Mayor Rick Lott had an intimate conversation with members of MAKE Plant City Tuesday evening, discussing several hot-button topics. like Midtown and the controversial mural ban.
When Mayor Rick Lott sat down with members of MAKE Plant City Tuesday evening attendees got a behind the scenes look at the man that helps run the city.
He is a proud fan of “The Bachelor,” his company used to make billboards out of pennies and he briefly considered running for higher office before deciding having a family was more important than participating in national politics. Above all, Lott showed his dedication and love of Plant City.
“I think everyone is here because we love to serve, right? There’s something inside of us that wants to serve,” Lott said. “Some of us serve in our church, some of us serve in our nonprofit organization, some of us serve in a group like this. It’s deep inside us. When you have a passion for something, a true passion… you’re willing to step out and get involved. My passion is I grew up here, I’m a fourth-generation here, most of my family is here.”
Lott said his form of leadership has always revolved around helping his team find a consensus on an issue and building from there. He began to wonder if that collaborating technique would be applicable in running local government. Luckily, he said he serves with a board that is willing to seek a consensus and move forward united toward a common goal.
Getting involved in local government is as simple as being intentional. Like an artist eyeing a blank canvas, Lott said the hardest part is making that first stroke, taking that first step toward impactful leadership. He recommends those interested research the 11 boards in Plant City or the many other county boards.
Nearly every month or so the city commission needs to appoint someone to a board because either their time is up or a former member resigns. Once you know which board you’re interested in and you determine when the terms are up for the members, begin reaching out to the commissioners and let them know you are eager to serve.
If you don’t want to go the traditional city route, Lott said crafting leadership skills with impactful nonprofits or civic organizations like the Greater Plant City Chamber of Commerce or the Improvement League of Plant City helps show not only the city, but also the public that you take the wellbeing of the community seriously.
“If you find an area where you can find a crack, you can start an organization that fills that crack,” Lott said. “Or, if there is a group or nonprofit already filling that crack you can volunteer your time with them.”
Plant City is the only city in Hillsborough County to have high school students graduating above 90 percent. Lott said that is due in part to city leaders recognizing the current system was funneling students into college and those who didn’t have a desire to pursue higher education were falling through the cracks. They helped create the Career Academy program in the local high schools and now Plant City is a shining example throughout the county.
Know your strengths and be realistic about your weaknesses. If everyone used a realistic and focused mind toward solving individual issues around town they were passionate about, Lott said the community could be fully patched in no time.
Midtown was one of the major interests from the group and when asked about past “false starts” Lott said it was necessary for the city to “let the wheels fall off” until they had the right partner rather than jump into a bad agreement to the ultimate detriment of Plant City. The goal is to hopefully bring another 1,000 residents living downtown with the upcoming development and to introduce wanted and unique shops and dining to make downtown and midtown an iconic destination.
As questions were lobbed at the mayor his generosity toward Plant City slowly began to be unveiled. One resident inquired as to when the Plant City Skate Park, located within Mike Sansone Park, would be upgraded.
Lott said it was in the city’s five-year plan and when he heard stories of its aging equipment he announced he was the one to originally donate the funds necessary to build the park. He vowed to look into the issue and see what could be done.
Plant City is essentially debt-free and Lott said it’s his goal to help bring things like a bike share program and upgraded utilities to town soon. He spent much of the evening discussing how hard they’ve worked to make Plant City a great place to live for all residents. In his mind, the future will undoubtedly be bright.
As for one of the hottest buttons between maker and art groups and the city, Lott was the one to eventually stop and discuss the contested passing of the mural ban in 2009. Essentially all new murals were banned in the Historic District of Plant City after a mural may-or-may-not have contained a sex organ in the painting. The artists claimed it was an armrest. The rest of the public, including city commissioners, saw something far more human.
Commissioner Bill Dodson was the only one to vote against the ban, saying he wished the ordinance was more thought out. Nearly a decade ago the commissioners said they may revisit the ban in the future. Lott reminded the group they only needed three votes to get the decision revoked.
“I’m not going to say we would do it, who knows?” Lott said. “But guess what? What’s worse is not discussing it, right? The worst thing we can do is say, ‘Oh they won’t do (anything), they’d never look at it, they’d never act on it,’ or something like that. I would love to see this group, your passion is art, right? If this is something you deem worthy bring it to the commission and discuss it with it. Just because we passed a law doesn’t mean it’s the right law. It was the right law at the time, but is it the right law now?