MITA hosts intimate candidate forum

Candidates, residents get chance to sit down and discuss issues face to face

MITA Vice President Bill Duncan introduces the candidates

Photo by LESLIE WILLIAMS HALE // Buy this photo

MITA Vice President Bill Duncan introduces the candidates

Residents hankering for closer contact with their City Council candidates got their fix Thursday night, with the annual Marco Island Taxpayers Association forum.

Candidates circulated around the Mackle Park meeting room, chatting intimately with residents in a setting that deviates from the standard debate.

Tuesday night presented residents with an opportunity to pose questions directly to candidates — questions that may not have come up for discussion yet at the first two debates of the season. Incumbent candidate Bill Trotter was the only one not present out of the eight, having cited pre-existing plans.

Each of the seven present candidates cycled among groups of about a dozen people, fielding questions on everything from the length of council terms to the city’s troubled anchoring ordinance to that most ubiquitous of topics: the Septic Tank Replacement Program.

But one of the greatest benefits of Thursday’s forum was it gave residents a chance to steer topics toward the issues that matter to them, which occasionally meant taking a break from the discussion of sewers that has dominated the first two debates.

One item that several of the candidates were queried about is the city’s waterways ordinance, a hot topic given the city’s recent appeal of a ruling that declared the ordinance unconstitutional and dismissed the case against the boater who intentionally violated it.

Roger Hall, a boater himself, said he has not seen the problems in the community to justify the ordinance.

"We don’t have to take this to the United States Supreme Court," he said. "If it fails appeal, it’ll be dead as far as I’m concerned."

Joe Batte conceded that some residents felt that without the ordinance, their quality of life was being jeopardized.

"I’m concerned about quality of life," he said. "At the same time, this is a boating community. My experience with boaters is they are really, really diligent people. What bothers me most about it is we’ve taken such a black eye all across the country."

Andrew Guidry said much of the concern around errant boaters could be resolved by enforcing the rules in place before the ordinance was passed. However, he said, if he finds that the public is overwhelmingly in support of it, he would work to uphold it.

Another favored topic among one group was the current length of council terms, and whether it should be reduced within the city charter.

"The charter is set up in such a way that they have four-year terms because it’s a reasonable time to get into office and become fluent with the workings of the city," Guidry said. "They’d probably be at a disadvantage with two years because they’d probably lose some skill level."

However, he added, it is an issue subject to city charter, and would ultimately need to go before the people.

Hall was unequivocal in the need to bring the issue before voters. He said that he, as a councilor, would create a charter review committee to review items such as term lengths. Changing terms to two years from four years would be one item up for strong consideration in that review, he said.

Quizzes on charter issues continued throughout the night, with some candidates rendering very candid responses that did not necessarily find favor with the residents who posed the questions.

When asked about the practice of basing the city’s spending cap on a previous year’s budget rather than a previous year’s expenditures, Jerry Gibson minced no words.

"The reason that was done was because we had some things that were budgeted for year ‘05 that weren’t going to be done until year ‘06," he said. "It doesn’t take away from the fact that the budget needed to be done the following year. That’s why they began that process... I happen to agree with that interpretation of the language."

Gibson was aware he had not curried favor among the whole group with his response, something he referenced later when asked how to unify a, sometimes bitterly, divided island.

"This island has always been divided," he said. "I’ve always loved that about Marco. It’s great to have diversity and arguments."

Communication, he said, would be the key to improving relations between some of the opposing groups on the island.

Fellow candidate Wayne Waldack was pressed on his own communications through letters to the editor, in which he criticized the actions of residents who he said were "anti-city," and took actions against the current council that harm the general public.

"My philosophy has always been to listen to the people," he said. "People are important to me. It doesn’t make any difference what their thoughts are."

At the end of the night, Waldack apologized before the group for his comments that may have targeted particular people. However, he added, he still holds to the heart of his message about the detrimental effects of some of the nay saying he sees on the island.

Candidate Frank Recker grabbed on to the issue of communication, capitalizing on the disconnect many residents have expressed between themselves and their city council.

"I can work with anyone," he said. "Unless it’s just someone who whines and won’t listen. The council now, you can’t have a dialogue. If you came up to talk to me, I would be picking your brain. Where else am I going to get the information?"

