ORLANDO – Taking the reigns of Orange County’s government at a time of double digit unemployment and a housing market that may not have hit bottom, Mayor Teresa Jacobs was sworn in today with a pledge to make citizens, not politicians, her top priority.
“Our greatest asset is the people who live and work here,” Jacobs said during the ceremony. “Our greatest asset is you.”
Jacobs took the oath of office along with the newly elected and re-elected members of the Orange County Commission inside the Linda W. Chapin Theatre at the Orange County Convention Center. While expressing pride in the faith that citizens demonstrated in them during last November’s election, several of the commissioners stressed the very difficult economic times this region is facing, with a promise to make jobs and economic development their biggest issue.
Ted Edwards was sworn in as commissioner for District 5, replacing the man that Jacobs defeated in the mayor’s race, Bill Segal. “I had a reputation for being fiscally tight, and that was in good times,” Edwards said. “Now we’re in rough times.”
District 4 Commissioner Jennifer Thompson, who takes the seat of former Commissioner and mayoral candidate Linda Stewart, likewise acknowledged the economic difficulties this county faces.
“I hope in the short term to create jobs, but in the long term to create an economic future that we can leave for our grandchildren,” she said.
The problems confronting the economy are steep. The unemployment rate in Florida remains in double digits, housing prices continue to fall, and the state continues to post one of the nation’s highest home foreclosure rates.
But there were words of hope and encouragement from the county leaders, including outgoing mayor Richard Crotty, who was on hand for the official passing of the gavel to Jacobs.
“I will tell you, I believe Orange County is in good hands,” Crotty said. “We are going to move forward as a great community.”
Jacobs, though, offered less in the way of platitudes, and more of a frank acknowledgement of just how difficult the next mayor’s task will be taking on what she called “the toughest economy since the Great Depression.”
A former county commissioner from a West Orange County district, Jacobs won a landslide victory last November over Segal, taking 65 percent of the vote. Looking back at the campaign, Jacobs said “It was fun. It was tough. But in the end, the experience was rewarding beyond measure.”
It was also sobering, she said, because as she traveled across the county meeting with voters, she found a lot of people who had a deep sense of pessimism about government in general and politicians in particular, and the ability of either to correct the economy distress so many are experiencing, Jacobs said.
“Unfortunately, many said they had lost faith in politicians, and maybe that’s nothing new,” Jacobs said. “I am determined to create an Orange County government that our citizens can and do believe in.”
As mayor, Jacobs promised to operate under the principles of fairness, honesty and trust, and also to work closely and in cooperative with other county and local elected leaders.
“I have a plan for a stronger Orange County,” she said, “but I can’t do it alone.”
That also means getting citizens to believe in county government, and to work with municipal leaders to make the country stronger.
“I also believe we have the beginnings of a reenergized citizenry,” Jacobs said.
To improve an economy that’s been struggling since 2007, Jacobs promised to “work to attract better paying jobs” and to promote economic development by holding eight jobs summits throughout the year, and to streamline the approval process for building permits.
She also pledged to reduce any wasteful spending and ensure that taxpayers get their money’s worth out of county government.
“We will run a fiscally conservative administration,” Jacobs said, “and not burden our children’s future with risky debt.”
She also promised an administration that would be about action, not speeches, saying “Folks, this isn’t just talk. Today, good isn’t good enough.”
Jacobs is the fourth mayor of Orange County, following Linda Chapin, Mel Martinez, and Crotty.
Contact us at FreelineOrlando@gmail.com.