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Swan reflects on County, City Commission days

Posted on Friday, November 18, 2016 at 9:45 am

By Ken Jackson
Staff Writer
A storied career of a guy who participated in politics — more that than being a politician — that spanned across four different decades will come to an end next week.
Jim Swan, will pass the gavel Tuesday to Mayor-elect Jose Alvarez and conclude 10 years in that position, bidding farewell to the political arena.
Alvarez, along with new commissioners Angela Eady and Olga Gonzalez, will be sworn into their seats on

Jim Swan, former Osceola County Commissioner and outgoing Kissimmee mayor and Orlando MetroPlan Chairman receives an award for his years of public service from incoming MetroPlan Chairman Scott Boyd. Submitted Photo

Jim Swan, former Osceola County Commissioner and outgoing Kissimmee mayor and Orlando MetroPlan Chairman receives an award for his years of public service from incoming MetroPlan Chairman Scott Boyd. Submitted Photo

Tuesday at 5:30 p.m. in the Commission chambers.
By Kissimmee charter, Swan has to leave office due to term limits. He said he’ll spend the next few months letting a mostly-new City Commission find its way.
He has to find his way, too.
“I honestly don’t know what I’ll do,” said Swan, 68. “I’m not ready to quit everything.”
He was a perfect 5-0 in County and City Commission elections. He was supposed to run a sixth time in 2012 — only nobody stepped up to oppose him for mayor.
“I was very lucky. I was shocked by that,” he said.
It may have been a testament to his first term-and-a-half that happened by outside circumstance, or his three terms on the County Commission that began in 1982, a decade after he and his wife, Linda, moved down from their native Illinois so he could bass fish Kissimmee’s famous lakes.
It was his work trying to keep those lakes clean that made him popular. He was the leader of the “Save Our Lakes” drive that worked to curb the dumping of sewage into Lake Tohopekaliga.
“That may have been the neatest thing I’ve ever done,” Swan said. “It changed they way everybody handled treated sewage. It’s used for irrigation and citrus now, it used to be wasted.”
That was the momentum that propelled him into office. Once on the Commission, he became the eyes and ears of the controversial Southport landfill, and fought to raise funds for road construction through impact fees instead of raising property and gas taxes.
“The state came and put a padlock on the landfill,” he said. “The commissioners all looked at me and said, ‘You know more about the environment than we do, you take care of it.’ That was not fun, but it had to be done.
“We knew we needed some dollars to build some roads. Osceola Parkway was a major issue we dealt with. Where I’m from in Illinois we had bus service and a library system. When I was elected to the County Commission we didn’t have either one.”
Swan won election, then re-election twice, which was harder in the 1980s and ‘90s, because election was county-wide then.
“You were elected by the entire county, not 20 percent of it,” he said, noting he preferred that. “If you voted to raise taxes on someone in Kenansville, they should be able to vote against you in the election.”
After leaving the Commission he spent a decade in the private sector working for engineering and solid waste firms, but felt the pull of local politics again in 2006 when Kissimmee Mayor George Gant was arrested and removed from office for suspicion of inappropriate sexual contact — a charge later dropped for lack of evidence.
“I always had respect for George as a leader. (Former city commissioner) Jerry Gemskie knocked on my door and said, ‘We have to talk,’ and that’s when I knew this was serious,” Swan said. “A few other folks approached me, and I talked to (City Manager) Mark Durbin and (City Attorney) Don Smallwood and got a feel for the position the city was in, then I had to go talk to my bosses.”
Swan won a special election, then re-election in a 2008 landslide and didn’t even get an opponent in 2012. He said he’s proud of his 10 years he served as mayor because, frankly, it wasn’t easy.
“The thing I’m proudest of, we went through a bad economy, but we didn’t have to lay off people like other cities and counties,” he said. “Before the economy tanked, we froze hiring and didn’t have to close someone or lay off. The employees stuck with us. Five years without a dime in increases and we didn’t lose an employee.”
Swan said the City Commission is in fine hands, but hopes it takes advantage of a sound city staff.
“Jose thanked me for my support. He’ll do fine as mayor,” Swan said. “They will do well if they’ll pay attention to Don and Mike (Steigerwald, current City Manager). They all are good people, if they support their leadership, they’ll be fine.”
As an environmentalist and a fisherman at heart, his eye darts back to the shape Lake Toho is in.
“I’m good with the water quality, but the hydrilla is a monster,” he said. “The only way that only gets resolved is they find a chemical that selectively kills the hydrilla, or come up with a fish that would only eat hydrilla, but they’ll wipe out everything. I don’t know where that’s going to go.”