Rick Ranize sworn in after winning Fruitland Park commission runoff

Rick Ranize
Rick Ranize

Fruitland Park swore in its newest city commissioner Thursday night. Rick Ranize, the former Lake County sheriff’s deputy who manages Pat’s Sales in Leesburg, defeated incumbent Sharon Kelly in a runoff election November 18 for the Group Four commission seat.

Ranize’s margin of victory—299 votes to 102 for Kelly—signals a new era in the city that has been plagued by a series of misfortunes and mishaps that have cost the small community more than $1 million over the past 18 months.

Two incumbent commissioners—Kelly, first elected in 1997, and Al Goldberg, first elected in 2005—paid for those mishaps at the ballot box this year, both by whopping margins. Goldberg lost by a three-to-one margin to newly minted Commissioner Ray Lewis, a Leesburg insurance executive.

Ray Lewis
Ray Lewis

Their election means three new commissioners—Lewis, Ranize and Chris Cheshire, the Villages medical professional who was elected in 2012—now have a majority on the commission. Mayor Chris Bell and Commissioner John Gunter have both served the city for more than 20 years.

All five commissioners are proudly conservative and changes in the commission’s direction are likely to be subtle.

But the commission got right to work last night, approving the $96,000 acquisition of vacant lots on Lime Street adjacent to the city’s Utilities Department in order to expand covered storage space for Utilities equipment; $142,000 for new emergency air breathing equipment for the city’s fire department; joining the Florida Retirement System (FRS), which gives city workers a valuable retirement program option; approving a 15-year exclusive franchise with the City of Leesburg to provide natural gas to homes in the city; and rezoning 42 acres on Urick Road planned for development of single-family homes in Mirror Lake Village.

Commissioners recessed for 10 minutes for a brief reception to honor outgoing Commissioner al Goldberg for his 11 years of service.