Judge John M. Cheney would have been proud of Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer at the recent SunRail Commission meeting.
At the turn of the 20th Century Judge Cheney’s family owned the Orlando Water & Light Co.
Over time the privately owned company encountered problems providing services to a growing Orlando -- barely 10,000 residents by 1920.
Cheney recognized that his family didn’t have the resources to meet the demand. So he made the audacious proposal for the community to take over the water and electric plant and grow it.
Cheney and other civic leaders vigorously campaigned to pass a $975,000 bond issue to buy the utility. That sum was eye popping back in those days.
Certainly some people thought the idea was risky. It was risky, but also worth pursuing.
Fortunately, Cheney and his colleagues prevailed. The bond money purchased the water and electric plant for $600,000, and also provided money to make the capital investments needed to keep growing that utility company – now known as the Orlando Utilities Commission – into the second largest municipal utility in Florida.
What if Cheney lacked the courage or vision to make the proposal? What would Orlando be like today?
At the recent SunRail Commission meeting Mayor Dyer must have been channeling the spirit of Judge Cheney when he suggested the SunRail Commission take over management of commuter train now and not wait until 2021 when state dollars for SunRail run out and the train becomes the financial responsibility of local government.
What many people may not realize is SunRail is run by the Florida Department of Transportation, not the SunRail Commission of local elected leaders. For all we know, Florida Gov. Rick Scott (a proven passenger rail enemy) may have personally made the decisions that prevent SunRail from reaching its full potential to provide convenient service to our community.
Dyer explained the rationale behind his proposal is for local leaders to get a feel for what it takes to run a passenger railroad before FDOT walks away in 5 years.
Dyer’s suggestion received a warm reception from fellow SunRail Commission member Osceola County Commission Chairwoman Viviana Janer, a passionate advocate of public transit.
The other two commission members present – Seminole County Commission Member Carlton Henley and Volusia County Council Member Pat Patterson – sent mixed messages when they responded to Dyer’s suggestion with a barrage of confusing questions and comments. Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs didn’t attend the meeting.
We support Dyer’s proposal. We also urge local leaders to accelerate discussions to consolidate SunRail and LYNX into a seamless and dynamic public transit system.
Bringing SunRail under local control will make it easier for us – the riders and residents – to shape SunRail into the passenger rail service that meets the needs and expectations of our community.
To be sure, we have disagreed with Dyer on issues in the past, but we are delighted with his SunRail proposal.
Just as in the days of Judge Cheney, it takes leaders with vision and courage to get important work done and to improve our community.