Two Fort Myers Beach area candidates for Lee County Commission seat #3 offered personal viewpoints to county-related issues during a forum featuring audience-submitted questions at Shell Point Retirement Community Thursday evening.
Larry Kiker and Charlie Whitehead, vying for a position on the Lee Board of County Commissioners at the General Election on Nov. 6, answered several questions by Shell Point residents and visitors by following guidelines set by The League of Women Voters of Lee County.
Both candidates began with three-minute opening presentation and ended with three-minute closing arguments regarding their platforms.
Lee County Commission candidate Charlie Whitehead (r) answers a question at a forum at Shell Point Retirement Community Thursday evening. Opponent Larry Kiker listens in.
During the opening statements, Kiker, the Beach mayor for the past six years until Friday's resignation, focused on overspending and unemployment, while Whitehead, a newspaper reporter covering Lee County government for 25 years, called himself a consensus builder and a hard worker before attacking Kiker's voting history and record as Mayor.
Here is a capsule look at those presentations and answers to a few of the questions posed:
Kiker opening "I continue to be amazed and impressed with the people who live in this community, and I believe that is our greatest resource. I have worried about our county in the fact that we have been overspending; even this year the county has budgeted for $30 million to spend more than we have budgeted to come in. I worry that we have 47,000 people who are not working right now and small businesses that are hurting. We need to invest in our existing local businesses and get tourism back to basics."
Whitehead opening "There will likely be no issue coming before the board of county commissioners that I have not studied, researched, questioned and written about. I will no doubt not raise and spend the money that Mayor Kiker will. I have received the ringing endorsement of the Fort Myers Beach Civic Association, whose members are in the best position as anyone to critique the mayor's record, and I have the endorsement of four of the six living ex-mayors of Fort Myers Beach. I merely ask everyone to learn everything about me and Mayor Kiker, and I believe if you do that you will vote for Charlie Whitehead on Nov. 6."
Question: What is your opinion of the fertilizer ordinance?
Kiker answer "It is something that I did vote for and our council voted for. It is absolutely relevant and essential. It is just one of the components for clean water. It is things that we can do as citizens and businesses locally to make a difference."
Whitehead answer "It is a necessary thing, but we have to watch the state carefully to make sure they do not usurp from us the right to restrict the certain fertilizers and certain concentrations. They do contribute to the pollution in our waterways which contributes to the algae blooms we suffer through."
Question: What are your goals for making this County senior friendly?
Kiker answer "Facilities like this are probably one of the best investments that we can make. We really have to look at our medical facilities and have equal investments there as well. I think that would make a great marriage for this community."
Whitehead answer "I think you do for seniors what you do for kids. Provide them outlets. You give them things to do to keep them entertained. You need to provide a good government and give them stability in your decision-making."
Question: What is your position on changing county commission from at-large elections to single member or hybrid?
Whitehead answer - "I am in favor of placing a hybrid approach on the ballot. Every time the charter review committee met, the first thing they wanted to discuss was single-member districts, but county commissioners told them to not bother with it because we are not putting it on the ballot. That is not the right way to do things."
Kiker answer "I am in favor of a hybrid. I believe we need to take care of both districts and at-large. With a correct combination, I believe we can still have some combination where you still have chance to vote and decide on a majority. I am in favor of putting it on a referendum."
Question: What is the biggest problem facing Lee County?
Whitehead answer "Money. We have spent $30 million more than we have coming in, I believe, three years in a row now. Whoever sits in those chairs has some really hard decisions to make. We are going to have to truly prioritize our spending by standing projects up near one another and decide what we can and cannot afford. We've had it pretty easy around here in part because of all the reserves that were built up. They are basically gone."
Kiker answer "Frankly, we do need a prioritized budget system. We need to be able to reach out to our communities and find out what it is they want. I had the privilege to work with other mayors in Lee County. We actually put our highest project issues together and prioritized them. The next day I took that priority list to Lee County and they were only working on one of our projects. Who is making choices and spending our money? We need to get a handle on it."
Whitehead closing "I am a little disappointed because no one has asked questions about mayoral records or voting histories. I have decided if anyone is going to truly vet the candidates, it's going to have to be the candidates. I do believe I am the right man for this job. I believe that working together we can make things better for the people of Lee County. Please educate yourself. If you do that, I believe you will decide I am the more qualified candidate."
Kiker closing "I have been the mayor of a great community and have been in local government for six years now. I love my working record, and I think other people share that. I have 35 years experience in the business. If you want to compare records, compare who has business and government experience. People should learn how the process works and decide for themselves if they want to get involved and make a huge commitment to be on a council. You are looking to hire one of us. It's a $2 billion business. It's not an entry-level job. We need to change the way we do our government."
Shell Point's voting precinct #83 has been known for possessing one of the largest voter turnouts in Lee County in every election. Get out and vote on Nov. 6.