Editor’s note: This is one of two articles profiling District 3 commission candidates in this week’s issue. Profiles of the candidates in the other two contested races ran in prior issues.
David Brenner once helped resurrect the city of Philadelphia from bankruptcy.
Although he knows the town of Longboat Key is not nearly in as bad of shape as his hometown once was, he thinks the commission is blind to the issues he believes the town has.
“If we don’t start fixing some of our mistakes, we’re going to be in trouble,” Brenner said.
Brenner, 73, said he is running against District 3 Commissioner Peter O’Connor because he is not happy with how the Town Commission has handled a Vision Plan that he helped create during his three-year term on the Planning and Zoning Board. Brenner also believes the town must resurrect the town’s tourism and commercial sectors and be more fiscally creative with the annual budget.
“The town must break out of its purely departmental mode,” Brenner says. “For example, why can’t the public works or police departments help share the burden of our depleted code-enforcement department?”
Brenner would also like to see the town create a finance committee of at least three commissioners and town residents to review town finances each quarter.
And Brenner says reaching out to the owners of aging commercial properties on the Key is a must.
“After the Key Club’s project, Avenue of the Flowers should be next in line for the commission to review,” Brenner said. “At the very least, we need to find out what the owners of that plaza need to make it successful once again.”
Brenner, a certified public accountant who moved to Longboat Key permanently in 2001, retired as a managing partner at Arthur Young and Co. at age 47 in 1983.
But retirement didn’t last long after the mayor of Philadelphia convinced Brenner to become his director of commerce. Brenner was on the staff for a three-year period that brought a $500 million convention center to the city; secured a lease for a developer on land that revitalized the city’s waterfront; and helped relocate several failing businesses from the east side of town to secure their stability.
In 1991, Brenner was asked to come back as the city’s finance director, because the city’s revenues were shrinking at a time when the city’s population was falling drastically.
“I kept the budget balanced and created a game plan for the new administration to fix the city’s financials in future years,” Brenner said.
On Longboat Key, Brenner joined the planning board in April 2006 for a three-year term that expired last year. He was denied a second planning board term by the Town Commission in May, after Vice Mayor Robert Siekmann insinuated that Brenner and the planning board had been acting “as an activist group,” which had helped spread the word for two charter amendments that voters approved in March 2008.
Brenner hasn’t forgotten the speech. In fact, he believes it helped spur his decision to run for a commission seat.
“If I’m an activist, so be it,” Brenner said. “I’d like to think I could help make things happen on the commission instead of talking everything to death.”
Contact Kurt Schultheis at firstname.lastname@example.org
Family: Wife, Maggie; three children; three grandchildren
Former occupation: Certified public accountant and managing partner of Arthur Young; former commerce-and-finance director for city of Philadelphia
Passion: Playing tennis, traveling
Interesting fact: While traveling the world over the years, the Brenners have set foot on all seven continents.
Q&A with David Brenner
Editor’s note: This is the last of a series of question-and-answer interviews allowing commission candidates the chance to take position on key issues before the Tuesday, March 16 election. Past issues included question-and-answer interviews with candidates for the other contested races.
If elected, what issues will be your three to five top priorities to address and resolve?
No. 1 is to implement the town’s Vision Plan. The second is to deal with the town’s beach-management plan in a more thorough way. Third is the town’s finances and its budget process, including the pension problems. No. 4 is quality of life, with the focus on the beach, the bay and Gulf of Mexico Drive. No. 5 is balancing the desires and needs of the residents and the commercial sector.
The budget is expected to be cut again this summer to offset decreases in the town’s ad valorem tax revenue and appraised values. Where specifically would you recommend cuts in the budget?
I am not sure any significant cuts will be required. I think the town needs to look at the way it’s organized to do business. If we had a tighter organization, we wouldn’t spend as much money as we do.
Where do you stand on town employee pay raises in light of more expected budget cuts?
Obviously, it would be desirable if town employees could get a pay increase. But I think we have to be realistic in light of the town’s finances.
What changes, if any, will you recommend to the town employees’ pension plans and how the town reduces the $26 million in unfunded liabilities?
It’s a complex subject. The town has three options. Leave the plans alone, shift them to the state’s retirement plan or create some sort of a hybrid plan.
Would you sign a pledge agreeing not to raise taxes?
Many of Longboat Key’s commercial properties are aging and in need of redevelopment. Landlords don’t have any economic incentive to redevelop their properties because they cannot recover their investments. What would you propose, if anything, to create incentives for redevelopment?
An attempt was made to deal with the problem with the passage of the ordinance that increased tourism by 250 units and created the ability to rebuild aging multi-family and tourism units. Admittedly, the shortfall of the economy has gotten in the way of that taking off. In the meantime, I think we can do more to encourage visitors to the Key that will provide some of the economic stimulus businesses need to make investments.
Would you have voted yes or no to the zoning change of Moore’s Stone Crab Restaurant from commercial to residential.
I don’t know. I say that because if Moore’s and Mar Vista were a package and you concluded you don’t need any restaurants on the bay, it would be easy to convert to residential. But now we have created an opportunity to make the situation worse by having one restaurant left there potentially.
What should the town be doing to stop sand loss on the north end of the island?
I have suggested to Longbeach that they should get a short-term solution like we did at The Islander Club, which hired an engineer to put down riprap to protect the shoreline until a long-term solution is developed. I haven’t seen any discussion about why this beach erosion is happening to the degree it is and why it’s happening in cycles.
Does the town need a cell-phone tower on the north end of the island?
What the town needs is acceptable cell-phone service. If you are involved in a serious accident on Gulf of Mexico Drive on the north end and you can’t reach 911 on your cell phone, you’re in trouble.
The last time voters were asked to fund a new community center its projected cost was $6 million. Would you support a bond issue for that amount or larger?
I would. Not everyone thinks we need a community center, but the public would have to vote on it and we would get the answer we are looking for.
Should the town have spent $25,000 for a consultant to combat the city of Sarasota’s roundabout plan?
What are your thoughts on The Longboat Key Club and Resort’s Islandside renovation and expansion project?
As you know, the town attorney has said we aren’t supposed to talk about this subject. But it seems to me in the competitive world the club is living in, they must have an opportunity to keep their property competitive with other resorts in other communities.
What’s your opinion on the commission’s decision to eliminate reviews for the town manager?
It was an awful decision. How can you not have a chief executive officer have an evaluation from each of the commissioners who act as his boss?
What do you think about the commission’s decision to not hold early voting on the island this year for the upcoming election?
It’s another shortsighted and political decision by the commission. If it was an economic decision, we shouldn’t have had preliminary election early voting at all.
What’s your vision for the town?
My vision is the town gets to a point where there is a balance of residential and commercial. I want us to get to a point where stores and retail want to be here. The town is declining from where it has been in the past. We had a level of convenience before that doesn’t exist anymore.
What makes you a better candidate for the taxpayers than your opponent?
I think I am a better candidate for several reasons. My background has had me in leadership positions on almost everything I have done, including leadership roles in the economic and finance departments for the city of Philadelphia. Leadership, I believe, is in short supply on this commission. I am also familiar with how the town works because of my work on the Planning and Zoning Board.