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Strengthening Seminole, Community Involvement Drive Longwood Mayor

joseph durso, joe durso longwood, longwood mayor joe durso, community based care of central florida, seminole county news, news seminole county, seminole county post, longwood news, news longwood, jacob engels,

Longwood Mayor Joe Durso opens up about public service, his vision for Seminole County, and more.

 

By Jacob Engels

 

Before the drama surrounding Hurricane Matthew, we had the honor of chatting with Longwood Mayor Joe Durso.

 

Mr. Durso also serves on the board for Community Based Care of Central Florida.

 

We touch on everything from his upbringing to his favorite TV show, our Q&A with Joe Durso is below.

 

First, tell us about who you are. Your upbringing, education, family. What moments have defined you so far?

 

Well I was blessed with parents that genuinely believed in education and public service. My mother was a school teacher and my father was an officer in the NYPD. Growing up they taught me and my two sisters the importance of giving back and serving our community.

 

It may be a bit cliché but they instilled in us a real understanding that to whom much is given, much is expected. I had a really traditional upbringing – church, lots of big family get togethers, weekend road trips and exposure to the “the big apple”.

 

In the late 1980’s my parents moved the family from New York to Florida to a little town called Spring Hill on Florida’s west coast – it’s actually not so little anymore. There I actually began to act on my interest in politics.

 

I got involved early on – did the student council thing throughout school, and when I was in high school I volunteered for my first real campaign (State Senator Ginny Brown Waite).

 

I was 15 years old or so and went door to door for her Senate re-election bid. It was exciting and eye opening and I fell in love with campaigning. Really loved meeting the public and arguing my side – even at 15. Soon after volunteering on her campaign she offered me the opportunity to be a Florida Senate Page, and eventually an intern in her local Senate office.

 

Those opportunities served as my entry point in to politics and public service. They also greatly impacted the way I conduct myself as an elected official today.

 

While interning in Tallahassee, I had the opportunity to visit Florida State University and quickly decided for a myriad of reasons that it would be the best place to start my college academic career.

 

I went on to graduate with a B.S. in Political Science, a B.S. in Interdisciplinary Social Science / Economics and a Certificate in Political Economics – all from FSU. While I was in Tallahassee I also had the opportunity to intern for United States Senator Connie Mack in his regional office.

 

Later, I earned my Master’s Degree in Political Management and Issue Advocacy from George Washington University in Washington D.C., and in 2013 I was selected for the Harvard University Kennedy School of Government Emerging Leaders program. In 2012 and 2015 I was recognized as one of Central Florida’s 40 Under Forty by the Orlando Business Journal.

 

What got you involved in politics? What difference in responsibilities have you seen going from Commissioner to Mayor of Longwood?

 

The initial influence came from my grandfather. Being further away from him was probably the toughest part of the family move in 1989. He was always talking about politics and over time, spurred on by him, my interest grew.

 

It really took root in 1984 when he would watch the coverage of the Presidential campaign. I honestly don’t remember much of anything substantive from that time (what 6 year old would?), but I do remember the pomp and circumstance of the conventions and the emotions that my grandfather wore on his sleeve.

 

It’s something that always stuck with me. Serving on the Longwood City Commission is a tremendous honor. After volunteering and working at the state and federal levels of government, I have gained a proper appreciation for everyone that serves in city and county government. We really are the level of government that is closest to the people – and the people will let you know it.

 

Our form of government is a little different in Longwood as we don’t have a directly elected Mayor – rather one of the commissioners is selected by the others to serve as Mayor. All of us participate in town halls and community meetings and the like, but the role of Mayor has afforded me the opportunity to take on the role as a policy leader in a number of ways.

 

While on the commission and especially as Mayor I have served as the President of the Tri-County League of Cities, Chairman of the Metroplan Municipal Advisory Committee (2 times), and as a member of the Board of Directors for both the Florida League of Cities and the Florida Municipal Pension Trust.

 

As Chairman of the Leagues Transportation and Economic Development and Federal Action Strike team Committees, I’ve led efforts to protect home rule and emphasize local control over many issues.

 

I’ve also been able to work more closely with developers on transportation oriented development and new housing and business owners on new concepts like the REEP (Raising Energy Efficiency Program) and FUEL (Fueling Understanding of Energy Locally) programs (can tell you more about these if you’d like).

