Commotion by the Ocean

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Final Public Candidate Forum

The seven candidates competing for the three Council seats on the March 17 Town Election Day met for the final public forum at the “Commotion By The Ocean,” sponsored by the Greater Fort Myers Beach Chamber of Commerce. Roughly 150 citizens were in attendance at the Beach Baptist Church on Thursday evening, March 5.

The candidates are Bill Veach, David Drumm, Forrest (Butch) Critser, Bruce Butcher, Robert Burandt, Jim Atterholt and Dan Allers. Following introductory remarks, the first half of the forum had candidates offering answers of three minutes or less, to a series of eclectic questions randomly drawn from questions submitted by Fort Myers Beach residents.

Question: What can you do to clean the Town’s canals?

Burandt: Several years ago, this came before Council, then went away and I am not sure why. Perhaps the Town ran out of money for this, as it seems to run out for a lot of things. We must find a way to clean our canals as this should have been done long ago.

Butcher: The Town already has a process to clean canals. If your neighborhood has an interest, you get 50% of your residents to agree, then come before Council. If the Town approves, it gets an estimate we bring back to you. If more than 50% of the residents on the street remain inclined to do so, we do the work and the Town applies the cost to your property tax bill.

Drumm: Our canals are as important as our streets, so it should be the Town’s responsibility; if the taxpayers favor cleaning the canals, then I am in favor.

Veach: I am Chair of the Marine Resources Task Force (MRTF) and several years ago, a group of property owners brought this before us. The bottom line is, who will pay for this, as each individual canal does not benefit the entire island, so it is the homeowners of each canal who must go before Council for dredging permission. I can argue the Town should help pay, but not the entire amount. A long-term solution may be aeration to circulate the water and break up the organic muck, to keep them healthy.

Allers: I spoke to Mayor Keven Ruane of Sanibel; their city works with their people to put the money together, with Sanibel facilitating the process through contractors.

Atterholt and Critser did not specifically answer, providing instead larger water quality issue responses.

Question: What FMB properties do you own or invest in, and how much taxes do you pay?

Burandt: I own a Back Bay house and last year sold several rental properties, so I paid roughly $29,000 in taxes.

Butcher: I pay approximately $10,631.83!

Critser: I don’t own; I rent.

Drumm: I own one house and rent another, so I guess I pay $3,000 to $4,000.

Veach: I own one house and pay about $150 less than Bruce.

Allers: Like Forrest, my wife and I rent. I pay $6,605 with only about 6% to the Town; the vast majority goes to Lee County, the School Board and FMB Fire Department.

Atterholt: We just sold one condominium and we pay almost $5,000 a year, with just $330 to the Town.

Question: What #1 Issue will you own?

Butcher: This is the softball I have been waiting for – streetlights!

Critser: To renovate Times Square, Old San Carlos and Downtown, including a Veterans Memorial at Bayside Park.

Drumm: I will focus like a laser on streetlights!

Veach: Water and Beach quality – without those, there won’t be anybody here to look at streetlights!

Allers: Last year, this would be water, but now it is #1A with #1B being public safety, after hearing a frightening story from an elementary schoolchild about an encounter she had with a scary man at the Bay Oaks Recreational Center.

Atterholt: Water, including keeping the pressure up at the State and Federal levels to retain funding.

Burandt: The Town’s books and accounts, to see where the money goes. I don’t understand why the Town Manager is not running the Town, with Council micromanaging everything! We must return to why we formed the Town in the first place: Government Lite, so my #1 priority is to learn what the Town Manager thinks his job is, then tell him what his job is, then see that he performs it!

 Question: How would you feed the FMB homeless?

Critser: We have “Choice Market” that puts the dignity back into shopping for people who need food, and we feed 248 mouths-per-week with over 100,000 pounds of food, but the homeless are no more than 20 of these people. The rest are waiters and waitresses and bartenders who keep our tourist economy running, along with Seniors who cannot afford food after paying bills. We feed many more than just the homeless!

Drumm: Nationwide 20% of all homeless are Veterans, 50% have substance abuse problems, and 70% mental health issues. You can’t just feed these people but must address the whole picture.

Veach: Homelessness is an ongoing nationwide problem that includes mental illness. Our churches do a great job, but we found people sleeping on our porch and we all know the story of Adam and the tragedy with the late FMB Library Director. The key is to give people a hand-up.

Allers: This issue is close to my heart because for a time my Mother, brothers, and I were homeless. The Town cannot do this alone, but there are roughly 300 agencies and churches in Lee County working on helping people, so we must work with them.

