign-finance reports, Girtman’s donations have been overwhelmingly smaller amounts of $100 or less from a wide cross section of people, nearly all of whom live or work in West Volusia.
“My campaign is financed and supported by and for the people,” she said. “I’m putting people first, putting fresh eyes on where we need to go. [Donors] are putting their money where their voice and belief is. I’m proud to be carrying their message.”
Girtman is a fourth-generation DeLand resident and current multimillion-dollar-league real estate professional. She launched her real estate career following a 25-year career in health care.
Girtman is active in the community, with involvement on the boards of the Rotary Club of DeLand, The West Volusia Beacon, and Greater Union First Baptist Church Life Center.
She was elected unopposed in 2014 and 2016 to serve on the West Volusia Hospital Authority Board of Commissioners and also was appointed to the City of DeLand’s Economic Development Committee and several strategic-planning committees.
Girtman said those roles have created strong connections in and for West Volusia, making her the best choice to represent District 1 and to give the people a voice in their government.
Meet Pat Patterson
To veteran legislator Pat Patterson, change is inevitable in government.
“The most constant thing about government is change,” Patterson told The Beacon. “It’s constantly evolving because you’ve got to keep changing with the times. There’s been a lot of change in the 20 years I’ve been in office.”
He’s just not a big fan of change just for the sake of change.
One huge change coming in the near term is a new county manager.
“A new county manager may bring new ideas forward that I’d like to hear,” Patterson said. “I’d like to look at what they’ve been doing when they arrive, and see how what positive changes they’ve done can be adapted for here.”
Patterson hopes whoever is hired has a strong fiscal background and understands how a county charter works. And the new manager will face a number of challenges, he added.
“We have many construction projects ahead — a public-works yard, a Sheriff’s Office evidence facility and a new facility for the medical examiner,” he said. “We also need an evaluation of EVAC. It’s not as bad as everyone says, but we may need to make some changes there.”
Patterson is hopeful SunRail will be extended to DeLand, but he doesn’t see anything happening on that front until after the first of the year. But he also is glad that, after more than a year of trying to convince his fellow members on the SunRail Commission, the panel finally agreed to talk with the Florida Department of Transportation about possibly lowering Volusia County’s contribution to the commuter-rail system’s maintenance and operating costs if the service isn’t extended from DeBary to DeLand.
“It would be unfair to us financially if it doesn’t come to DeLand, but it’s all dependent on the state and federal governments,” Patterson said.
The biggest holdup is getting federal funding to cover the construction cost of the 12-mile extension of SunRail’s tracks to DeLand, he said.
Patterson’s campaign contributions include a number of high-dollar donations from developers and well-connected political types, especially from East Volusia, along with smaller donations from individuals on both sides of the county.
“It’s nothing new,” Patterson said. “I feel I represent all of Volusia County, not just West Volusia, and I have a lot of support from many different people. I see beyond the ‘Palmetto Curtain.’ I can’t think of any developer who donated because of anything I have done.”
Patterson is trying to win another four-year term in his current stint on the County Council, but he also served on the council from January 1995 until November 1998, when he was elected to a seat in the Florida Legislature. He held that post until 2000, was defeated in his re-election bid, then won a seat in the Legislature again in 2002 and served until 2010.
Patterson believes his extensive background on the Volusia County Council, coupled with his stints in Tallahassee, make him the best candidate for the District 1 seat.
If he wins the race, Patterson will be term-limited from running again for the seat, although he could run for a different County Council seat. He has said in the past that he has no plans to run again at that time.