Editor’s note: This is one of two articles profiling District 1 Town Commission candidates Lynn Larson and Lee Rothenberg in this week’s edition. Profiles of the contested race for District 3 will be featured in next week’s issue. At-large candidates were featured in the Feb. 11 issue.
This article was originally published in the Jan. 14 issue, before the preliminary election for District 1 commission candidates.
Lynn Larson doesn’t feel like the commissioners are listening to voters.
That’s why she acquiesced to requests by her friends to run for the District 1 seat against her Country Club Shores neighbor Mayor Lee Rothenberg.
“The problem that concerns me is I don’t feel the commissioners are listening to the people that represent them,” she says. “I feel like they think they know better than their own constituents.”
Larson, 59, says if she’s elected, she would consult with Longboat citizens to discern their views before making any decisions.
Asked if she supports the $2.5 million breakwater plan for the severely eroded beach on the north end of the island, Larson said she doesn’t know.
“I would have to poll the people directly affected by that decision,” Larson says. “They would have to look at the breakwaters every day. It’s up to them.”
And Larson, who was voted onto a police-pension trustee seat last year, has no qualms about telling you why she vied for a seat on that board.
“The town’s pension funds should never be in the shape they are in today,” Larson says. “If they had been managed properly, the taxpayers would never be in this situation.”
Larson has been a paid volunteer for the Sarasota County Supervisor of Elections Office for years; she has term-limited out as president of the Country Club Shores Unit IV Association; and she is a longtime Red Cross volunteer who has used her registered-nursing skills to assist after the tragedies of recent hurricanes.
Larson spent many years as a registered nurse, before making a transition to a rehabilitation nurse in 1977, which led to a career move as a vice president in charge of rehabilitation-nurse training in the private sector.
In 1984, Larson was recruited by the Florida Department of Insurance and quickly became its first female director. She worked for Bill Nelson and Tom Gallagher and was promoted as division director of the state’s insurance fund before retiring in 2002.
After scouting Hawaii and California for possible places to retire, Larson and her husband, Jim, settled in 2000 on Longboat Key and moved here permanently in 2002.
“We knew this was it when we were sitting on a bench on St. Armands Circle taking it all in,” Larson says.
Larson, who tore down and built a new home in Country Club Shores a few years ago, blames some of the island’s deterioration on town codes.
“We could only improve our home up to 50% of the common structure every five years,” Larson says. “That led a lot of people to hold off on home renovations.”
The 50% rule has since been modified to eliminate the five-year language, but Larson says inconsistent town codes like that cause problems.
Larson has some ideas for the town budget, too.
“I don’t think the town manager should receive a raise any higher than the raises his employees receive,” she says.
If elected, she hopes she can create a change among her commission peers. Says Larson: “We need an attitude from the commission on down that we are here as a town to help its citizens.”
Family: husband, Jim; five children; and nine grandchildren
Job: Former director of the Florida Department of Insurance
Hometown: Picayune, Miss.
Passion: Muffin, her 11-month-old Yorkie, and Tweety Bird, her parakeet that flew into her home in 2001.
Interesting fact: Larson loves to sew and makes special quilts for her grandchildren and friends.
Q&A with Lynn Larson, District 1 candidate
Editor’s note: This is the first of two question-and-answer interviews allowing District 1 Town Commission candidates Lynn Larson and Lee Rothenberg an opportunity to explain their position on key issues before the Tuesday, March 16 election. The Feb. 25 issue will include question-and-answer interviews with District 3 candidates; at-large candidates were profiled in the Feb. 11 issue.
If elected, what issues will be your three to five top priorities to address and resolve?
No. 1 is the budget because revenues will be lower again. No. 2 is the pension problems. No. 3 is the cell-phone problem because it’s a safety issue. The beach is next, and I see it as a safety issue as well because we don’t want to lose the homes on the beach. And last but not least is a review of the town charter and implementation of the Vision Plan because it contains significant citizen input.
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?
The budget is the town manager’s issue and it needs to be reviewed by actual expenses. I would sit down with the town manager and establish priorities. But I don’t want emergency services cut.
Where do you stand on town employee pay raises in light of more expected budget cuts?
That’s the town manager’s issue. He needs to establish a budget for us to work on. I don’t think, though, that there should be pay raises in general this year. We shouldn’t be looking at raises when people are losing their jobs across this country.
What changes, if any, will you recommend to the town employees’ pension plans and how the town reduces the $26 million in unfunded liabilities?
I think we need to look at the promises we have made to current and former employees. I think we should also look at going into the state retirement plan. We need a comprehensive review of the plans.
Would you sign a pledge agreeing not to raise taxes?
No. But the only way I would ever vote to increase taxes is to maintain the fire-and-police services.
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?
I think that a referenda for mixed-use would let us know if property owners are interested in that to spur redevelopment. But we need to sit down with Publix, the new owner of Avenue of the Flowers, before they draw up plans and ask them how we can help them.
Would you have voted yes or no to the zoning change of Moore’s Stone Crab Restaurant from commercial to residential?
Yes. The one thing people thought they were voting on when they voted to allow Mr. Moore the right to ask for this change a few years back was helping Moore’s stay in business. The voters have spoken.
What should the town be doing to stop sand loss on the north end of the island?
We are a barrier island and sand is going to move. But we need to work with the Army Corps of Engineers and others to assist our consultant and us. We also need to work with the other communities like Sarasota County to see how they can help.
Does the town need a cell-phone tower on the north end of the island?
If Manatee County puts a cell-phone tower at Coquina Beach on Anna Maria Island, that will go a long way to help us. And flagpole stealth towers might be an option to look at.
Should the town have spent $25,000 for a consultant to combat the city of Sarasota’s roundabout plan?
No. The roundabouts will be difficult for some of the other residents to navigate. But we should have sat down with the leaders of the city to convey our concerns before we spent $25,000 of the taxpayers’ dollars.
What are your thoughts on The Longboat Key Club and Resort’s Islandside renovation-and-expansion project?
I have to be careful because I may have to vote on this issue. The process itself needs to be revised because there shouldn’t have been two lengthy processes at the planning board and the commission. But I think it’s great a business on this island is willing to spend a substantial amount of money in this economy. I hope the residents opposed to it and the club arrive at a compromise.
What’s your opinion on the commission’s decision to eliminate reviews for the town manager?
I think it’s a problem for not only the commission but for the town manager. How can he know that there are priorities or problems if you don’t convey them to him and give him a list of priorities?
What do you think about the commission’s decision to not hold early voting on the island this year for the upcoming election?
The incumbents have the advantage and the audience already. And now the commission took away early voting that was already budgeted for. It makes me upset that we are taking away these people’s rights to go to a polling place on Longboat Key to vote early. It was a sad day for our voters and for our commissioners who voted for their self-interests once again.
What’s your vision for the town?
I would like to make sure we maintain the town and regain our image as one of the top-10 places in the country for people to visit and live. I would like to see businesses open and full shopping centers. I would like not to see abandoned homes in my own neighborhoods. And we need to work within the codes we have to get the people to take over ownership of these abandoned properties.
What makes you a better candidate for the taxpayers than your opponent?
I will listen to the voters. I feel that term limits are there for a reason. I term-limited out of Country Club Shores as the Unit IV president so that someone new can come into my neighborhood and bring fresh ideas and build their own legacy. We need to have a commission that will reflect the ides and wishes of the people. I think I could make an impact as a commissioner in this community.
Contact Kurt Schultheis at email@example.com.