EITA Public Forum
The Estero Island Taxpayers Association (EITA) hosted a “Meet The Candidates” forum at Beach Baptist Church on Monday evening, February 11, the first of two public candidate forums this week. Ed & Kim Ryan of “Beach Talk Radio” moderated the session that featured the four candidates vying for two seats in the upcoming March 5 Town Council election. Council member Dennis Boback looks to defend his seat, with the challengers being newcomer Dan Allers, former Town Vice Mayor Rexanne Hosafros, and former Mayor Ray Murphy.
The evening began with refreshments courtesy of Mango Street Inn, then the candidates each gave a one-minute Opening Statement before 22 questions were posed to all four that each candidate had one minute to answer, a 2-minute Closing Statement, with the candidates remaining behind to answer individual audience questions in a casual social setting.
Allers said, “This campaign is very important to our community as we need a new voice and fresh perspective to guide us, with changes to Estero Boulevard and TPI-FMB and several other things that will spur economic development. I am just like you guys; I am a person who believes that our voices are not being heard, so we need a new energy and blood to get us where we need to go.”
“I am on Council and am a former Mayor,” stated Boback. “I ran three years ago because the Town was in dire financial straits and close to broke, but now it is in tremendous financial shape, with emergency funds in place, without any increase to the Millage Rate. I disagree with Dan, as Council does listen to everybody, whether they are voters or non-voters, and that is why I am running again.”
Hosafros explained, “I worked full-time while putting myself through law school, so I am a hard worker and it is very important that people know that about me. I have knowledge about the Town and Council, as I served before, and I have experience and integrity, and anyone who knows me will tell you those three things are true.”
“It’s nice to be here on the boards again,” joked Murphy! “I did this 23 years ago when the Town first incorporated, as I was on the first Council then re-elected, so it was an honor to serve you then and will be again. I have institutional knowledge, as I lived here longer than any of these other folks, so I know what is good and bad and needs improvement and I avail myself to you to do that.”
Questions & Answers
When asked to rank the current Council’s performance on a 1-to-10 scale, “8 or 9,” replied Boback. “We have done a lot to put a successful program in place and most importantly we straightened out the financial situation and this Council gets along better than most in the past. There are not a lot of 5 to 0 votes, as we have 5 diverse people who make decisions.” Hosafros said, “about a 6. This Council has been overly active, creating more Ordinances and legislation than we need.” Murphy said he does “not have a number but I agree it created more legislation than the Town needs. As far as finances go, when I left the Town, it had 20-some million dollars in reserve, as we were very frugal and careful how we spent money.” Allers put it “at a 5; as it is a 50/50 shot that people with issues will be heard and that is the biggest concern people tell me; that they do not feel compassion over what is in the best interest for the community.”
All four candidates agree the most pressing issue facing the Town is water quality. When asked what Town Ordinance they would change, the candidates morphed that into answers on Short-Term Rentals: Allers does not think it is fair that “the Town can tell you how to limit the use of your own property and who can stay there.” Boback reminded the audience that the “Short-Term Rental Ordinance passed in 2003 and basically all this Council is doing is enforcing what was previously approved. I would like to change the definition of ‘Family’ but the State tells us if we amend the Ordinance in any way, it can be declared invalid.” “I am concerned if we monkey with the Ordinance, the State may take it away,” agreed Hosafros. Murphy said, “We need to reexamine the Short-Term Rental Ordinance to bring about an equitable arrangement between the landlords and Town, as people are not happy.”
None of the four felt the Town could speed up Estero Boulevard construction or Lee County Sheriff’s Office response times, needed its own police department, nor could do much to combat Red Tide. All agreed that electric bicycle regulations were necessary, and the question of who they would like to see elected, besides themselves, was unfair, saying they would work equally with whoever else was on Council.
Get That Puppy Out!
When asked what they would do if potential Town business came up in the presence of another Council member, “Get up and walk away,” said Murphy. “This is directed at me,” acknowledged Boback, about the allegation he and Mayor Tracey Gore, who is not running for reelection, engaged in conversation with a Town resident about her lawsuit to halt the TPI-FMB Project. “Council members have lunch together and go out together all the time. Just because you socialize with a friend does not make it wrong and the State Attorney’s Office agreed with me.” “I beg to differ,” countered Hosafros. “Council members go to ethics training every year and can never speak to one another about anything that may even potentially come before Council.” Allers added, “just don’t put yourself in that position.”
When asked if the island homeless population should have background checks to receive island church social services, the three men thought that a good idea. Only Hosafros knew that “they already do! The Sheriff’s Office runs these every week to see if there are any warrants and arrests them if they show up!”
Concerning how much the TPI-FMB lawsuits will cost the Town, “too much,” exclaimed Allers. “I have no idea but it will not be cheap,” added Murphy. “I have no idea,” said Boback, “as Council has not been briefed by the Town Attorneys and it is already in Circuit Court so it is out of our hands.” Hosafros however stated that “I would certainly ask for a meeting, as Council is free to know what is going on! The fact it is in Circuit Court has nothing to do with the Town Attorneys advising Council and dealing with this aggressively, pushing that this is a frivolous lawsuit and to get that puppy out of court!”
During closing statements, Murphy said, “The beach is at a crossroads, with a lot of issues on the plate, coming off some trouble by a few Council members. I have every confidence that things will settle down, as they always have in the past, and am optimistic that Fort Myers Beach has a great future, but there is a lot to be done, and we have to get lucky with water. I have the experience and the knowledge of the beach that is required here.”
“We discussed many hot button issues tonight,” Hosafros commented, “but what Council really does is 99% boring, and I am good at boring stuff, as that is what I have done in my life! It is studying the Land Development Code and reading Ordinances and working your way through the process and I am a ‘civic geek’ and that is why I am running. I will listen to you and treat you fairly and to me compromise is not a dirty word; I will work very hard for you.”
Boback reminded everyone, “I have lived in the same Fort Myers Beach house for 23 years. Whenever I consider a Council decision, the first question I ask myself is will this benefit the beach and if it does, I vote for it and if not, I don’t. I was on Council including being Mayor from 2005 to 2008 and when I voluntarily left after one term, the Town financially was in good hands, but I had to come back three years ago to help the island turn things around, and I do not want to see the island go through that again. I want to follow through on our five-year Strategic Plan and protect our neighborhoods.”
“This election is all about the future,” stated Allers. “Not just mine or yours but everyone who comes here, whether a local, snowbird or visitor. I guarantee that when you speak to me, you will walk away knowing I respected you and your opinion and that I listened to you. We will not always agree but at least you know your voice will be heard. One thing I hear unanimously when I speak to people is they want their voices heard, and that is why I run.”
By Gary Mooney