‘I hope I left this town bet­ter than I found it’

Orlando Sentinel - - LOCAL & STATE - By Stephen Hu­dak

Win­der­mere Mayor Gary Bruhn an­nounced in a news­let­ter this week that he is re­sign­ing, end­ing a 15-year may­oral run that in­cluded a po­lice scan­dal that put the chief in prison and a me­dia frenzy af­ter a Black Fri­day crash in­volv­ing Tiger Woods.

Bruhn, 66, said he can’t con­tinue to serve as mayor be­cause he is mov­ing to a new home in the Re­serve At Belmere less than two miles away just out­side town lim­its. Res­i­dency is a re­quire­ment for the of­fice.

“Yes, I will be a ‘Win­dern­ear,’ ” Bruhn said, us­ing a term he coined to de­scribe peo­ple who live close to but not in the af­flu­ent town of 3,400 in west Orange County.

The reg­u­lar com­mu­nity news­let­ter in­cluded high­lights and heart­breaks of his ten­ure.

“I hope I left this town bet­ter than I found it,” the eight-term mayor wrote.

Six months af­ter he took of­fice, the tree-lined town was bat­tered by three hur­ri­canes — Charley, Frances and Jeanne — in six weeks.

“The dev­as­ta­tion was sig­nif­i­cant,” said Bruhn, who re­tired from Lock­heed Martin af­ter work­ing nearly 30 years in in­for­ma­tion tech­nol­ogy.

He re­mem­bered neigh­bors help­ing neigh­bors and de­scribed the close­ness of the com­mu­nity, which sits on the shores of the But­ler Chain of Lakes about 22 miles west of Or­lando.

“I al­ways tell peo­ple you bet­ter not say any­thing bad about ANY­ONE in Win­der­mere. Many are re­lated over the gen­er­a­tions,” he said in the news­let­ter.

His res­ig­na­tion let­ter was posted on the town’s Face­book page and res­i­dents chimed in, prais­ing his lead­er­ship and wish­ing him well.

“Gary has been a faith­ful ser­vant in our town through the good, the bad and the com­pletely crazy,” wrote Suzanne Rea­gan.

In his news­let­ter, Bruhn re­called com­plaints about the town’s road projects, in­ten­si­fy­ing traf­fic from the boom­ing growth in nearby Hori­zon West and the tragic, on-duty killing of Win­der­mere po­lice of­fi­cer Rob­bie Ger­man in 2014.

Ger­man, 31, who was em­ployed as a po­lice of­fi­cer by the town for five years, was fa­tally shot by two teens who had run away from home.

“Win­der­mere’s heart is bro­ken,” Bruhn said at the time, re­mem­ber­ing the of­fi­cer’s kind and car­ing polic­ing style.

Ger­man’s death came three years af­ter calls for the town to dis­band its Po­lice Depart­ment be­cause of a scan­dal cen­tered on then-Chief Daniel Say­lor, now serv­ing eight years in prison for per­jury, ob­struct­ing a crim­i­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tion and of­fi­cial mis­con­duct.

The disgraced for­mer chief was found guilty of per­jury by a jury in 2014 for ly­ing on the wit­ness stand dur­ing the child-rape trial of a friend, Scott Fred­er­ick Bush.

“It was a dark time,” Bruhn said.

He noted in the news­let­ter that he had moved to Win­der­mere 30 years ago be­cause of the po­lice pres­ence.

“It was a safe town where the po­lice could be at your door in min­utes dur­ing an emer­gency,” he said.

He also boasted in the news­let­ter of the improvements in the 12-of­fi­cer depart­ment un­der the guid­ance of new Po­lice Chief David Og­den and Town Man­ager Robert Smith.

“I am most proud of what this Po­lice Depart­ment has be­come,” Bruhn said.

But the news­let­ter didn’t men­tion a scuf­fle dur­ing a 2011 Town Coun­cil meet­ing that sent Bruhn to the hos­pi­tal.

Be­cause of a cor­rup­tion probe of Say­lor, Bruhn had called for the fir­ing of then-Town Man­ager Ce­cilia Bernier while her hus­band, Roland Bernier, was in the au­di­ence.

"At what point does the town man­ager, as the su­per­vi­sor of the chief of po­lice, be­come re­spon­si­ble and ac­count­able for let­ting a man like this serve and pro­tect our chil­dren and res­i­dents, let alone lead a po­lice force?" Bruhn asked at the meet­ing.

The Orange-Osce­ola State At­tor­ney's Of­fice de­cided not to charge Roland Bernier with bat­tery against Bruhn, who was knocked un­con­scious.

Bruhn said Bernier pushed him and he hit his head on the floor. But wit­ness state­ments con­flicted, a State At­tor­ney's Of­fice spokes­woman said.

Three days later, Ce­cilia Bernier an­nounced she planned to re­sign.

Cur­rent Town Man­ager Robert Smith praised Bruhn’s pas­sion and ded­i­ca­tion not only to the town but to all lo­cal gov­ern­ments.

Smith jok­ingly sug­gested to Bruhn that the town could an­nex the Re­serve At Belmere so he could stay on as mayor.

As mayor, Bruhn played an in­flu­en­tial role in lo­cal gov­ern­ment as chair­man of the Orange County Coun­cil of May­ors and across the state as pres­i­dent of the Florida League of May­ors.

He fiercely fought for “home rule,” the con­cept that a lo­cal gov­ern­ment — and not state or fed­eral au­thor­i­ties — should de­cide what’s best for their city.

Bruhn wrote in the news­let­ter about Tiger Woods’ 2009 crash on Sixth Av­enue, which un­rav­eled the golf­ing icon’s per­sonal life and de­railed his leg­endary ca­reer.

“Win­der­mere be­came world fa­mous overnight with the Tiger Woods’ ac­ci­dent…,” Bruhn re­called.

TV trucks in­vaded the quiet oa­sis of a town, lin­ing up on the nar­row, tree-lined streets dur­ing the Thanks­giv­ing hol­i­day to show view­ers where Woods’ Cadil­lac Es­calade SUV hit a fire hy­drant, a tree and hedges near his Isle­worth home.

“My phone lit up,” Bruhn said. “Res­i­dents wanted them gone and there was a se­ri­ous safety con­cern as our en­trance had turned into a tourist at­trac­tion.”

Ul­ti­mately, the town got a le­gal opin­ion al­low­ing them to shoo away the trucks.

Bruhn can re­main as mayor un­til his Win­der­mere home sells and his res­i­dence of­fi­cially changes, Smith said.

But qual­i­fy­ing for the March 12 elec­tion be­gins Dec. 12 and the town is list­ing the mayor’s seat among the races, which are elected at large.

JOSHUA C. CRUEY/OR­LANDO SEN­TINEL

Win­der­mere Mayor Gary Bruhn an­nounced he is re­sign­ing as mayor be­cause he is mov­ing to a new home just out­side of town.

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