Insisting that “Today, good isn’t good enough,” Teresa Jacobs becomes Orange County’s new mayor.

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.”

Crowds of people -- the very citizens that Mayor Teresa Jacobs says the government needs to improve the local economy -- gather outside the Linda W. Chapin Theatre at the Orange County Convention Center for Jacobs' swearing in ceremony.

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.

Jacobs' oath of office ceremony drew a large crowd today.

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.

 

Debt counseling agency assists with that big January hangover: the huge credit card bills.

The classic dilemma with post-holiday credit cards: should you keep using them to buy, or cut them up?

ORLANDO – It’s that time of year: the holidays are over, and people are starting to feel a hangover – but not a lingering one from too many New Year’s Eve parties over the weekend.

Instead, it’s that feeling of anxiety, even dread in some cases, when the credit card and other bills start arriving, bringing with it a reminder of just how much spending everyone did in December.

Jackie Kelvington knows this feeling well, but not necessarily from personal experience.  A lot of other people are constantly asking her advice on what to do now that the bills have come due.

 “At the beginning of the year, January and February are the shocker moments when the credit cards are coming in and people are potentially in shock mode when they open them,” Kelvington said.  “People are in the mode of ‘Gosh, how do our pay this off?’  Even with our unemployment rate being so high, people still wanted to be able to give gifts to their kids and family.  We’re in a sticky spot.

“But you’ve got to live within your means,” she added.  “That means spend what you can afford, and save, save, save.”

Kelvington runs Kelvington Consulting Group and is a media relations consultant for CredAbility, a nonprofit credit card and debt counseling agency that works with people to reduce their debt and learn better ways to manage their money.  The firm often hears from people around this time of year, when credit card debt rises following the big holiday spending season.

“CredAbility is one of the nation’s leading non-profit credit card education companies,” Kelvington said.  “What we do is all about financial wellness for individuals.  Right now, that is a huge, critical priority in our country, in our state and here in this market (Orlando). Focusing on financial wellness, we do everything from comprehensive housing counseling to avoid foreclosures to credit card debt and how to budget yourself well, to when not to use credit cards.  We often deal with clients who are contemplating bankruptcy, and last year alone we helped over a million people.”

Their goal is to assist people in understanding some common sense tips on how to avoid falling into too much debt to begin with.

“During the holidays,” Kelvington said, “it’s a time of year when people are spending money, more than any other time.  What we advise is those smart tips, like if you have to buy something, use cash first.  But if you have to use a credit card, make sure your goal is to pay it off by the end of the month. You don’t want the charges to accrue.

“Now, obviously, the holidays are over and people are more concerned about paying off the debt they built up, and a lot of it is on credit cards, so we educate consumers on how to manage their funds well,” she added.

The problem of rising debt has actually gotten better as the impact of the national recession, a nearly double-digit unemployment rate, and a still struggling housing market continue to be felt. The Federal Reserve reports that U.S. consumer credit outstanding fell in 19 of the last 21 months. With the jobs picture still murky at best, consumers have been retrenching, spending less, and saving more. It’s a big change from spending habits earlier in the decade, when the economy was stronger, the housing market was booming, and credit was easy to get.

“Up until a couple of years ago, things were kind of humming along economically,” Kelvington said.  “People had lots of disposal income, and people were less concerned about putting things on their credit card.”

Since the economy started to decline in the fall of 2008, consumer spending has tightened up considerably, and so has debt.

“People’s debt is actually going down, which is a very good sign, but people need to remember the mantra of living within their means, and we’ve got to get back to some fundamentals,” she said.  “Consumer credit card debt has dropped for 25 consecutive months, and the personal savings rate has increased to almost 5.8 percent in 2010. Those are some very good signs that consumers are tightening their money and using it to reduce their debt.”

Despite the improved savings rate, though, the picture isn’t entirely positive. The National Bankruptcy Research Center reports that the number of American consumers who filed for bankruptcy in 2010 was the highest in five years, reflecting still weak jobs and housing markets.

“It all goes back to living by those principles,” Kelvington said.

Those who are struggling with debt due to unemployment or the continued challenges facing the economy are the kind of people CredAbility helps, by teaching them to develop a household budget and stick with it, and to learn that good financial health doesn’t happen overnight.  People need to understand how to manage their finances over the long term, and not just worry about paying off one big credit card bill in January.

“We have lots of things that we do,” Kelvington said.  “The crux of our organization is one on one counseling. It’s all that we’re about. The majority of the counseling we do is by phone and online, and we do in-person as well. We’re non-profit, free and open to the public with workshops ranging from topics on first time home buying to money management.  There’s also online seminars, podcasts — all kinds of stuff that we offer. We’re affiliated with Heart of Florida United Way, and financial stability is one of the legs of what we teach.”   Heart of Florida United Way is a health and human services charitable organization in Orlando.

The local CredAbility office is at 3670 Maguire Boulevard in Orlando, right behind the Fashion Square Mall.  To learn more, call 1-800-251-2227 or log on to www.credAbility.org.

Freeline Media asks our readers to name the most important Citizens of 2011

As this weekend brings us into the New Year, we can look back at 2010 for what it was in Central Florida: tumultuous, unpredictable, continuously challenging for so many, but a year that still brought more hopeful signs than a lot of us had any reason to expect when the year began.

Freeline Media asks its readers: are we on the right road, and if so, who are the major movers and shakers steering us in that direction?

Politically, 2010 was a stunning year for the Florida Republican Party, which won all four of the state’s constitutional offices, held on to a crucial U.S. Senate seat, and picked up four congressional seats — stunning victories that mirrored the GOP’s pickup of 63 congressional seats nationwide and six U.S. Senate races. And yet …

… polls continue to show that Republicans are held in low esteem by voters, leading many analysts to conclude that the victories had more to do with a rejection of the Democratic Party’s governing in the past two years than a ringing endorsement of the GOP.  Likewise, the GOP winners appeared to be helped by the spirit and enthusiasm of the Tea Party movement and its call for a return to limited government principles. Is the GOP truly ready to make tough choices on spending priorities … or risk alienating the very voters who helped elect them?

Central Florida’s housing market remained weak, with prices still falling and the foreclosure rate remaining among the highest in the nation. And yet …

There were signs that banks were starting to move more quickly on closings for “short sale” transactions, helping to clear some of the high inventory in the region — a hopeful sign for sellers who have waited in frustration for the housing market to pick up steam.

The region’s unemployment rate remained stubbornly high — in double digits, above the national average. And yet …

Orlando showed signs of creating more new jobs than other regions of the state, an indication that this city may move out of the economic slump faster than Tampa, Miami and other major metro areas.

Looking back at 2010, Freeline Media Orlando asks its readers: who were the most powerful and influential citizens in Central Florida last year?

Who had the most important impact on this region’s political scene, on the real estate market, on the business community, on economic development, and on the cultural scene?

And will these same people remain the most influential players in 2011, with high expectations for their impact on jobs, housing, and growth in 2011?

And are there people who lost in 2010 — politically, or economically, or through a long-awaited but ultimately failed project — who may be poised for a major comeback this year?

 Email us at FreelineOrlando@gmail.com with your nominations for the top players of 2010, and who could play a crucial role in the region’s future throughout this year.

Freeline Media Orlando will then place the ten nominations in an Internet poll to determine the top ten rankings in order, and we’ll announce the winning rankings on Jan. 17 of the top ten “Most Powerful Citizens of Central Florida,” along with followup articles on who they are, why they were chosen, and why we expect them to be have a major impact this year.

Contact us at FreelineOrlando@gmail.com.

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