 

These programs are meant to support local businesses and build a local workforce, all at minimal cost and maximum benefit to the taxpayer. I was also able to help lead an effort with our sister cities to approve a first of its kind in the world agreement with UBER that adds another transportation option for our growing population. It’s always busy, but in this case busy is very good!

 

You have dedicated a considerable amount of time in a leadership role with Community Based Care of Central Florida. Tell us about your efforts and the focus of the organization.

 

I’m really proud of the work that we are doing at CBC. As Vice President for Public Affairs, I have spent the past 12 years advocating for abused, neglected and abandoned children and their families at all levels of government and in communities throughout Florida.

 

Community Based Care agencies were created to ensure that communities across Florida were invested in and accountable for the children in their own backyards - and it’s really working. Over the past 12 years we have been able to accomplish some really great things for kids.

 

We have worked on the states funding formula so that more money went directly to children in care and prevention programs. We were able to change policies that focused less on the preservation of families for preservations sake and more on the well-being and safety of kids.

 

We have been able to make the process of becoming a foster parent more streamlined and consistent and have seen an associated increase in the number of foster homes recruited.

 

We have been able to help kids ages 16-21 get drivers licenses giving them desperately needed independence. We have had dramatically higher numbers of adoptions since the beginning of CBC’s. This year one of our biggest efforts revolves around changes to the Title IV-E waiver that is currently provided to the State of Florida and several other states.

 

The waiver allows us greater flexibility in the way we provide services for families and we are working to make many of the improvements brought on as a result of the waiver permanent. There have been some massive improvements to the system overall and I’d love the opportunity to introduce you to some of our key staff and make a deeper dive on those issues.

 

Another unique part of my role at CBC is my community involvement. I have worked to build stronger ties between CBC and various community groups to leverage resources that benefit our kids in non-traditional ways. It’s not just about foster care or adoptions, it is also about normalcy.

 

For instance, the Orlando Science Center has a new 10-year partnership with CBC where CBC was able to support OSC’s new kids town exhibits and the Orlando Science Center provides hundreds of complimentary tickets and family memberships and the opportunity to conduct family visits in a safe and fun environment.

 

Another great example is the relationship we’ve built with the Foundation for Seminole County Public Schools. CBC and Pathways to Home have partnered with the Foundation and several other key players in Seminole County to tackle the issue of homelessness through a very effective rapid re-housing program.

 

(Full disclosure: I sit on the Science Center Board of Trustees and I am the Chair Elect of the Foundation Board). There are several other groups that I am involved with on behalf of CBC including the Rotary Club of Lake Mary, multiple chambers of commerce, the Central Florida Partnership and being a graduate of Leadership Seminole, Leadership Orlando and Leadership Florida.

 

All of them have been great avenues for community involvement and to get the word out about the great work the team at CBC is doing.

 

When you aren't politicking, with family, or volunteering your time for charitable efforts... what does your day look like?

 

Well between serving as Mayor in Longwood, working at CBC, being an adjunct professor of political science at Seminole State College and all the associated meetings that come with those roles, I don’t have too much free time.

 

I go to church on Sunday. Love to spend time with my family, I have 4 nieces and 2 nephews who are amazing kids and it’s been great watching them grow up.

 

I love to travel when I get the chance – I’ve been all over the country and I have been trying to do more international travel. I’m a huge FSU fan so I go to as many football games as I can. I’m also a huge theme park fan – been a Disney pass holder for years. Sometimes it’s just nice to relax though…

 

Lightning round. Favorite TV show, film, book, band, and contemporary political figure?

 

TV Show: Game of Thrones (does anyone not say this?). I’m generally into a lot of the HBO, Netflix and Amazon originals.

 

Film: Gilda. I have always been a film noir fan.

 

Book: I love reading so I don’t really have a favorite. But “A Land Remembered” and “Duel” are a couple of good ones. I’m a fan of Ayn Rand as well.

 

Band: AC/DC

 

Contemporary Political Figure: I’ve always been a fan of Antonin Scalia. His loss is tragic for many reasons. Didn’t always agree with his rulings but I appreciate his philosophy on the proper role and responsibilities of government.

 

----

 

 

Jacob Engels, is the Founder of East Orlando Post & Seminole County Post. His work through these publications has been showcased in hundreds of publications and news outlets in the state of Florida, the United States, and around the globe. Jacob has been interviewed on national television & radio programs, with his work having been featured in the Orlando Sentinel, New York Times, Washington Post, Miami Herald and other publications nationwide. He can be reached at [email protected]

 

 

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