When Randall Horn moved to the new Magnolia Park Estates subdivision three years ago from Boston, he considered his new home to be suburban Orlando, with an easy jaunt on the 429 to get downtown.
Horn knew he resided in Apopka and paid taxes there, but he had zero involvement in city affairs.
He didn't know the elected officials. He wasn't aware of the politics that come with having a mayor who was first elected 61 years ago and a council member who has served for more than 35 years.
And he surely didn't anticipate the city would be so willing to sell out him and his neighbors in south Apopka.
How else can you describe the city's eagerness to let a nearby landfill designated for construction waste — pieces of drywall, scraps of wood and metal, leftover carpet — convert to the most rancid of dumps, accepting everything from those gross leftovers that spoiled in the back of the fridge to last week's kitty litter, along with waste from sewage treatment plants and animal carcasses.
Talk about a money trail that reeks.
And it was all about money. Trash is big business, and Waste Management Inc. of Florida, which owns the landfill in south Apopka, wanted to expand its operations, especially after the construction waste industry faded with the housing boom.
In exchange for the conversion, the company offered Apopka breaks on dumping fees, an annual payment estimated at $500,000, and a $1 million signing bonus.
It sounded like a sweet deal to Apopka's four city commissioners and mayor, who don't happen to live anywhere near the dump. They voted in favor of just such an agreement in October.
It wasn't until Orange County got involved — trash is big business for the county, and officials weren't thrilled with the threat of competition — that the city started to put the brakes on the project.
On Wednesday, Waste Management pulled the plug on its attempt to expand the landfill — for now.
But left in the wake is Randall Horn and hundreds of other Apopka residents just like him who have awakened and are ready to take ownership of the city in a way they haven't before.
"I see myself more as an Apopkan than I did before, no doubt," he said.
Good. People who live in these suburban enclaves built during the boom, as well as older neighborhoods, too, need to send a message to Apopka's politicians that they are no longer going to passively surrender taxes to the city without having a voice.
Apopka is the second largest city in Orange County with more than 41,000 people. But a measly 1,938 voted in the 2010 municipal elections. That's a pitiful turnout of just 8 percent of the city's 23,722 registered voters.
With that low level of participation it's no wonder Apopka's elected leaders think they can brush off neighborhoods on the city's jagged borders.
An expanded dump would smell up the neighborhoods and trash property values. That's why residents are plowing forward with an effort to get a referendum on the ballot that would block such an expansion near a school or a church.
Clarcona Elementary is just down the road from the dump. So are several churches.
The members of the Clarcona Resort Condominium Association, an RV and mobile home park just outside the Apopka border, but next door to the dump, even pledged financial help and manpower for the signature-gathering effort.
"I think the leadership of the city of Apopka has woken up a sleeping giant," said Joe Kilsheimer, a longtime Apopka resident who plans to run for City Commission in March.
As Horn put it, "Forget the dump. We're able to rally the troops now."
And that's the most powerful disinfectant to what stinks in Apopka.
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