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Editor & Publisher Steve Fussell

Steve Fussell

Niki Pewsey

Niki Pewsey

Fruitland Park News is a wholly independent news service that focuses exclusively on Fruitland Park, Florida. We are sponsored by Fruitland Park Cafe.

As an independent news service, we do not speak for our city government, its leaders, our elected officials, the men and women who run city departments, city workers, city residents, visitors, or even Fruitland Park Cafe.

We only speak for Fruitland Park News. Our sole aim is to bring more transparency to our local government and to chronicle some of the creatures, characters, conflicts, and coincidences that make up The Friendly City.

My name is Steve Fussell. I am the editor and publisher of Fruitland Park News and a Correspondent for the Daily Commercial newspaper here in Lake County.


Fruitland Park Cafe opens at 6 a.m. every day except Christmas, Easter, Thanksgiving, New Year’s, July 4th and Labor Day.

Five years ago my wife Niki and I opened Fruitland Park Cafe on U.S. 27/441 in Fruitland Park.

Our vision was to create a place where people could enjoy a good breakfast or lunch at a good price in a friendly atmosphere.

We lived in Orlando, 57 miles away. We’ve always wanted to own a small cafe and “Scooter’s Sandwich Shop” is the first one we could afford to buy. After we paid the state, the county, the city, the owner, the landlord, the electric company, the phone company and the grocery store, we were broke. That’s the way they did it in the old days, they call it risk, I think it was Providence.

Our prices are reasonable, our food is good, our coffee’s only 50¢ and so we’re pretty popular. You can read more about us at FruitlandParkCafe.com, on FaceBook, or you can visit the Cafe anytime from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. seven days a week.

Our business model is a reflection of our community: working class people who have borne the burden of our national recession, who will inevitably pay for it, and who will eventually work us out of it if our banks and our governments will get out of our way.

So then…

For almost four years we drove back and forth every day, 114 miles. That’s around the world at the equator twice. Two and a half hours in the car every day. That’s 10 percent of your life. And every day started at 3:30 a.m. Niki and I got to talk a lot, and some of the views between Orlando and Fruitland Park are nice. Almost all our driving was on the Turnpike or U.S. 27.

A year ago we moved to Fruitland Park permanently. That changed our lives—very much for the better. To start with, we both got to sleep more. We saved about $300 a month in gas and tolls. And we got to know our new home town, not just as business owners but as residents.

For almost four years we drove back and forth every day, 114 miles. That’s around the world at the equator twice. Two and a half hours in the car every day—that’s 10 percent of your life.

And every day started at 3:30 a.m.


Fruitland Park City Hall

Now our house is a couple blocks from City Hall—walking distance from City Commission meetings. So I started attending meetings to see whether I could get involved. As a citizen, a business owner, a resident. You know, Norman Rockwell. The city was going through some difficult times. One day soon I’ll post a section on “The Dark History of Fruitland Park” with the news stories, or you can Google “Fruitland Park News” and find them yourself.

We wanted to help make it better.

For the past 20 years, I’ve made a living writing news releases for a public relations company in Orlando. I’m pretty good at it. So I volunteered to serve as an unofficial Fruitland Park “media relations” worker bee. Not a spokesperson—we elected a mayor and four commissioners to handle that—but a reporter. I started writing news releases about everything that happens in city commission meetings.

Turns out there’s a lot more that that goes on than you’d think. It’s not as interesting to read about as intrigue and innuendo but it’s the nuts and bolts of democracy. News.

The Daily Commercial—our local daily newspaper—began publishing some of my reports. Eventually I earned a byline, and recently Editor Tom McNiff appointed me a Correspondent.

The Orlando Sentinel, which has covered our city’s missteps in detail, started paying a little more attention to other issues and events that concern our community. A brand new web site—Villages-News.com—also posted my reports.

In the good old days, most small cities and towns had their own newspapers. Newspapers used to be one of the most important institutions in a community. And almost anyone who has studied history understands that newspapers played an integral role in the establishment and flowering of democracy in these United States. Everybody loves to criticize “the media,” but newspapers built the democracy we enjoy today as much as any of our founding fathers or wheel-and-deal elected representatives.

We believe the best way to make the best government is to make it easier for people to understand what’s going on. That’s the one and only reason for FruitlandParkNews.org.

The world is different today. Newspapers have a tough time fulfilling their former role, and so I started working on a web site that could provide news and information for people who can’t attend every city commission meeting.

It took a long time—I’m a technoweenie—to get to this simple place called FruitlandParkNews.org.

I’ve asked other writers to help out and provide a diverse range of opinions and perspectives. We’ll grow, I hope, and mature, and this site might change a little. Hopefully it will improve.

A few months ago The Villages announced they planned to develop a huge tract inside the city limits.

“The Villages of Fruitland Park” lent a little gravity to my volunteer effort. And the goings-on at city hall started to change a little too.

Our current city commissioners are, in my opinion, decent, honest people who put a heck of a lot of time and effort into their jobs. Four of those commissioners (one of whom is the Mayor) have a combined experience that totals almost 70 years. The “newbie” on the city commission is smart as a whip and just as committed to good local government.

Nevertheless, for a whole bunch of reasons I’ll go into eventually, some of their decisions have turned out awful. You’ve heard the old saying that a camel is a horse designed by a committee? In a group, even good commissioners can succumb to passions, and relatively small differences can fester into chancres. That’s the nature of democracy in small communities and in large ones too. Fruitland Park hasn’t cornered the market on “oops.”

We believe the best way to make the best government is to help the people understand what’s going on. That’s the one and only reason for FruitlandParkNews.org.

I want to live in a community with good local government. My business depends on it, my lifestyle depends on it and most of all my sanity depends on it.

So here’s the whys and wherefores: our only purpose is to inform. We don’t have any axes to grind, enemies to assault or products to push (however we always recommend you start your day with a healthy breakfast).

We don’t have any trenchant insight to offer. We aren’t experts, we don’t try to analyze, we try our darndest to present the facts clearly so you can make your own best decisions.

We have a vested interest in helping to establish the best local government we can get. That’s the single “bias” we tolerate around here.

If you ever want to disagree, or focus on something we’re missing, you are encouraged to express yourself on this site (Comments) or contact me and start contributing (I’ll have to arrange it so you know how to post, etc.).

Meanwhile, read our local papers—the Daily Commercial, The Lake Sentinel, and Villages-News.com. Hopefully, soon enough FruitlandParkNews.org will be able to claim a place in those ranks.

I hope you enjoy reading, and I hope you’ll participate as well.

Steve Fussell

Editor/Publisher/Errand Boy