MARCO ISLAND — Marco Island City Council candidates Ted Forcht, Joe Batte, Larry Magel and Chuck Kiester met to answer questions from Marco Island citizens at a forum Friday night at Mackle Park.
The forum was hosted by the Marco Island Taxpayers’ Association in an effort to give Marco voters an opportunity to make an informed choice when it comes to selecting three of the four candidates to sit on city council beginning in 2010. Registered voters will receive the mail-in ballot in mid-January and it is due to the Supervisor of Elections office by Jan. 26.
Bill Duncan, vice president of MITA, welcomed Marco residents to the meeting, describing the forum as “uniquely American,” giving people the opportunity to communicate with candidates.
Each candidate had five minutes for opening remarks. Then, the audience of 40 split into four groups, as candidates took seats in the groups. Each group was given 15 minutes for questions and answers, with one caveat.
The two incumbent candidates were advised not to answer questions, due to Florida’s open government Sunshine Laws, which prohibit council members from discussing issues with each other outside a formal meeting, if that issue could come before them for a decision in the future.
Batte was first to deliver opening remarks and described the three tenets of his candidacy: first, provide conservative fiscal leadership by spending only what is needed and what can be paid for. This, Batte says, would require someone not afraid to make tough decisions.
Secondly, Batte emphasized the need for transparency in government, which, he stated, is provided by forming ad hoc citizens’ committees. His third point was inclusion, noting that progress should not be polarized, and that bringing groups together for effective change is hard work.
Forcht, a four-year incumbent, was second, and stated his priority was responsiveness to the people of Marco Island. “I have tried to provide information to bring you into government,” said Forcht, to spontaneous applause from listeners. “Even when you have sent me hundreds of letters in a single day, I have answered them all.”
Kiester was next, and pointed out that his background of 40 years as a professional city planner in North Florida was the ideal education and experience to bring to the city council. He reviewed his record of demonstrating fiscal restraint and transparency over the past four years. Kiester’s stated priorities are to move Marco Island in a self-sufficient direction in areas of medical care, education and assisted-living, so that Islanders would not have to move off-island for basic necessities.
Magel summarized his career at a Wall Street law practice, specializing in finance and management. He also has a degree in accounting. Magel suggested that Marco form a governmental productivity committee, similar to Collier County’s. He pointed out that his membership in the city of Marco Island’s Financial Planning Committee, Charter Review Committee, Utility Oversight Committee and Coastal Advisory Committee demonstrates his commitment to finding better ways of doing things. Magel’s stated objective is fiscal conservatism.
The evening’s referendum revealed many areas of concern from Marco citizens. Questions about a spending cap amendment preceded discussions of the seven amendments to the city charter that voters will decide on while also choosing their three new council members.
MITA board member Amadeo Petricca is questioning the reason for the amendment, using 2008 as the base year for calculating the spending cap, which limits spending to 3 percent, plus cost of living adjustments, more than the previous year’s spending. Some call the amendment a make-up provision, so that money is never lost long-term by spending less than the spending cap allows.
MITA has taken the stance that the spending cap works in good economic times and bad, and there is no need to change it. “How will you vote on the amendment on the spending cap?” was the first question asked of Batte.
“I will vote ‘no’ on it, and the reason I will vote ‘no’ is that, in my judgment, you can’t fool with the cap,” responded Batte.
“I sit on the Code Enforcement Board, and it sickens you to see all the homes in foreclosure. It’s horrible. When you talk about spending money, that’s something you have to think about. It’s something that will stay in my mind forever. Don’t spend money that is not absolutely necessary.”
“Can we afford to build a $15 million Smokehouse Bay bridge?” asked another Marco Island resident, of Forcht.
“It’s not unreasonable to build a safe bridge over a span of water,” Forcht answered. “But we can’t continue to borrow money every time we want to do something. I won’t live forever, but the debt can.”
Forcht continued, “That’s also why I don’t think it’s a good idea to modify the (spending) cap; you’re moving the target.”
“How will you vote, personally, on the spending cap charter amendment? Do you support MITA’s position on this issue?” Kiester was asked.
“Let me put it this way,” Kiester replied. “On referendum issues, it’s very clearly ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ We either want it, or we don’t. I’m leery; Florida has strangled itself. In referendum after referendum, it amends the Constitution. Unless you have done your research, it will scare you. Find out the background information, and don’t be misled. When in doubt, vote ‘no.’ I tend to vote ‘no.’ It’s been said that change for the sake of change is worse than no change at all. Don’t vote for something you don’t understand.”
Magel was asked to speak about the issue of new revenue resources. “I think we have enough money in the budget now, so that we won’t need any,” Magel replied. “What we have to ask ourselves is, ‘What are valid (spending) parameters? What do we want to do? How much will it cost, and how will we pay for it?’ 2010 and 2011 are going to be difficult. The problem is, we don’t have a finance person on our city council.”
MITA president Fay Biles said he thought the candidates were knowledgeable about the issues. “The most important issue addressed this evening was the spending cap. MITA and all four candidates agree. We need to keep it unchanged.”
To learn more about the candidates visit related stories and links; go to Joe Batte’s Web site, votejoebatte.com; e-mail Ted Forcht at firstname.lastname@example.org; call Chuck Kiester at 394-1612 or visit Larry Magel’s Web site, magel4marco.com.