A preacher with a past and a retired Coast Guard captain and business owner are vying for the District 4 seat in Groveland, a city with reputation for controversy between its council members.

Both candidates say they can heal the rift between city leaders.

In recent months, Groveland has ousted its city manager, the police chief quit and the city’s mayor was temporarily removed until the 5th District Court of Appeal renders an opinion about his right to hold public office.

Candidate Chris Walker, a pastor for the past 15 years at Cathedral of Power International Church in Clermont, said he can lead the city through these tumultuous times.

Walker has a record of seven felony arrests but was convicted only of traffic offenses including driving with a suspended license. He petitioned the governor’s office and his civil rights to vote and run for office were restored in 2004.

“My story is one of transformation,” said Walker, 46. “These were minor infractions that happened 18-20 years ago, I didn’t murder anybody. People need to know that former convicts can make a difference and transform the community in the same manner they transformed their own lives.”

The father of six has worked on three commission campaigns, serves on the boards of the South Lake Pastors Association and the Faith Neighborhood Center. He is the founder of Stepping Stones Transitional Housing in Clermont and volunteers at New Beginnings Homeless Ministry.

Walker worked with the Christian Family Coalition in 2016 to help pass the Pastors Protection Act, a controversial law that shields clergy members who refuse to perform gay marriages.

“My focus continues to be bringing transparency and winning the community’s trust back, working on engaging our citizens in shaping the future and economic development,” Walker said. “Our city has seen a lot of unethical representation for a while, and it’s time for common sense accountability.”

Candidate Duane “Mike” Smith also vows to increase transparency by improving the public availability of city documents and posting notices of proposed zoning changes further in advance, according to information found on his website.

Smith could not be reached for this story.

Smith graduated from the United States Merchant Marine Academy in New York, and served in the Navy Reserves, then transitioned to the U.S. Coast Guard, where he served 25 years before retiring. In 2010, he started Sextant Strategic Consulting, which provides expertise on port and maritime security and writes grants for nonprofit organizations.

“I believe there is a need for someone to be elected to the council that is not a part of the past, but a leader for the future and that can help set a vision for the city,” Smith said on his website.

The District 4 seat is currently held by Acting Mayor Karen McMican. The election will be held on Nov. 7th.

 

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