During a Monday Feb. 11 debate, Town Commission candidates answered questions about cellular service, the Colony Beach & Tennis Resort and pension plans.
But, what stood out during the debate, which was co-sponsored by the Longboat Observer and the Longboat Key Public Interest Committee, was what PIC Co-President Ann Roth called the “we versus them” factor among candidates.
Candidates took every opportunity to point out differences between the three challengers and three incumbents.
“Incumbents were saying, ‘re-elect me,’ and were protective of their work, while the challengers were disputing that work,” Roth said.
That statement sums up two hours’ worth of debate in front of about 90 people in attendance Monday night at the Bayfront Park Recreation Center.
“This is an election in which we have choices,” said At-large Commissioner Terry Gans, during his opening remarks. “We have three races pitting those who have a record of moving forward in so many areas finding themselves opposed by a group whose vision is limited and narrow.”
Challengers Larry Grossman, Gene Jaleski and Irwin Pastor challenged that statement from the get-go. They said they don’t believe the commissioners have done enough to earn new two-year terms.
“Government can do a heck of a lot more than what we’re doing now,” said Grossman, in response to a question about what government should be doing to spur redevelopment for places such as Whitney Beach Plaza and vacant parcels next to the new Publix supermarket.
Incumbents contend the commission is doing all it can to encourage Key redevelopment and revitalization and that the approved code-change process and past enticements for developers, such as the 250-tourism units to help restore a balance of tourism and residential, will continue to work toward furthering revitalization.
“Other than make this an attractive, enticing and economically viable place as possible, governments have a limited role in telling businesses to come or not to come,” said At-large Commissioner Phill Younger.
“What government should do is what this commission has been doing for years,” said Mayor Jim Brown.
Both sides pounced when asked whether candidates agreed that misstatements have been made during the campaign. Misstatements cited ranged from the Longboat Key Club and Resort application legal fee costs to whether the current commission acted unlawfully when it approved the past project.
“Anything I have ever said has been based on fact,” Pastor said. “I believe sensible development is good for property owners when done correctly. In this case, it wasn’t done right, and it was unlawful.”
Brown strongly disagreed with Pastor.
Brown, Gans and Younger also expressed frustrations with challengers’ statements that Brown called “just plain inaccurate and not true.”
“We legally changed the zoning code, and it was approved at the state level,” Brown said. “There are some people trying to take over this town for their own benefit and that includes Pastor and Bob White, and I don’t think it’s going to work.”
Jaleski said the town and the commission “got slammed” when the Key Club project never came to fruition.
“We lost three valuable years and wasted a lot of town energy and a lot of money,” Jaleski said. “I’m really mad about this, and this town and this commission should have known better.”
Younger said the commission “acted in good faith” when it approved the former project and changed its codes.
“We voted based on the legal advice we got,” Younger said. “We had clear direction and a prevailing number of people on this Key felt we should move it forward.”
As the debate tapered off, all the candidates were in agreement that it’s time to move past the Key Club and to focus on other issues at hand.
That includes one topic that all the candidates can agree is the town’s top priority: changing the codes and Comprehensive Plan.
Asked how they would get it done, the incumbents’ and the challengers’ answers were split down the middle.
“All we can do now is vote,” Roth said.
Early Voting: will be held March 2 through March 8, at Town Hall, 501 Bay Isles Road, for all Longboat Key registered voters.
Hours: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday; 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday and Sunday
REGULAR VOTING: The town's municipal election will be held 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday, March 12, at the Key's two polling locations: Longboat Island Chapel and Town Hall.