Atterholt: The island churches get a bad rap on this, but this issue is bigger than the homeless! In the 2018 water quality crisis that decimated our local economy, we fed hundreds of our local service industry workers.

Burandt: I am not sure what a Council member can do to alleviate this, though I was brought up Christian and want to help and appreciate what our local churches do.

Butcher: This is not my strong suit; thank goodness for our churches is all I can say.

Question: Something is clearly wrong with the new Council sound system! What will you do to fix this?

Drumm: I blame the Town Manager.

Veach: It is not Council’s job to micromanage the Town Manager.

Allers: It is a mess and frustrating. It is the Town Manager’s decision to research and fix these things, so maybe this decision needed more work.

Atterholt: The Town Manager needs to fix it.

Burandt: It is the Town Manager who is responsible; he must isolate the problem, whether it is the people running it or replacing it if it does not work.

Butcher: It is the Town Manager’s problem and I believe he will fix it.

Critser: The Town Manager is responsible. We have a great sound system here at Beach Baptist and my granddaughter runs it, so tell the Town I have a good employee for them!

Question: How can we get more people to move to FMB?

Veach: Workforce housing.

Allers: We don’t need any more people!

Atterholt: One current Council member recently said, “We are already like 7 pounds of potatoes in 5-pound bag!”

Burandt: I am not promoting more people on the island as that would increase traffic, but lower taxes and more skyscrapers.

Butcher: Perhaps the questioner means more younger families with schoolchildren. I would like to see more families with kids but don’t know how to make that happen.

Critser: Affordable housing, to get more kids on the island. I worry that the Beach Elementary School has less than 100 students, and our churches would love more families with children.

Drumm: I don’t know how a young family just starting out can afford a half-million-dollar beach house!

Each candidate answered the next two questions from Beach School 5th Grade students.

Question: How would you reduce pollution?

Allers: Continue taking steps like the Town has, like banning plastic straws and tightening up its fertilizer ordinance. For air pollution, reduce traffic.

Atterholt: Keep up the pressure on State and Local leaders to fund water quality projects. For air pollution, reduce traffic by examining programs like the Sand Sculpting National Championship, where we park cars at Lovers Key State Park and bus people onto the island. Finally, back solar power, as we need more in the Sunshine State; panels are cheaper, there are great tax credits and we have a lot of rooftops!

Burandt: We have a lot of regulation, but I don’t see a lot of enforcement! When the Town first formed, we floated the idea to be like Mackinac Island in Michigan and prohibit cars, with people getting to their houses by golf carts or horses! Solar and wind power should not be Council’s responsibility, but I am all for them.

Butcher: I have a traffic solution but nobody will want it: put in a traffic circle from the foot of the Matanzas Pass Bridge to Chapel By The Sea, where you only take righthand turns, to run traffic back-&-forth; it is worth a try! For water, we must eliminate pollution at the source, or we will only continue to put band-aid after band-aid on the problem.

Critser: I seriously like that Mackinac Island idea, perhaps getting visitors here by ferry! We must keep up the pressure for clean water on our state and national leaders. A great idea is for these schoolchildren to draw pictures of the pollution that scares them, then mail those to our leaders, to keep up the pressure for clean water!

Drumm: Only allow visitors to come on the island if they drive hybrid compact cars! Not only would this be better for the environment, but it would double our available parking.

Veach: As MRTF Chair, we instituted a plastic straw ban Council approved. Not only did this reduce beach pollution, but it generated the Town huge positive publicity. We recommended strengthening the Fertilizer Ordinance that Council recently did. We must Think Globally but Act Locally, or we have no right to point fingers at others.

Question: How would you help start new businesses and help those already here to make more money:

Atterholt: The best thing government can do for small business is get out of their way!

Burandt: I concur – unfortunately, our government here seems to enjoy getting in the way! We must stay on top of the Town Staff to ensure they follow the direction of Council, to help our businesses rather than hammering them with Code Enforcement. The Town should help people, with a warm and friendly attitude toward business.

Butcher: If you want to start or run a successful small business, call Jacki Liszak at the FMB Chamber! Also, Lee County has an Economic Development Office run by John Talmage, who is brilliant!

Critser: The past two years, the Town has not been very business friendly. Reduce parking to $2-an-hour, make it free after 6 p.m., and lift the restriction on the number of hours you can park, so people have time to shop our stores and patronize our restaurants. Buy, eat and shop local, and tip your service personnel!

Drumm: We need common sense solutions soon to keep business very healthy.

Veach: People want our Town to be funky, but not “Junky Funky!” We must move traffic better, as no business profits with people stuck in line in their cars.

