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Our panel of 100 influential leaders discusses the most important issues affecting you.

Chris Carmody, shareholder, GrayRobinson

Last week: THEME PARKS SAFE: Amidst the rising COVID-19 case count throughout the state and Orange County, there has been a bright spot: theme parks. When Universal and SeaWorld announced their June re-openings, most cheered, but some worried. Addressing the concern, both parks implemented mask and distance requirements. Some of you will have to brace for this next part – so far, it’s working. Both parks are cautiously enjoying successful reopenings and the stage is set for Disney beginning July 11. Here’s to continued safe reopenings and a case study we can all follow: masks and distance work, even on a roller coaster.

Lee Constantine, commissioner, Seminole County

Last week: A WIN FOR SEMINOLE BOUNDARY: Thank you, Gov. DeSantis! Once again, by vetoing Senate Bill 410 you have elevated yourself above the gamesmanship of the Tallahassee insiders. With a stroke of your pen, you took those shady special interests who want to usurp the state Constitution for their own gain to the woodshed. Well done, sir. You have sent a clear message that a last minute amendment to destroy Seminole County’s pristine rural boundary will not be tolerated. Hopefully, every lobbyist and politician who feels that local government is their personal ATM heard you. Local officials and the citizens they represent have the right to control their own destiny.

John L. Evans Jr., consulting unit chief for a global investment firm; former congressional staffer

Last week: STRESS MANAGEMENT: Here are two keys to managing stress during unremitting coronavirus and all that goes with it. First, if you want more energy and less mental anguish, you need clean blood. The quality of your blood comes directly from your meals. Google "Mediterranean diet" and give it a go for 30 days. Second, Winston Churchill said, “When in hell, keep moving.” Every day exercise with outsized intensity. Quality of blood flow is paramount for burning off monster hormones like cortisol. Look, these are times that try men’s and women’s souls.

Camille Evans, managing partner, Virtus LLP

Last week: GET REAL ON RACIAL TENSION: This week, news media was full of stories about President Trump retweeting video of a man in The Villages shouting, "white power." Some indicated that it "revealed tensions" in the community. Revealed tensions?! If it took the President of the United States retweeting video of a man, in 2020, chanting "white power," approximately 30 miles north of Groveland, the town where, 70 years ago, the Groveland Four became the tragic victims of racial injustice, to "reveal tensions" here or in any other part of the country, then I wish you a very late welcome to the conversation. We’ve been expecting you.

Looking ahead: TIME TO VOTE: Supervisors of Elections across the state will soon begin mailing vote-by-mail ballots for the upcoming Aug. 18 primary election. The deadline to register to vote is July 20. I strongly encourage each of you to risk asking the obvious or uncomfortable questions and make sure you and those you know are registered vote. Then, do the work to get informed about the candidates and issues, and come up with a plan for making sure your ballot is cast and counted.

Glenton Gilzean Jr., president/CEO, Central Florida Urban League

Looking ahead: JOB TRAINING: As we all try to make the most of this unique Fourth of July weekend, let’s not forget that there are 1.4 million unemployed Floridians who are in no position to celebrate. In our region, the problem is acute: Osceola, Orange and Lake counties are the top three in terms of unemployment rate in the state. This makes my organization’s work that much more crucial. Throughout this pandemic, the Urban League has continued to run our job-training program. If you are looking to enhance your vocational skills, please reach out to the CFUL. We are here to help.

Tim Giuliani, president and CEO, Orlando Economic Partnership

Last week: DO YOUR PART: As a surge of COVID-19 cases threatens our regional economic recovery, it is more important than ever to provide a clear, consistent message for the community to unite, share best practices and highlight businesses positively supporting safety measures. The Safer, Stronger, Together campaign calls on residents and local businesses to do their part by making the Orlando promise, a public commitment to responsibly adhere to safety and health guidelines. We all need to do our part, which includes wearing masks, regular hand-washing and social distancing, so our economy can recover and fewer people suffer the consequences of COVID-19.

