This week marks one of our annual rites of spring (or almost spring): assessing the candidates running for Longboat Key Town Commission.
Part of this annual rite is the pleasant acknowledgement that Longboat Key voters are lucky. Lucky, almost always, to have good, intelligent candidates — in this year’s race it’s incumbent Vice Mayor David Brenner and challenger Ray Rajewski. We know already that Brenner serves the voters well and represents Longboat Key’s interests well in the greater community. And judging from conversations and interviews with Rajewski, he likely would do the same if elected. He is yet another Longboater who had a distinguished business career.
But as it always is with this annual rite, there are differences that provide a contrast for voters. This year’s contrast appears pretty clear. Perhaps a succinct way to put it is this: Brenner wants to continue moving the Key forward, on several fronts; Rajewski is more reticent about moving forward. Brenner believes Longboat Key’s continued prosperity hinges to a large extent on revitalizing the deteriorating visitor traffic and the Key’s deteriorating commercial properties. Rajewski, in contrast, told us most people chose to buy and live on Longboat because of what they saw and liked … “They want it to stay that way.” Or, as he told us this week: “I’m not against redevelopment; I’m against development.”
Perhaps the contrast is as succinct as this: Rajewski does not support the Longboat Key Club and Resort’s redevelopment and expansion; Brenner does.
That one issue clearly frames the contrast. Certainly there is more to consider.
Start with history and tradition. From Longboat Key’s incorporation in 1955, town voters pretty much have accepted an expectation that commission candidates must pay dues. They must come up through the ranks, the farm system, if you will, having served a few stints with such groups as the code enforcement board, a town-wide citizens’ committee, the planning and zoning board or some organization that raises their public persona to the point they are a familiar name. This is how the candidate establishes trust and a track record. Rare is the candidate who wins by jumping into a commission race as his first exposure to town politics and government.
Another tradition is Longboaters will re-elect commissioners so long as they don’t do anything irksome. We can think of a handful of incumbents over nearly 20 years who lost their seats because of arrogance toward voters; becoming advocates of the town over citizens; or voting to hike taxes.
On these traditions, Brenner is solid. Rajewski, as history goes, hasn’t played long enough in the farm system.
In truth, Brenner’s record of service, accomplishment and leadership in the town before being elected to the commission and during his first term as commissioner easily merits his re-election. For nearly a decade here, he has been a force for good — for the residents, taxpayers, visitors and businesses. His track record is long and deserves some recounting.
Brenner’s involvement started in earnest when he was president of the Islander Club’s homeowners association. That high-rise might be on the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico were it not for Brenner’s persistence in engaging the town and state ultimately to install permeable groins there.
When Brenner served on the town’s planning and zoning board in 2007 and 2008, he spearheaded two efforts that began a long process, which continues today, of convincing Longboat residents they better begin thinking about steps to ensure Longboat’s long-term prosperity — or there would be no prosperity or no long term.
One of those efforts led to Longboat Key voters overwhelmingly approving charter amendments that would bring back up 250 tourism units that were previously lost and would allow residents to rebuild their existing structures at existing densities and size in the event of natural destruction. The latter was huge. So many of Longboat’s structures are non-conforming, meaning that without this charter amendment, many of today’s condominiums no longer would be rebuilt at present size and density.
These two charter amendments marked a 180-degree turning of the attitudinal tide on Longboat Key. Brenner, along with George Spoll, triggered and led that change.
Then there was the vision plan. Brenner was instrumental with that, too — particularly in persuading the Town Commission to follow through with it and not let it sit on a shelf. This, too, has become one of the impeti shaping Longboat Key’s future. Read it. It’s what Longboaters heartily embrace for the future — what Longboat Key was in the heydays of the Colony Beach & Tennis Resort and before, only better.
As a town commissioner, Brenner also distinguished himself by pushing former Town Manager Bruce St. Denis to make the town bureaucracy less bureaucratic and more efficient. When St. Denis neglected to show the commission how he could tighten town operations in the face of the recession, Brenner led the effort to create teams of citizens who examined how every department operated and how they could save money and become more efficient. This led to cost savings and less budget cutting — and also to the conclusion that the town had reached the point of needing new leadership. Brenner: the catalyst again.
Throughout his term, Brenner has been an unabashed supporter and facilitator doing whatever he could to help Publix Super Markets redevelop Avenue of the Flowers. Many Longboaters don’t know it, but Brenner has been involved in that project for years, having numerous conversations with Publix and the town staff to make that process as smooth and as unconfrontational as is possible on Longboat Key. Likewise with the owner of Whitney Beach Plaza.
Rajewski has interpreted these efforts and Brenner’s support of the Key Club’s plans as being an aggressive proponent of increased commercialism on Longboat Key. But Brenner has been explicit in public and any time you ask him that “I live on Longboat Key. I don’t want that anymore than anyone else.” What Brenner wants is what Longboaters have embraced: A balance. They know their property values and quality of life are absolutely tied to Longboat Key’s ability to attract a steady flow of affluent visitors. And this cannot happen unless the Key has the level of facilities to accommodate them.
So there it is — the unequivocal case for why David Brenner deserves a second term as the District 3 town commissioner. This is not to say Ray Rajewski is a strident dissident to Brenner’s vision for the future of Longboat Key. They really are not that far apart. What’s more, Rajewski has a lot to offer. He is of the caliber that makes Longboat Key a great place to live. He should stay engaged.
Brenner, however, clearly has demonstrated a level of proactive leadership — on all fronts — that has been in the minority among town commissioners over the past two decades. Through his actions, Vice Mayor Brenner has demonstrated what Longboat Key needs at this crucial time: If you’re not moving forward, you’re moving backward. Longboat Key, especially now, needs to keep moving forward. We recommend: David Brenner for District 3 Town Commission.
THE COLONY UPDATE
As it was coined months ago: What a spaghetti ball.
Bottom line: The two sides — Colony owner Murf Klauber and the unit owners’ board — are still deadlocked over price — the price it would take to buy out Klauber’s three of the 15 acres of Colony property.
Attorneys Charles Bartlett and Jeffrey Warren — Barlett representing Klauber and the Colony and Warren representing the Colony Association board — agreed the dispute can be settled, but only until the association or its developers, Club Holdings, pays Klauber and his lenders a lot of money.
Warren says they have to give some and not expect to receive what they want.
Meantime, the dispute is heading back to bankruptcy court, where, according to Bartlett Monday night, the bankruptcy judge has two choices: either reinstate the partnership between Klauber and the association, with the association paying Klauber about $10 million in damages, or pay Klauber about $25 million in damages and then attempt to redevelop.
Bartlett and Warren say that likely wouldn’t end the litigation. It likely would go on three to five more years.
“Get your act together,” admonished Vice Mayor David Brenner. Commissioner Lynn Larson scolded the parties for the condition of the Colony damaging Longboaters’ property values.
Next week: What’s next.