Longboat Key is looking frayed … worn … dare we say … shabby. Look closely as you drive up and down Gulf of Mexico Drive.
The Key needs a jolt … excitement … forward momentum. Make it happen. Be on the move. Take action. Have a vision.
The Longboat Key Club and Resort’s owners have been trying to provide that forward impetus. But just as its predecessors at the Arvida Corp. did in the late 1970s and early 1980s, Key Club Associates has encountered stiff resistance to change.
No surprise there. That’s the nature of a resort-retirement community. As Longboat Key resident Dr. Mark Kauffman says: “Everybody wants progress; nobody wants change.”
We must have both. We must adapt and move forward.
In that vein, Longboat Key voters over the next two weeks can influence the Key’s future direction by the candidates they choose for three seats on the Town Commission. Here are our recommendations:
District 1: Lynn Larson
Kudos to incumbent Mayor Lee Rothenberg for his public service on Longboat Key. It goes back a decade-and-a-half, including participation as a member of the town’s Tennis Center Committee; serving as a member on the Longboat Key Planning and Zoning Board; and now completing his fifth year as a town commissioner.
Rothenberg has been dedicated to doing what he believes to be best for the town and its residents. But on evaluating some of his actions and positions as a commissioner, we have to question whether he is better for taxpayers going forward, for bringing forward vision to the commission than his opponent, Lynn Larson.
A sampling of those actions:
• Most recently, in the Key Club hearings, he proposed a stipulation that would require the club’s owners to give the town first right of refusal to buy the Key Club — a signal of Rothenberg’s alliance with the Pennsylvania pundit, former Commissioner Al Green, who apparently subsists on his weekly denigrations of the club and its owners. That tells you something about Rothenberg’s philosophical view of the role of government and private property.
• As mayor, Rothenberg thought it acceptable not to have a formal, public evaluation of the town manager.
• He has been a consistent proponent of raising the town millage rate and a lamb looking for budget inefficiencies.
• And for all of his years on the commission, where was his leadership addressing the town employees’ unfunded pension liabilities?
Lee Rothenberg is a super nice guy and a gentleman, and he knows the ins and outs of town government. But it’s the dawn of a new era on Longboat Key, and it’s time for a change in District 1.
With first-time candidate Larson, Longboat taxpayers will get new energy and enthusiasm; inquisitiveness from a taxpayer’s point of view; and a vision for a Longboat Key that is vibrant and heading up, not sideways or down.
Larson sees town government through fiscally conservative lenses. She has worked in the private sector and in state government. She knows that a dollar doesn’t mean the same to a government bureaucracy that it does to a taxpayer or business. She can’t wait to confront and resolve the town’s pension problems.
Though we abhor quotas and diversity over qualifications, it would serve Longboaters well to have a woman’s intuition on the commission.
District 3: David Brenner
Perhaps the length and scope of the Longboat Key Club and Resort hearings have worn thin on incumbent District 3 Commissioner Peter O’Connor. Over the past two weeks, he has displayed testiness at Key Club officials and attorneys, surprising many observers who have witnessed these bursts.
They’re out of place, particularly in a group that is known better for civility.
For voters, O’Connor’s edginess makes it easier to evaluate him and his opponent, David Brenner.
Heretofore, O’Connor has been mostly a quiet public servant. Like Rothenberg, he, too, knows the workings of town government, having served on the Town Commission since 2006. On the dais, he is an evaluator-thinker, not an initiater.
That’s the biggest difference between him and Brenner. Brenner is a man of action, a doer. He gets things done.
Were it not for Brenner’s persistence and leadership, the Islander Club, where Brenner lives, probably would not be getting two semi-permeable groins built to regenerate its eroded beach.
When Brenner served on the Longboat Key Planning and Zoning Board from 2006 through 2009, he was one of the leading crafters and proponents of what became the town’s vision plan. And, to be sure, were it not for Brenner (and former planning board Chairman Sandy Gilbert), Longboat Key voters likely would not have approved overwhelmingly two charter amendments in 2008 — one allowing 250 lost tourism units to be built on the Key, and the other allowing property owners to rebuild the same square footage and existing number of units on their properties in the event a natural disaster destroys them. The latter measure was huge in terms of protecting property rights.
After the amendments passed, Brenner expanded his interest in the Key’s economic well-being, serving as chairman of the Longboat Key, Lido Key, St. Armands Key Chamber of Commerce’s Economic Development Council. Although this irritated some commissioners and opponents of growth, it was another example of how Brenner got involved and tried make Longboat better.
All of his involvement is not surprising, given Brenner’s professional background as a CPA, managing partner in Arthur Young and Co.’s Philadelphia office and former director of commerce and finance for the city of Philadelphia.
We need a doer on the Town Commission. Brenner would serve taxpayers well, bringing forward vision and momentum.
At-Large: Too tough to call
This is a tough call — incumbent Commissioner Hal Lenobel versus first-time candidate Phill Younger.
Of all the sitting commissioners, Lenobel garners high respect from voters and his peers. His fellow commissioners have voted him mayor three times. Until this year, in the 10 years he has served on the Town Commission, he has never had opposition in an election. No one would dare oppose his popularity.
And yet, Lenobel is somewhat enigmatic. He voted to increase the millage rate two years ago. He bristles over the public tennis center receiving taxpayer funding, yet he voted two out of three times to support it.
How would he vote on the Key Club’s plans? Lenobel has been a critic of the golf courses’ condition and operations and tussled with Key Club General Manager Michael Welly over tee times for hotel guests. But we remember when the Einisman property (behind Publix) came up for a vote many years ago to change its land use from commercial to residential, Lenobel voted for it.
Says Lenobel, who is not campaigning and declines to debate: Voters can judge him by his record. But that record is not altogether predictable.
Younger creates puzzlement as well. Based on his long career as an engineer and financial analyst at Delta Airlines and his Jeffersonian view of limited government, he would bring strong fiscal watchdogging to the commission. Yet Younger has made a suggestion regarding the Key Club that raises serious uncertainty about what he might do on zoning and redevelopment issues in the future: He has suggested the town extract, say, $5 million from the Key Club for a new town recreation center as a stipulation for approval.
This is anathema to our view of government.
In this race, trust your instinct on who best has a forward vision.
Knowing John Mrachek’s attention to detail, we’re almost certain he made arrangements with the Big Guy in the Sky for Sunday’s magnificent weather — ordered specifically for the dedication ceremonies for the Longboat Key Public Tennis Center’s new building.
It was a Mrachek day.
Great crowd; terrific exhibition match, featuring world and national senior tennis champions Hugh Thomson, Sarasotan Joe Bachmann, Larry Turville and Lorne Main; and the right length and number of dignitary speeches.
On the latter, there was a momentary scare. When Longboat Key Mayor Lee Rothenberg asked if any of his fellow commissioners wanted to speak, you could hear a collective gasp. Oh, no. Thankfully, they declined.
As these ceremonies go, the speechmakers doled out the thank-yous and accolades. Appropriately, the thank-you that brought the attendees to their feet was for the two couples who have been the tennis center’s heart and soul — Mrachek and his wife, Phyllis, and Dick and Donna Schlorf.
Volunteers, the Mracheks and Schlorfs work at and nurture the tennis center with the care of loving parents raising a child. And the results show — not just in the top-flight facility but also in the friendships that have been made and exist among those who play there. It’s a family.
Yes, the tennis center is a great asset. And all involved should be congratulated — the architect, contractor, Friends of Tennis, volunteers, tennis center staff and town commissioners.
But in all the speeches Sunday, one group, perhaps the most important group, was overlooked. That would be: the taxpayers. A big thank-you to them, too.