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Picking the brains of the candidates, forum covers many topics

February 25, 2016
By John Morton ( , Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

The candidates for Fort Myers Beach Town Council were in the spotlight Wednesday, answering questions both from board members of the local chamber of commerce,and the audience during a televised forum.

The annual "Commotion by the Ocean," sponsored by the Fort Myers Beach Area Chamber of Commerce, was held at Town Hall and featured prepared questions that were asked of a single candidate in random fashion. It aired live on the local government channel as well.

Toward the end, an audience-question portion focused primarily on what would happen to downtown in the event of another hurricane, bringing nervous laughter and a few gulps from all involved.

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The candidates for Fort Myers Beach Town Council fielded questions Wednesday night as presented by board members of the local chamber of commerce, seen in the forefront, and the audience. The event, held at Town Hall, was televised on the local government channel.

Mostly, the questions were more in the present, touching on the proposed Grand Resorts project and upcoming charter referendum questions dealing with term limits and the town's three-year borrowing limit.

In alphabetical order, here are some highlights of comments from the candidates, based upon the questions they addressed:

Dan Andre:

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The incumbent emphasized his desire to implement a local 1-percent sales tax. "Six thousand of us should not be paying all the infrastructure for visitors and snowbirds," he said.

He said he has garnered support from the state's League of Cities and hopes to take his idea back to Tallahassee.

Regarding the town's upcoming request of voters to eliminate the three-year borrowing limit, he said he wished the wording on the referendum question was not broad but specific only to the town's ongoing stormwater-system project.

Regarding the ongoing Lake Okeechobee discharges that send polluted water to Fort Myers Beach, Andre emphasized the need to be persistent with letters to state senators Marco Rubio and Bill Nelson. He said the areas impacted need to bind for a bigger voice.

Dennis Boback:

The former mayor said detailed budgeting would be a focus for him. "I would separate each department's budget from the overall budget and see where to save - find areas for outsourcing or simply be more efficient," he said. "Then I'd have each department head present it to the council and have to defend their budget."

Regarding trash left behind by those on Spring Break, he said businesses should be on their own for cleanup and the town would be responsible for private land, but a stronger Sheriff's Department presence for the issuing of tickets would also help. He said utilizing civic organizations and volunteers is another idea. "People here volunteer for a lot of things," he said.

Would he remove the three-year borrowing limit? Boback said no, and said it should come down to a referendum on a specific project. "When we presented the referendum for installing new water lines, we had a 90-percent approval," he said.

Bruce Butcher:

Asked for his priorities, he listed the a need to expedite the Estero Boulevard project, to redevelop downtown and to solve the stormwater dilemma. "We need to be light, bright and right," he said regarding his philosophy. "We have to stay within our means, look for help elsewhere and make good decisions."

He noted the town should have never started the stormwater system without the money, only to be dealing with its financial repercussions now. He said the acquisition of outside funding should have been step one before a debt occurred. "We don't have to invent everything in-house - there are other government entities out there. We don't have to finance everything ourselves."

Returning to the issue of redevelopment, "We need a vibrant downtown," he said. "It's been 10 years since the hurricane but nothing's been done."

He also emphasized the need for a safer Estero Boulevard, noting his influence as a member of the town's Public Safety Committee has brought more lighting and crosswalks.

As for protecting the downtown and Times Square, he suggested the coastal protection system (seawall) being proposed by Grand Resorts might work.

Tracey Gore:

She emphasized her proficiency with the town's comprehensive land-use plan and codes, noting she was recently recruited by a group of concerned business owners to explain the codes. Regarding Grand Resorts, she pointed to the same, saying "It's too big and everything about it doesn't follow the comp plan or codes."

She also said she didn't want to give away Crescent Beach Family Park - a piece of land Lee County owns and the developer needs - and said, "They're the ones setting the pace - we're going to their presentations. We should be in control."

She also said any variances granted to Grand Resorts would result in a non-even playing field as far as other businesses who have wanted the same are concerned.

When asked if Fort Myers Beach needed its own police department, Gore said she was satisfied by the level of protection offered by the county's Sheriff's Department. However, she suggested the town consider hiring community patrol officers who patrol bridge-to-bridge - something she said existed before being lost to county budget cuts. "I believe they cost $85,000 each," she said.

She emphasized her 42 years of residence on the island, vowing to protect the small-town character. "If it ain't broken, don't fix it," she said. "I love the character. All we need is more fiscal responsibility."

Jack Green:

The former town manager and planner also said he'd protect the town's comp plan something he worked with intimately. "It's our vision," Green said of it. "I've had to enforce it, and I've learned to embrace it."

With that in mind, he said Grand Resorts doesn't measure up. "I haven't seen a single thing that's compliant," he said of the proposal.

Asked about his take on open carry for guns, the former U.S. Coast Guard commander said he believed in the Second Amendment but didn't like the idea for Fort Myers Beach.

"Spring Break, young people, alcohol - that would be crazy," he said. "Especially in a close environment. That's a recipe for disaster."

He said the same goes for residents. "They're not on patrol," he said.

On town spending, Green said a system he used when previously working for the town called "competitive negotiation" should be considered. It lined up proven consultants and specialists that had been previously negotiated with, eliminating the delays with the bidding process.

Suzanne Katt:

When asked why she's running for council, the retired lawyer and newer resident said it was her duty.

"Every citizen has the responsibility to serve when they have the time and ability," she said. "Now I have the opportunity. I can do my part."

The downtown traffic problems brought some ideas from Katt in the forms of incentives, especially from businesses.

"For those who park off island, they could offer a discount or a free dessert," she said.

Further, she encouraged incentives for walkers, bikers and those who ride the trolleys. Water taxis were another suggestion.

Told that the island is known as a place for homeless people to live, Katt said the problem can't be solved unless the issue of mental illness is properly addressed. She noted she had experience with the issue in her legal dealings and suggested the town, the businesses and the charitable entities establish an outreach person to assist those here living on the streets.

On whether or not Grand Resorts approval should come down to a referendum vote, she said: "No. We have the laws in place to handle the project."

Regarding funding the local arts scene, "People come here to have fun and see things, so it's justified when they are advertised with tax dollars," she said, "but we should not use tax dollars on materials."

Ber Stevenson:

Asked whether snowbirds should have a voice in town decisions, he supported the idea and suggested the use of technology and social media to prompt and facilitate their participation.

On the referendum request to remove the current three-year term limit for council members, Stevenson said: "It does create large turnover, but it also keeps people on their feet. There's such turmoil on the beach, we need change."

Regarding the town's interest in requesting $750,000 in Lee County Tourist Development Council (TDC) funds to bring mostly cosmetic touches to Times Square, he said: "Clean up all the gum first and then leave it alone. It's fine the way it is."



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