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.
Lee Rothenberg is making up for lost time.
The 84-year-old mayor of Longboat Key has been criticized by some in the past couple of months for deciding to run for another term.
But the way Rothenberg sees it, he owes it to himself — and Key residents — to run.
“I always had an interest in civic affairs, but I couldn’t participate when I was younger because I was always away on business,” Rothenberg said. “So, when I came down here, I made it my priority to give back to my community.”
The first thing he did once he and his wife, Frances, settled into their Country Club Shores home was start attending commission meetings.
Before he knew it, Rothenberg was making comments at the podium about plans for a town tennis center and was appointed to a committee that helped form what is now the Longboat Key Public Tennis Center.
That two-year appointment turned into a 10-year planning board stint, a Charter Review Committee appointment, three terms as a commissioner and many years of service to the Metropolitan Planning Organization.
When asked what’s left to give, Rothenberg laughs.
“My daughter thinks I’m crazy for wanting to run again,” Rothenberg said. “But it’s my civic duty and I love my community.”
Rothenberg has overseen the town’s last beach renourishment, watched Town Hall and the new police and fire stations be built and witnessed the growth of the tennis center.
But he wants to be a part of more.
“I want to be a part of the Longboat Key Club’s plans,” Rothenberg said.
A Cornell University graduate with a mechanical engineering degree that he received in between two years of service in the Navy during World War II, Rothenberg spent 30 years in New York working his way up the ladder of a machinery manufacturing company.
In 1979, he moved to Chicago to take a job with a then-bankrupt company called International Honeycomb Corp. Within a couple of months, Rothenberg was named president, general manager and chief executive officer of the company, leading the paper packaging company out of bankruptcy by improving company efficiencies, developing better equipment and making it the most successful Honeycomb company in the world.
Rothenberg retired in 1983, and after driving the state with his wife looking for a place to live, they settled on Longboat Key because they thought it was the perfect combination of beaches, scenery, community and housing.
However, the more than 40-hour work weeks of volunteer service as mayor don’t leave him much time to enjoy his retirement paradise.
But Rothenberg doesn’t seem to mind.
“I want to do everything I can to preserve the Longboat way of life for everyone else,” Rothenberg said. “This town and its commissioners exist for one reason only — to serve the public.”
Family: wife, Frances; two daughters who live in New York; and two granddaughters
Former occupation: president and chief executive officer of a light manufacturing businesses
Hometown: Richmond, Va.
Passion: The welfare of Longboat Key and maintaining its lifestyle and tennis (he plays three to four times a week).
Interesting fact: Rothenberg and his wife like to take exotic foreign trips. Past trips include visits to the Persian Gulf, Tahiti and China.
Q&A with Lee Rothenberg, District 1 candidate
Editor’s note: This is the second 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?
The first one is to see the Key Club situation resolved. No. 2 is to work on the erosion problems on the north end. No. 3 is to work on the pension-plan problems. No. 4 is to work on Comprehensive Plan revisions.
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 have no specific recommendations, however, I will listen carefully to any specific recommendations made by anyone. I am always concerned about budget cuts that reduce services to the public.
Where do you stand on town employee pay raises in light of more expected budget cuts?
There have not been any pay raises or cost-of-living increases in the last two years and I do not expect to see any in the next year.
What changes, if any, will you recommend to the town employees’ pension plans and how the town reduces the $26 million in unfunded liabilities?
Pension investments and pension benefits caused part of this problem. I recommend that the commission be more closely involved with the three pension funds. The problem is you have to pay off the other pension shortfalls, even if you go to the state plans, so I do not recommend doing that. The state plan also lost 10% this past year.
Do you support extending the 1-mill property tax for Sarasota County schools?
Yes. There is nothing more important for the welfare of the state and the country than an excellent education system.
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?
The goal is to make Longboat Key the most attractive community in the state so businesses are happy to invest here.
Does the sign code need major revisions?
No. It might need minor revisions.
Would you have voted yes or no to the zoning change of Moore’s Stone Crab Restaurant from commercial to residential?
I voted no. Zoning goes with the land, not with the owner.
What should the town be doing to stop sand loss on the north end of the island?
I am satisfied that the town is pursuing a number of plans to remedy this situation.
What’s your position on beach renourishment or beach maintenance?
I strongly favor periodic beach renourishment. Beaches are essential to the enjoyment of the public, as well as the ambience of Longboat Key.
Does the town need a cell-phone tower on the north end of the island?
No. It’s my understanding new technology is remedying this problem over time.
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 am in favor of a new community center, but it is a matter of timing. This is not the right time to be asking for a bond issue.
Should the town have spent $25,000 for a consultant to combat the city of Sarasota’s roundabout plan?
Yes. If a successful roundabout is built at 10th Street and U.S. 41, the city of Sarasota will want to build a roundabout at Gulfstream and U.S. 41. I am opposed to that.
What are your thoughts on the Longboat Key Club and Resort’s Islandside renovation-and-expansion project?
No comment. It’s a quasi-judicial matter.
What’s your opinion on the commission’s decision to eliminate reviews for the town manager?
My opinion is written reviews are not necessary, because all commissioners, as well as the public, can routinely visit with the town manager and discuss any subject.
What do you think about the commission’s decision to not hold early voting on the island this year for the upcoming election?
I was in favor of skipping early voting this year. It’s a fairness issue because incumbents are so tied up with other things; we are not able to campaign properly.
What’s your vision for the town?
Keep Longboat as Longboat. Promote a tranquil and attractive town.
What makes you a better candidate for the taxpayers than your opponent?
In very difficult times, I believe my experience and knowledge are far more valuable than that of a newcomer who has no experience in town affairs.
Editor’s note: Rothenberg’s opponent, Lynn Larson, holds a police pension trustee seat with the town of Longboat Key.
Contact Kurt Schultheis at [email protected].