Allers: Shop Local! I saw a sign the other day that said, “Amazon will not sponsor your kid’s little league team!” Buy what you need in an island store and it will take less time than shopping Amazon and waiting for the delivery. New businesses like Margaritaville excite everybody, as their clientele will be good for every other FMB business. Be generous to your local service personnel, as that benefits them more than you know.

Speed Round: Candidates respond with Yes, No or one-word answers.

Question: Do you support E-bikes on FMB:

All answered No.

Question: Have you ever been involved in litigation against the Town

All answered No except Burandt, who is an attorney: “I litigated issues while representing the Town as well as against it, so Yes.”

Question: Have you had any interaction with the following: Robert Conidaris (owner of the Lani Kai Island Resort); Tracey Gore (former FMB Mayor); and Tom Torgerson (Representative of Margaritaville FMB):

Critser, Drumm, Veach and Allers stated they know all three, and Atterholt expects to know each soon. Butcher knows the last two but not Conidaris. Burandt admitted to knowing the last two as well, but drew an audible audience gasp when stating, “I have never met Bob Conidaris.” (Burandt earlier in the week represented the Lani Kai at a hearing before Council for charity event Special Exception & Special Event Permits.)

Question: The American Medical Association and US Department of Energy stated that LED lights foster dangerous road driving conditions. Would you adhere to these standards?

Drumm, Veach, Burandt and Critser stated “Yes,” Allers and Atterholt said, “Potentially,” Butcher responded, “Complicated!”

Question: Would you consider a Town Tax Rollback?

Veach: “Definitely,” Allers: “Hypothetically,” Atterholt: “Revenue-neutral,” Burandt: “Yes,” Butcher: “Me!;’ Critser: “Maybe,” and Drumm: “Definitely.”

Question: Would you possibly vote for a Tax Increase?

Atterholt: “For Clean Water – Yes,” Drumm: “Yes,” Allers, Burandt, Butcher, Critser and Veach: “Possibly.”

Question: Do you favor Lee County’s recent traffic proposal for the base of the Matanzas Pass Bridge?

Atterholt: “Too early,” Allers: “Margaritaville,” the other five answered, “Yes.”

Question: What one word describes your best attribute?

Butcher: “Dedicated,” Critser: “Service,” Drumm: “Attractive,” Veach: “Creative,” Allers: “Open-minded,” Atterholt: “Leader” and  Burandt: “Experienced and educated.”

Closing Question: What do you want FMB voters to remember about you?

Critser: I am for all the taxpayers and I love this Town and beach with all my heart! I bring people together around common interests and goals, and I am here for you and will continue to be here for you, even if not on Council.

Drumm: I am honest and a working guy that you can talk to. People like to talk to me because they know I listen.

Veach: I am a problem-solver and think outside the box, to find solutions that are best for the people of our Town. I function best in a meeting, to produce action.

Allers: I am open-minded, hard-working, am approachable and will work hard every day for our citizens. Ask me anything, as I am not afraid of any question.

Atterholt: I work for you, candidly and not as an adversarial person. I will be your public servant, in a professional leadership capacity, to bring us all together to solve problems.

Burandt: I am educated, experienced and know this Town, as I was its attorney for ten years. I work for you and will find out how the Town spends our money and get it back to a ‘Government Lite’ philosophy.

Butcher: I am not the smartest guy in the room but know how to work best with everyone to find the best ideas, then convince others on how to implement them.

SIDEBAR:

FMB Election – March 17

Three Fort Myers Beach Town Council seats will be filled in the March 17 election. There will also be two Fort Myers Beach Charter Amendments on the ballot. Amendment 1 asks if Town elections should be moved from March to November to coincide with state and federal elections. Amendment 2 asks if council terms should be changed from 3 years to 4 years. For voters registered with a political party, a Presidential Preference Primary will be on their ballot.

Vote-by-Mail ballots must be in the hands of the Elections office by 7pm March 17.

Early Voting is available through Saturday, March 14, at ten Lee County locations from 10am to 6pm. The two closest to Fort Myers Beach are the Lee County Elections Center at 13180 South Cleveland Avenue and Lee County Elections Bonita Springs Branch Office at 25987 Tamiami Trail.

Fort Myers Beach’s three precincts at Chapel by the Sea, St. Peter’s Church and Ascension Church will be open 7am to 7pm on election day, March 17, 2020. For information on the March 17 election, including your precinct, call the Lee County Elections Office at 239-LEE-VOTE (533-8683) or see www.lee.vote.