When Joe Durek decided to run for Signal Mountain town council, he explained that he thought he would make a good member because of his “knowledge of government.”
Among the experiences which helped him gain that knowledge, he said, was the fact that he previously “was a county commissioner in Orange County, Florida, where I learned how to listen to the citizens and answer their questions.”
His comment came in response to one of the 15 questions on a survey emailed Aug. 15 to all town council candidates: former Mayor Bill Lusk, Councilman Dan Landrum and newcomers Durek, Rob Hensley, Dun Monroe, Susannan Murdock and Rick Saputa. All but Mr. Hensley, a leader in the defunct effort to create an independent Signal Mountain school system, responded to the inquiries. Mr. Hensley ignored the questionnaire, choosing instead to set up a Rob Hensley for Town Council facebook page.
Mr. Durek’s entry into the Signal Council race this year was unexpected, since he had not been active in town politics other than serving as a member of the town’s personnel committee.
He was better known as an occasional writer for the Signal Mountain Mirror, a small monthly paper circulated in and around the town.
Nearly two months after Mr. Durek made his claim to political experience in Florida, it was noted by readers on League of Signal Mountain Voters, a blog maintained by former Signal mayor Paul Hendricks.
“Joe, you wrote that when you served on the Orange County Commission, you learned how an elected official could positively change people’s lives,” Anne Hagood asked him on Oct. 12. “Could you tell us more, please? What did you see as your greatest challenges and accomplishments on that commission?”
Mr. Durek, responding, told he that he had not served on the Orange County Commission. However, he added, he did serve on the Orange County Charter Review Commission.
“It was not an elected position,” he explained, “it was an appointment by the Orange County Commission.”
According to articles from the Orlando Sentinel, Mr. Durek was active in Republican political circles in Florida during the 1980s, 1990s and early 2000s, when he ran unsuccessfully for a series of local and state offices.
An aggressive and litigious campaigner, he repeatedly made headlines during a 1990 run in the Republican primary for the District 4 seat on the board of commissioners.
Mr. Durek, an auditor, filed a lawsuit against the Orlando-Orange County Expressway Authority for spending money on advertising. The high profile suit was dismissed in December 1990 after the judge noted that a series of omissions by the plaintiff, including failure to notify the authority of his lawsuit.
On Signal, Mr. Durek’s response to the Aug. 15 survey question “Why do you think you would be a good council member?” reads as follows:
”I have been fortunate to have many experiences that have increased my knowledge of government. I have been fortunate to have many experiences that have increased my knowledge of government matters and how we can help our citizens. I was a combat correspondent in Vietnam and learned how to help those who can not help themselves. I was selected to work for the Defense Secretary at the Pentagon to work on the last President Carter budget and the first President Reagan Budget. I was a County Commissioner in Orange County Florida where I learned how to listen to the citizens and answer their questions. I served on many Boards including as Treasurer of the Orange County History Center which is 1/2 public and 1/2 Government.”
His response to Ms. Hagood’s Oct. 12 question on League of Signal Mountain Voters is shown below:
"I served on the Orange County Charter Review Commission. It was not an elected position it was an appointment by the Orange County Commission. Fifteen people were appointed by elected County Commissioners for the 2-year commission. The first 12 months we held forums around the county and heard from the citizens, elected officials, community organizations and civil groups. The Charter is reviewed every 4 years and I served on the 2nd charter review commission.
"After the 12-month listening period, the commission decided which recommendations we would propose to the citizens on the ballot. The Orlando Sentinel said we were the 15 most important people in the county since the Charter Review Commission had the authority to write the changes to the charter and present them directly to the citizens for their vote. Once it got on the ballot all the recommended charter changes passed by at least 80%.
"I learned that it is important to listen to the recommendations of the citizens, how to explain the reason that some recommendations would not get on the ballot and that sometimes-elected officials would use the charter review commission to pass changes to the charter that they did not have the nerve to present themselves.
"Two county commissioners asked the charter review commission to place a pay increase on the ballot. I told the two commissioners that it was their responsibility to pass a pay raise and not ask us to do their job. No pay raise was on the ballot and they did receive a pay raise that year.
"At the end of the 2-year commission, I wrote with 2 other commissioners our recommended changes to the charter which were placed on the ballot for the citizens vote. The citizens voted for all recommended changes including making the sheriff a constitutional officer and no longer under the county commission and term limits of 2 terms."