Francisco Gonzalez, philanthropy director, National Review Institute

Last week: STATUES ARE HISTORY: This weekend, we celebrate America’s independence. This year, the holiday is taking place while some in our country are trying to tear down historical statues and the legacy of our founders – the men and women that made this country the greatest ever on Earth. One major problem today is very few in our country know much about our history or the historical context of each and every generation of Americans. How dare anyone in this generation consider itself greater than the ones before? We are standing on their shoulders. Not the other way around. And we are not perfect either.

Looking ahead: SPACE FORCE: Central Florida has led the nation and world in space exploration from Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral. Florida also has a legacy of military veterans who make their home here, not to mention the many army, naval, and air bases that are spread around the state. Now, Gov. Ron DeSantis is making a bid for the United States Space Force to make its headquarters in the third-largest state in the country. Florida is easy to spot from space. And, in Orange County, we already have the Star Wars Galaxy's Edge at Disney. The Space Force headquarters is a natural fit!

Viviana Janer, chairwoman, Osceola County Commission

Last week: MORE TESTING COMING: As the number of COVID-19 cases skyrockets in Florida, so has the demand for testing. So, it’s good news that the Florida Department of Health-Osceola is opening a more capable drive-thru test site Monday at Osceola Heritage Park. Free testing will run Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. with no appointments required. More testing is great, but it is important to wear a face-covering in public, practice good personal hygiene and social distancing in order to reduce the number of cases and stop the spread of this disease that has crippled our economy and threatened the health of our nation.

Chris King, CEO of Elevation Financial; 2018 Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor

Last week: WHERE IS THE GOVERNOR? Despite months of desperate calls from public health experts and the nation’s top economists that a statewide mask mandate would save lives and help the economy, Gov. Ron DeSantis remains committed to, well, doing nothing. On top of that, his decision this week to veto $225 million from the affordable housing trust fund looked especially heartless when juxtaposed with the $500 million DeSantis gave away to big corporations. As Florida becomes the new battleground in the fight against COVID-19, and our public health and financial stability hang in the balance, is our Governor going to show leadership, or stay in hiding?

Pamela Nabors, president/CEO, CareerSource Central Florida

Last week: COSTCO SHEET CAKE: I love shopping at Costco. Pre-COVID-19, I could taste food samples for a snack, stock up on bulk items and buy just about anything I needed – or didn’t KNOW I needed until I saw it there! Last week Costco announced they are discontinuing their iconic half-sheet cakes with no immediate plans to resume baking them. Since the CDC official guidelines discourage large gatherings of people, I understand that eating that much cake poses a challenge. I just hope that Clorox wipes and Kleenex reappear on the shelves soon.

Looking ahead: THEATERS GO DARK: Due to the threat of COVID-19 and safety concerns with large gatherings, Broadway shows in New York have officially been canceled through the end of 2020. As an avid arts lover, I’m particularly saddened to know that theaters will remain dark till 2021. I worry that this announcement may also impact the Dr. Phillips Broadway schedule this fall. Our local arts groups are already suffering from the loss of concerts, performances and theater. I will just have to check out and contribute to local arts organizations like CFCArts to get my fix.

Cole NeSmith, executive director, Creative City Project

Last week: CUTTING THE ARTS: Once again, in a blow to the arts, the State of Florida cuts funding. At its peak, the state invested $43 million in arts and culture institutions. Over the course of the last few years, Florida fell to 48th in arts funding in the country. In 2020, that number bumped up as funding was increased to $21.3 million. The state’s 2021 budget was just approved, committing $13.6 million in a time when arts funding is most crucial. With the volatility of arts funding from year to year, arts groups are left wondering what they can count on the state for.

Looking ahead: LIVE MUSIC AT A DISTANCE: Rest to peaceful music in a socially distanced, live music experience. The Creative City Project is partnering with Timucua Arts Foundation to present “Re:charge” at Harriett’s Orlando Ballet Centre on July 18. Each audience member is given their own 64 square feet of space in the performance venue. Guests are encouraged to bring a blanket and pillow to lay on during the show. An ensemble of eight musicians plays a combination of ambient classical, peaceful jazz, and melodic improvisation during the 75-minute experience. After selling out the first showtime, a second has been added.

