Winter Garden Commissioner Lisa Bennett is one of the increasingly rare, life-long Winter Garden residents who was born in the old West Orange Memorial Hospital on North Dillard. Her daughter, Heather Fraga, was born there too… and Lisa tells me it may have been the same delivery room! Lisa Bennett is not only a Winter Garden commissioner but also co-owns and operates a successful real estate agency in town, Windsor Realty Group, Inc. She has been very involved in the community for many years, including being a past president of the Winter Garden Rotary Club, past chairman of the Hope Charter School Board, and has been active with other groups such as the Jimmy Crabtree Cancer Fund. Many things about her impress me; one of which is her great self-actualization; coupling that with the humility of a great believer in God, she exudes confidence and capability.
YOU ARE IN YOUR SECOND TERM AS COMMISSIONER. TELL US ABOUT WHEN YOU BEGAN AND WHAT YOU HAVE TAKEN FROM THIS JOURNEY.
I decided to run for office kind of late in the process. Unbeknownst to me I really was clueless on the timelines! I felt like it was another opportunity to serve Winter Garden and help the residents. So after praying about it and seeking advice from friends and family, I jumped in the race. I feel like I’ve learned a ton on the process... how our city charter and local government works. One thing is certain; I don’t think I’ll ever again have a strong opinion on a City matter without research and information. After seeing how much thought and time goes into decisions, I think I’ve gained some wisdom with experience.
WITH THAT EXPERIENCE, WHAT HAVE YOU DISCOVERED TO BE YOUR CHALLENGES?
Change. Growth. It's such a balancing act between private property rights and the need for development to be quality. The only thing for sure in life is change, so it has been challenging to manage that change to the best of our ability while keeping our charm and handling the inevitable growing pains. I’m grateful for our City staff, and they do an amazing job which makes the work of a commissioner so much easier.
WE HAVE HEARD STORIES THROUGHOUT THE YEARS, WHETHER THEY BE APOCRYPHAL OR NOT, OF SOME COMMISSIONERS OCCASIONALLY CLASHING WITH THE CITY MANAGER. WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR EXPERIENCE?
Our City Manager has done a very admirable job of managing the city and making wise decisions. Where we are today is in large part due to his leadership. We haven't always agreed on every issue, but I can say when he walks me through the data and reasoning, he's typically right in the end. Exactly what you want in a City Manager!
SO HOW ABOUT YOUR FELLOW COMMISSIONERS AND WHAT ABOUT YOUR FEELINGS ON OUR MAYOR, JOHN REES?
The commission works very well together. There aren't any huge egos or agendas. We all have been able to make good decisions with our own input and not a bunch of infighting or jockeying for position politically. It's been a pleasure to serve with the other commissioners... and we have the best mayor! He truly loves Winter Garden and the residents. You can call him on an issue, and he's there for you. He is a strong and intelligent leader who is also very kind. We are blessed to have him in that position.
IT IS WONDERFUL HEARING SUCH NICE THINGS ABOUT OUR CITY LEADERSHIP. YOU ALL HAVE ACCOMPLISHED MORE THAN MOST CITIES IN THE PAST SEVERAL YEARS. WHAT ARE YOU MOST PROUD OF?
Many things! Bradford Park's reclaimed water project, which we did in conjunction with St. Johns River Water Management District. It is great for the environment and a long-term approach to better manage our water resources. The project captures more stormwater for the aquifer to benefit not just Winter Garden but all of Central Florida. The St. Johns River Water Management District states that it is expected to capture and add 2 million gallons per day of stormwater to the city‘s reclaimed water infrastructure also that the diverted stormwater will improve water quality by reducing stormwater runoff in Lake Apopka, thus reducing phosphorus and nitrogen.
Then there is Tucker ranch, which was spearheaded by Commissioner Bob Buchanan. It is going to be a cutting-edge health and lifestyle park with 209 acres of gorgeous grandfather oaks & Johns Lake shoreline to eventually include fitness, farm-to-table, nutrition classes, kayaking, dry camping for scouts, and other youth enrichment organizations. It’s an amazing park!
There is just so much in Winter Garden to be proud of! One thing I’m most proud of is the way our City pitched in and helped our businesses during the pandemic. The City came up with creative solutions to a situation that had never existed before. From outdoor seating, we were one of the first cities to come up with this, to sanitizing stations and micro-events. The City put in much time and effort to do all it could to keep our local businesses open. We have been blessed to have many, not just survive, but thrive.
YOU CLEARLY LOVE THIS CITY. WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ABOUT OUR CITY AND YOUR LOVE FOR IT?
Winter Garden will always be home. It's very special. You can ask almost anyone, and they will tell you, it gets in your blood. Winter Garden is a community not just a city. Family friendly, modern, yet full of small town charm. We aren't necessarily a small city anymore but it still feels like Mayberry. I've traveled all over the world and there's no place like home!
THIS MAGAZINE ISSUE IS ABOUT WOMEN IN OUR COMMUNITY. YOU ARE CURRENTLY THE ONLY ELECTED FEMALE IN THE CITY OF WINTER GARDEN. IS THIS SOMETHING YOU CONSIDER? DOES THIS FACT PLAY A ROLE IN YOUR MINDSET?
When I first ran for office I was surprised at interviews when it was brought up by the interviewer- that I was a woman and that should be something I stress while running for office. I thought I could do a good job in the position which is why I ran. I'd encourage women, and anyone, to do what you are passionate about, especially in areas of service. It's in your heart for a reason. But, with introspection, I think many women are great multitaskers and I’m sure that is helpful in this position... but as mentioned, it is not something I considered when running for office.
WHAT ARE YOUR GOALS FOR THE FUTURE?
I intend to focus in three areas. One, my family, because that's the most important at the end of the day. Two, my city, and doing the best I can to serve while I'm a commissioner. Three, my career, which is definitely not a job- it's what I love to do, it's a great way to help people, and it pays the bills...Being a commissioner is definitely not for the money. I figured out the per hour pay one time and it was around $3-4 per hour... you do it for the love of your community.
BEING A VERY SUCCESSFUL PERSON PROFESSIONALLY AND IN OUR COMMUNITY GOVERNMENT, WHAT WORDS OF ADVICE COULD YOU OFFER TO OTHERS WHO MAY BE LOOKING FOR WISDOM ON THE TOPIC OF SUCCESS?
I'm a person that believes in God. Definitely not a perfect person but a person of faith. So for me, it is prayer for everything. Wisdom. Guidance. Patience. Understanding.
Also, being willing to listen and learn from others. Be humble, but not a doormat. Most importantly when you've made a decision- step out in faith and do it. If you don't try the answer is always no.
Article by Austin Arthur
Originally published in Winter Garden Lifestyle