He added that there should be advisory boards "covering every aspect of government" and a premium placed on holding public forums.

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Comments » 4

bbyrone46 writes:

" of the greatest benefits of Thursday’s forum was it gave residents a chance to steer topics toward the issues that matter to them". Excellent observation. Candidate Recter also pointed out the current lack of interest by our present leaders when he stated: "The council now, you can’t have a dialogue." Hopefully the new council will remember the positive sharing of views this forum provided. This event was a celebration of democracy and our community should be proud of the interest we all showed. If only Councilman Tucker, Trotter, Popoff and Minozzi would have had a few open forums with our constitutents prior to taking actions that negatively impacted our quality of life. Then perhaps all the diversity could have been avoided. Talking works. Hopefully Mr. Gibson and Mr. Waldack now understand that there are many people on this island that are not within their circle of friends and that they too have ligitimate concerns. Trotter has now missed two great opportunities to interact with the public, perhaps he has too much to answer for. Thank you MITA for giving us a great opportunity to meet with these candidates.

EdFoster writes:

Isn't it wonderful how every candidate wants to dialog with the people but, once elected, most flat-out refuse to? On our present council, only three have reached out to ask the people what they think: Chuck Kiester with his gatherings at Mackle Park, Ted Forcht who asks what the people think of each item on the council agenda (and frequently tells you where his head is at) and Terri DiSciullo who occasionally polls the people as she did when considering accelerating the STRP in the Copperfield District. Terri won't be on the new council; thankfully, Chuck and Ted will.

Then we have the Bill Trotters who seem to make it a practice to cite "previous engagements" to duck any forum at which the questions might get sticky. Shows a lack of guts, wouldn't you say? You have to admit, Bill, that missing two out of three candidate forums that were announced well in advance causes one to question just how many "previous engagements" you really have.

And then we have the Rob Popoff type who, as a candidate, promises to have an open ear to everyone and then votes against discussing the STRP at his very first council meeting. Before his election, Rob promised a "citizen's committee" on the STRP and asked if I would serve. I willingly agreed. That was two years ago and I'm still waiting for the first meeting of the committee he never formed!

When I attempted to meet with each councilor individually as Chairman of CARES, Councilor Tucker (of blessed memory) absolutely refused and Councilor Trotter was so very busy with previous engagements he couldn't meet with me for a month (at least) and then only on the day after Christmas. I called his bluff.

The moral of the story, dear voters, is to take all campaign promises with a grain of salt (better make that the whole salt cellar) and judge the people on their past actions, not their present promises.

Ed Foster

Russ writes:

Last night's MITA event was a welcomed and successful happening for Marco's voters. Three items in Ms. Williams' article deserve closer attention:

1. In acknowledging imitating the deplorable Celebrate Marco tactic of labeling any and all critics of the city as "Citizens Against Virtually Everything" (CAVE), candidate Waldack agreed to publicly apologize to Preserve Our Paradise (POP) for wrongfully alleging that (a)POP wanted to destroy the city, (b)POP had instituted lawsuits against the city and (c) POP had cost the city hundreds of thousands of dollars. As you can see from Ms. Williams' article, Mr. Waldack danced around the subject and did not address his apology directly to POP as he had promised. Side-stepping promises so easily isn't a good sign from an aspiring council candidate.

2. The city charter originaly set the spending cap at 3% of the prior year's EXPENDITURES. The city removed the word "EXPENDITURES" and replaced it with the word "BUDGET", thus allowing a larger money calculation. Surprisingly, candidate Gibson does not see this as a change of charter language (which would require voter approval). Instead, Mr Gibson shrugs it off as mere "interpretation" and not a change of language. A frightening political position to take in this country.

3. The above report points up an interesting conflict between candidates Waldack & Gibson:
Waldack: "... holds to ... the detrimental effects of some of the nay saying he sees on the island."
Gibson: "It’s great to have diversity and arguments."


Russ Colombo

SmokeyJoe writes:

Let us put the residents of Marco back in controll of their government .Make the Big Change. Elect JOE BATTE , BUTCH NEYLON , ROGER HALL and ANDREW GUIDRY . We do not need another attorney like Tucker or more real estate interests.

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