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Meet the Panelists

Follow the Leaders brings together leaders from Lakeland and the surrounding areas in a panel discussion, where speakers share advice and wisdom with EMERGE members and the community. Ranging from EMERGE alumni to C-Suite executives, from entrepreneurs to non-profit directors, speakers for this event serve as inspiration to the next generation of young professionals in Lakeland. This event provides a rare opportunity to interact one-on-one with community pacesetters and get to know them personally. Meet this year's esteemed panelists!

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Member of the Florida Senate from the 12th District

Senator Colleen Burton was born in Heidelberg, Germany. Her father’s military career took her to many countries and states.  She received her Bachelor of Science Degree in Public Administration from California State University, Sacramento, and has called Florida her home for the past 36 years.  Senator Burton and her husband of 43 years, Brad, have 3 children and 3 grandchildren that keep her busy and grounded.

Senator Burton was elected to the Florida Senate in November of 2022 after serving eight years in the Florida House of Representatives. Senator Burton serves as the Chair of Health Policy and Vice Chair of Judiciary.  She also sits on several other committees: Appropriations Committee on Health and Human Services, Banking and Insurance, Fiscal Policy, Rules and Joint Administrative Procedures Committee.  Additionally, Senator Burton was appointed to the   Cancer Control & Research Advisory Council by Senate President Kathleen Passidomo.  She serves on the Board of Directors for Volunteers in Service to the Elderly (VISTE) and is a State Director of Florida for Women in Government.

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CFC, Tax Collector for Polk County

Joe G. Tedder was first elected to the position of Tax Collector in 1996 and was subsequently re-elected to the position of Tax Collector in 2000, 2004, 2008, 2012, 2016 and 2020. Joe served as a Member of the Florida House of Representatives from 1992 to 1996. He currently serves as a Board Member for the Florida Tax Collector’s Service Corporation and is the Chairman for Polk County Kids Tag Art.

Joe’s past service includes: President of the Florida Tax Collector’s Association, Board Member and Treasurer of the Lakeland Chamber of Commerce, Chair and Treasurer of the United Way of Central Florida Board of Directors, President of the Leadership Lakeland Alumni Association, Chair of the American Heart Association Heart Walk, Lighthouse Ministries Board Member, Friend of the Tri-County Human Services Inc., Chairman of the Florida State Alumni Band, and Board Member of the National Florida State Alumni Association.

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Commissioner (2018-2025) District: At-Large (Seat 1)

Stephanie Madden is a small business owner and City Commissioner. She and her husband, Steve, started a marketing business in 1995, where she is currently VP of People and Culture. She serves on a variety of boards including: Promotional Products Association of Florida, Polk Vision’s SMART Communities LEAD team, the Polk Career Academies Advisory Board, and is the current Chairman of the Catapult Lakeland board, a local entrepreneur incubator.

As a commissioner she has served on the Community Redevelopment Area advisory board, is the current chair for the Municipal Boards & Committees and the Broadband Task Force. She also sits on the Polk County Tourism Development Council and is the Liaison to Lakeland Electric. She represents the Atlantic Region on the American Public Power Association’s Policy Maker Committee.

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Commissioner (2024 - 2027) District: At Large (Seat 2)

Chad McLeod is a Polk County native and 4th-generation Floridian. He was first elected to the Lakeland City Commission in 2019 and re-elected to a second term in 2023. Chad developed a passion for public service and policy while working on the staff of U.S. Senator Mel Martinez for five years after graduating from college in 2004. 

Chad later spent 10 years as an entrepreneur and small business owner, running a Lakeland-based PR and communications consulting firm. In 2022, he joined the communications team for Compassion International, a global non-governmental organization (NGO) that serves children and youth in 30 countries. 

Chad and his wife, Erin, are both graduates of the University of Florida. They have three children, Samuel, Charlee and Asher. In his spare time, Chad is a youth soccer for Swan City Soccer and an avid runner. He loves running the streets of Lakeland and spending time outdoors.



Our final panelist will be announced shortly.

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