Brendan O'Connor, editor in chief, Bungalower.com

Last week: RENT INCREASES: Commissioner Emily Bonilla's recent push for a countywide freeze on rent increases was a lesson in local government that we should all heed. Bonilla, who listened to her constituents' concerns regarding possible rent increases from landlords who are faced with an extended moratorium on evictions, tabled a proposal to put forth a freeze on rent increases for the next 12 months. Bonilla's fellow commissioners chose to shut her out simply because they don't like working with her. Many of them admitted to not even reading her three-week-old proposal. Likability is a major factor in getting things done at the regional level.

Looking ahead: SENTINEL UNION: The Orlando Sentinel's newly-formed union, the Sentinel Guild, is sending out some major flex energy to its parent company, Tribune Publishing, in the hopes of getting them to sell the paper to a local buyer. The "Save our Sentinel" campaign launched on Tuesday to gain support for a new local nonprofit leadership team to steer the paper away from an uncertain future at the hands of majority shareholder Alden Global – which is known for cost-cutting and layoffs at other properties. Tribune has also not paid rent during the pandemic and is being sued by the Sentinel's landlord, Miami-based Midtown Opportunities to the tune of $370,000.

Kathleen Oropeza, co-founder, FundEducationNow.org

Last week: MASKS AREN'T TYRANNY: Tyranny is defined as a cruel and oppressive government. It is not "tyranny" to wear a mask. Yet the anti-mask crowd is pathologically opposed because it deprives them of "liberty." We wear seat belts, we subject ourselves to airport security screenings, we tell people where they cannot smoke. Florida's leadership vacuum has landed us in a COVID-19 hot zone with the world watching. The real threat to everyone's liberty is the sickness and death caused by the selfishness of refusing to wear a mask or social distance.

Looking ahead: SET A BETTER EXAMPLE: Whether we recognize it or not, our children are watching us and they're learning some scary lessons. We expect students to value science as they watch politicians deny medical facts. We expect kids to tell the truth when all around them leaders tell and stand by the most outrageous lies. We expect children to be kind but everywhere they look adults are caught raging in endless cell phone videos. We want teenagers to problem solve but they see adults they love standing in polarized opposition, unwilling to find common ground. Let's hope our children see us and do better.

Paul Partyka, president, Central Florida Commercial Association of Realtors

Last week: RETHINK POLICE PRIORITIES: Don't defund the police; but reallocate their funds to make them better. It is ridiculous to say, eliminating the police will make you safer. Deep down you know that. Don’t let politics get in the way of your common sense. Bad police individuals did horrible things to Black individuals, which led to riots, protests, “Black Lives Matter,” then to “Defund The Police." BLM makes sense; DTP does not! Use funds to hire better, get rid of bad cops fast, better train good cops to handle today’s mentally and physically tough pressure situations. Good police are dedicated and care about you. Treat them right!

Beverly Paulk, founding member, Central Florida Foundation and The Orlando Philharmonic

Last week: BUDGET FOR HOUSING: The governor’s efforts to balance the budget were aimed in the wrong direction. Now the damage is done for next year. The largest budget cut was to affordable housing for low-and-middle-income families by simply keeping $225 million in the Sadowski fund that is designated for affordable housing. We are the worst area in the country for affordable housing along with low wages. The long lead time to get affordable housing projects completed means more long delays for people desperate for decent housing. The money is there. The next budget needs to have triple this amount approved for affordable housing.

Joseph F. Pennisi, founding executive director, Florida Policy Institute

Last week: FISCAL YEAR BEGINS: Happy New Year! That goes out to all the budget geeks out there, all six of you. For the rest, Wednesday marked the start of the new state fiscal year. The week also saw Gov. DeSantis veto $1 billion in spending as the state begins to understand the depth of the economic downturn it faces as a result of the pandemic. While many of the good features of the new budget survived the governor’s axe, $225 million in Sadowski affordable housing funds did not. And it’s not over yet. Expect the Legislature to return soon and deal with holes that are much bigger than DeSantis plugged.

Jim Philips, retired longtime radio talk-show host

Last week: NEWS OF THE WEIRD: Let us pause to consider the weird wonderland that is Florida. Recent headlines: "80 pound iguana found in freezer of South Florida pizzeria"..."Hillsborough woman is suing neighbor for a goat paternity test"..."Naked child porn suspect claims he was looking for cat on Florida beach"..."Man arrested for trying to steal plane in New Smyrna Beach so he could fly to California to see girlfriend." Someone once said that we read the weird tales in newspapers to crowd out the even weirder stuff inside us. Welcome to Florida where being weird is not a hobby, but a profession.

