MARCO ISLAND — As the election draws nearer, the issues driving one of Marco’s quietest campaigns are surfacing.
The Naples Daily News Editorial Board interviewed the four candidates vying for three open seats on the Marco Island City Council in the Marco Eagle office Tuesday evening.
The editorial board, which endorses candidates, includes Naples Daily News editor Phil Lewis, opinion editor Jeff Lytle, columnist Brent Batten and Web site manager Chris Silk.
The 2010 candidates agreed there isn’t one burning issue heating up the election. Finances and city spending are the most discussed issues. Below are their views:
Incumbent Ted Forcht, 49
“People are looking for mature leadership in tough economic times,” said the candidate with Kentucky roots.
He thoroughly reviews issues before taking a stance, but once he makes up his mind, he doesn’t change it easily.
He still votes “no” on the Septic Tank Replacement Program issues, even though the project has been decided. He ran on a platform against the STRP and feels he owes it to voters, at least through this term. If re-elected, he may be more amenable on STRP questions, since he will have campaigned on a different set of promises this time around.
Earlier in December, Forcht was reluctant to share his thoughts on the community redevelopment area for Town Center.
Now, he says, “I’ll mince no words... In this economy, it’s so incredibly stupid right now. Sometimes, I don’t think we realize on Marco Island how bad the economy really is. Spending that kind of money right now is idiotic.”
Forcht said his priority is to make utility rates equitable.
“I don’t think it’s fair right now.”
He voted against City Manager Steve Thompson initially but now says Thompson is doing well and keeps council members well-informed.
Forcht would like to see a high school on the island but says that’s not for city council to decide.
He suggested spending less on equipment, and, if staff cuts must be made, to look at creative ways, such as fluctuating police services based on seasonal needs and a shorter work week.
Incumbent Chuck Kiester, 69
The priorities are fiscal responsibility and increasing diversity on Island for Kiester.
The Midwesterner supports a self-sustained Island with all basic needs provided, including more medical services and a high school.
Kiester says the CRA for Town Center is good timing with all the empty stores, perhaps owners would be more likely to invest.
The city should obtain Rose Marina, Kiester said, if the family chooses to sell it, otherwise condos may come in its place.
“It’s the only public marina on the Island.”
He supports Thompson, but has some reservations that department heads lead more than they should.
Kiester was convicted of a non-criminal violation in February 2008 for deleting public records in e-mail.
“How are e-mails being handled these days?” asked Lytle.
“It was embarrassing. It was accidental... The good thing that came out of that is the city set up a new e-mail account...,” Kiester replied.
Joe Batte, 68
Batte vied but did not win two previous elections and is giving it a third shot. The previous campaign he described as nasty.
Candidates are talking about the issues without the name-calling this time, he said.
A career in federal law enforcement, particularly in health care-related crimes, “instilled a watch dog mentality” in him.
The self-described fiscal conservative says budgeting should be done monthly and that all areas, including employee costs and all department budgets, should be on the table for review and potential savings. He is not supportive of recent increases in staff.
“A government willing to look at itself is a healthy government.”
He questioned aloud: Parks are the lifeblood of the community, but are field lights at Mackle Park the necessity-type spending fitting for this economy?
The single family home owner and condo owner said utility rates need to be reviewed quickly before greater division between residents is created.
He is complimentary of the city manager and council, but says there is more room for saving money.
Larry Magel, 67
The candidate described recent attempts to assist in city financial planning as frustrating.
“If you’re not in a policy-making position, you don’t really get the attention of the city council.”
The Wall Street law firm executive said city staff could probably be reduced, but utility and safety personnel should be left alone.
“I don’t think there are massive savings to be had from employees.”
Utility rates recommendations are best left to a committee to add transparency, he says.
He said council should adopt recommendations if passed unanimously by a committee.
Thompson needs more direction and control from council in his opinion.
Rather than finding additional funding sources, the focus should be on cutting expenses.
Lytle: “Can you do that without alienating the people?”
“I don’t need friends,” Magel responded.
The Hideaway Beach resident isn’t happy about the way the sewer project was carried out, but said, “the horse has already left the barn...”
He wants Marco to be a “place the every man can afford” with services given at the lowest cost.
“I don’t believe we’re doing that now.”
He didn’t take a stance on the CRA, but doesn’t think the county can support it financially.