Stephanie Porta, executive director, Organize Florida

Last week: EVICTION MORATORIUM: Once again, Gov. Ron DeSantis waited until the 11th hour to extend the eviction moratorium, staving off homelessness for hundreds of Central Florida families. His behavior towards those hit hardest by the coronavirus pandemic has been cruel and heartless. As we watch the state continuously fail to act on behalf of our citizens, it’s clear that local government agencies need to have the authority and the dedication to protect our communities. We need county government and sheriff’s offices to take swift action and create a plan for marginalized communities before this moratorium ends in 30 days and families are in the streets.

Looking ahead: STORMS’ LOW-INCOME IMPACT: Hurricane season will be far more active and threatening than usual this year. COVID-19 cases are rising while our governor plays politics and blames migrant workers for his lack of leadership. Amid these challenges, we are in the midst of a revolution to stop police brutality and end systemic racism against the Black community. DeSantis continues to ignore communities of color and low-income households. Community hubs provide crucial supplies and support for preparing our vulnerable communities, which are often last to receive post-storm assistance and funding. The Disaster Resiliency Initiative (DRI) hubs help fill the equity gap.

Joanie Schirm, GEC founding president; World Cup Orlando 1994 Committee chairman

Last week: 100 YEARS OF WOMEN’S SUFFRAGE: Many Central Florida’s Independence Day fireworks may be silent, but the values we hold dear are as evident in spirited conversations and demonstrations as when the Constitution signers’ ink went dry. This summer we celebrate the centennial of women’s suffrage, leading to the 19th amendment. We now recognize some white suffragists exhibited racism that tainted the valiant effort. In the ongoing voter rights and Black Lives Matter demonstrations, the sisterhood has expanded to a mixture of skin colors and gender. All are angry that voter suppression continues. Demand an end to the games that some politicos play.

Looking ahead: STORM TIME: Independence Day usually marks the beginning of hurricane activity in the Atlantic basin with the ramp-up for a season that ends November 30. 2020 has already been a memorable year. Thus, it’s not surprising we now receive NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center’s prediction for an above-normal Atlantic hurricane season. The outlook predicts a 60 percent chance of an above-normal season, a 30 percent chance of a near- normal and only a 10 percent chance of it being a below-normal season. The forecast of 13 to 19 named storms could make this year 100 percent abnormal in all cataclysmic categories.

Beverly Seay, chair, UCF Board of Trustees

Looking ahead: SEA TURTLE HATCHLINGS: Sea turtles are living dinosaurs; they’ve been doing their thing for millions of years. Among the sea turtles who call Central Florida's coast home, many are completing another cycle in their long lives and returning to the area where they hatched to breed and lay nests along our beaches. This cycle is undeterred by pandemics and protests. Sea turtles unite us: thousands of citizens from around the state volunteer many hours each week to identify turtle tests, monitor their status, and ensure hatchlings' safe entry into our beautiful coastal waters. There are many Floridians who cooperate in this incredible phenomenon.

Rick Singh, property appraiser, Orange County

Last week: PET ADOPTIONS: Now here’s something to wag your tail about! Orlando was recently named least expensive city to adopt a dog. VetNaturals, a supplement development company, released data showcasing the cost of dog ownership by city. According to their research, the first year of dog ownership in the City Beautiful – including adoption fees, toys, vet visits, and extra expenses like hiring a dog walker – costs $2,897. One of the coronavirus pandemic’s few silver linings is the uptick in pet adoptions across the county. With costs so much lower than the rest of the nation, why not welcome a new family member home?

Looking ahead: PULSE MEMORIAL: Last week, the U.S. House of Representatives approved a measure that seeks to establish Pulse Nightclub as a national memorial. The site, which symbolizes so much to our community, is now one step closer to being protected and preserved in memory of the 49 lives lost there. In addition, plans are underway to develop the National Pulse Memorial and Museum on the site, which is set to open in 2022. We must continue to honor the lives and memories of those taken that night as we work towards a better, more inclusive future.

Michael Slaymaker, professional fundraising executive

Last week: SOLDIERS' BOUNTY: What does it take to get fired? I am a CEO of a charity. If my staff sent me a memo explaining that a competing nonprofit had put a bounty on the heads of my clients I could: 1) say I didn’t read the memo and get fired; 2) do nothing and get fired; or 3) find out later about the memo, read it and continue to do nothing -- and get fired. For a president whose signature catch phrase is “You’re fired!” we owe it to all the men and women who serve in our armed forces to impeach him.

Kannan Srinivasan, former president of Asian American Chamber of Commerce; CEO of Global KTech

Last week: MASKS IN SEMINOLE: Seminole County announced that residents will be required to wear face masks while in public. The executive order states that “Every person working, living, visiting or doing business in Seminole County is required to wear a face covering consistent with CDC guidelines while at all businesses, places of assembly and other places open to the public.” With all the hospitals, seeing an influx of COVID-19 patients, Florida’s governor should make it mandatory for all Floridians.

Jen Vargas, producer/host, FilmSlam

Last week: WHY NO MASKS? Following COVID-19 safety protocols is neither a political statement, a punishment, nor an infringement upon one's "liberties." Why are we doing this to ourselves? Why shame those who wear masks to help? Those who can wear a mask should absolutely do so for those who can't or are not otherwise physically or medically able. Don't like a face covering? Wear a face shield! This temporary solution is so simple but it's going to take all of us to pitch in to help mitigate the spread. So... why aren't we doing it?

Looking ahead: CENSUS TIME: The 2020 Census is still underway, coronavirus or not. In August, you may begin to see enumerators knocking on doors and safely visiting residents who have not yet responded to the 2020 Census. Between then and the end of October, census takers will be doing their best to ensure everyone is counted. Federal funding for so many needed areas; family services, healthcare, public safety, education, employment will help shape the future of our communities. An accurate count of our population is crucial, especially now. Take 10 minutes out of your day and make sure your household is counted!

Carol Wick, CEO, Sharity

Last week: A STEP BACK ON ABUSE: Donna’s Law marked a new era for Florida in the protection of children from sexual abuse. Unfortunately Florida also took a step back when Florida’s 4th District Court of Appeal overturned a ruling granting Sen. Lauren Book — a victims’ rights advocate who survived sexual abuse as a child — a cyberstalking injunction against a convicted child sex offender. I must echo Judge Melanie May — who was joined in the dissent by the only other woman on the court — when she wrote, “Must we wait until someone commits some violent act before our system can protect its citizens?”

Looking ahead: PHILANTHROPY PRIORITIES: When the pandemic hit, foundations and philanthropists set aside normal rules and swung into action — giving more faster. Then George Floyd was murdered, and the world took to the streets to protest racism and police brutality. Again, philanthropy was challenged to shift. Not just in its giving, but in addressing institutional racism in philanthropy. There can be no more “lip service” and falling back into “business as usual.” Bringing about lasting change will require more than talking. It requires more listening, meaningful action, and taking a closer look at where the money is going.

Michael Zais, political blogger for thedrunkenrepublican.com

Last week: VOTE BY MAIL MYTHS: Everyone’s talking past each other on mail in ballots and voter fraud. According to the Heritage Foundation, there have been 1,285 proven instances of voter fraud since 2016, with 1,110 convictions. Those on the left that deny the existence of voter fraud are simply obfuscating for political purposes. Conversely, President Trump misses the mark by saying virtually all mail-in voting is bad. Florida does it right -- allow anyone to specifically request a mail-in ballot, but don’t attempt to blindly send mail-in ballots to everyone on perennially inaccurate voter rolls. I can already hear liberals crying voter suppression of dead people.

Looking ahead: WATCH THE BLACK VOTE: If President Trump wants to come out on top in Florida in November in what will likely again be a razor-thin election, he should look no further than Ron DeSantis’ win in 2018. Trump received 8% of the Black vote in 2016. According to CNN exit polls, Gov. DeSantis received 14% of the African American vote -- most notably, 18% of African American women. Why? DeSantis’s advocacy of school choice. The Democrats generally oppose school choice as a nod to teachers’ unions. If the president pulls similar numbers from the Black community, this could spell doom for Joe Biden.

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