Despite the differences Commissioner Peter O’Connor has had with the town manager during his first two terms in office, he is quick to praise the actions of Bruce St. Denis, town staff and their work on the town’s beach-renourishment efforts.
“The town manager and the team he has put together to handle beach renourishment do a fantastic job,” says O’Connor, a career naval officer who oversaw dredging and pipeline projects during a tour of duty in Vietnam.
That’s a far cry from the stance that Commissioner Gene Jaleski and O’Connor’s District 3 opponent, David Brenner, have taken. They claim the town hasn’t done enough to help stop the beach erosion on the north end of the island.
O’Connor, who holds a master’s degree in public administration from the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University and a civil engineering degree from Notre Dame University, says he supports the town’s beach-management plan unequivocally.
But the former public-works officer of a naval submarine base in New London, Conn., and the former public-works director of Warminster, Pa., and Plymouth, Mass., admits that permitting a structural solution to stop erosion “is a slow process.”
“Individual owners have a role to play in protecting their own property, too,” said O’Connor, who, like his opponent, has urged area residents to hire an engineer of their own, which they have done. “I have lived and worked on islands all over the world. What you need are engineered solutions required to protect structures.”
Despite the issues raised about breakwaters, O’Connor, who wants to oversee the town’s next beach project, believes the structures will work and that the town is headed in the right direction.
A career naval officer, O’Connor was stationed on Grand Turk, and South Caicos ,to help build a naval facility and Coast Guard station.
After five years of working for The Port Authority of New York, O’Connor returned to active duty in 1965 as a civil engineer corps officer and began a series of assignments that involved work as a public-works officer before serving in Vietnam from 1967 to 1968.
In 1970, O’Connor and his family moved to Okinawa for three years, where he and his wife, Pat, had their fifth child while he oversaw a naval construction project as a chief staff officer.
O’Connor returned in 1973 to the United States, and helped build the Trident Submarine Base, in Birmington, Wash., before retiring in 1978 to Boston to earn his public-administration degree.
O’Connor, who had visited his parents on Longboat Key since 1973, bought his first home on the island in 1990 at Sutton Place and became a full-time resident in 1994. The O’Connors moved in 2004 to The Bayou in Bay Isles.
O’Connor said his children remember sleeping on a boat behind their grandparents’ home, falling asleep to the sound of pilings being driven into the ground to build the condominium complexes that now exist at Islandside.
“We witnessed that part of the Key being built,” O’Connor said.
O’Connor also differs from his opponent on more than beaches. Although Brenner thinks the town is headed in a downward spiral in terms of lost tourism units and decreased businesses, O’Connor disagrees.
“I don’t think things have changed much at all on this island,” O’Connor said. “We are a bedroom community with amenities that residents still enjoy.”
Contact Kurt Schultheis at email@example.com
Family: wife, Pat; five children; and six grandchildren
Former occupation: Retired naval officer
Birth town: New York City
Hometown: Cohasset, Mass.
Passion: Longboat Key
Interesting fact: O’Connor lived in a tent camp for a year while stationed on Grand Turk. And, his youngest daughter is a Japanese citizen because she was born while he and his family were stationed in Okinawa, Japan.
Q&A with Peter O'Connor
Editor’s note: This is the last of a series of question-and-answer interviews allowing commission candidates the chance to take position on key issues before the Tuesday, March 16 election. Past issues included question-and-answer interviews with candidates for the other contested races.
If elected, what issues will be your three to five top priorities to address and resolve?
First would be the development of a plan for and bonding approval for the next round of beach renourishment. Second is to protect the properties at the north end of the island. Third is progress on resolving employee pension unfunded liabilities. Fourth is to work on the development of a town-wide town managed telecommunication infrastructure system that does not include cell towers. Fifth is review of the Comprehensive Master Plan, because any weaknesses might be discovered in dealing with the Longboat Key Cub application.
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 am not so sure that assumption is correct. Having said that, costs in the town budget are specifically hard to predict. More budget spending discipline on the part of the administration would likely cover any shortfall in revenue.
Where do you stand on town employee pay raises in light of more expected budget cuts?
It’s probably not in the cards for 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?
We should look to enroll our people in the Florida state retirement system, remembering we must honor the commitments made to our employees in the current plan.
Would you sign a pledge agreeing not to raise taxes?
Of course not.
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?
Many of the commercial properties here are indeed thriving. Things are not all bad. But we lack the population base to support many businesses. Municipal government can be business-friendly, as we are.
Would you have voted yes or no to the zoning change of Moore’s Stone Crab Restaurant from commercial to residential.
I did vote for Moore’s zoning change. However, I would have to say this case was not the town’s finest hour. We took an inordinate amount of time to review it, and there was some unfortunate discussion about the financials presented by Mr. Moore.
What should the town be doing to stop sand loss on the north end of the island?
The current problem is not to stop the sand loss, but to replace the sand to protect the properties now threatened by the sea. The town is moving, albeit slowly, to permit and get help. The sea is advancing, and it’s close to an emergency situation.
Does the town need a cell-phone tower on the north end of the island?
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?
The voters rejected the bond question the last time it was asked. The costs are likely higher now. I think the town needs a recreation center, though. The only place on Longboat Key where folks of the island can get together now is our great new tennis center. We need more of that and we don’t have it. I’m not sure bonded indebtedness may be the only way to get there, though. I think a local fundraising effort would be successful.
Should the town have spent $25,000 for a consultant to combat the city of Sarasota’s roundabout plan?
First, I don’t think the town spent $25,000. We authorized that number for contractual reasoning. I supported my own push for that effort because I thought we needed professional help in intelligently speaking to our neighbors about this plan.
What are your thoughts on The Longboat Key Club and Resort’s Islandside renovation and expansion project?
What’s your opinion on the commission’s decision to eliminate reviews for the town manager?
I think reviews are necessary. If the town is serious in this matter, it should formalize the requirement in the town manager’s contract.
What do you think about the commission’s decision to not hold early voting on the island this year for the upcoming election?
I, personally, as a commissioner, was prepared to have the same period of early voting as we had in the preliminary election. Unfortunately, the county’s decision to hold a referendum on our election day complicated the issue. We were faced with an all-or-nothing situation. The larger two-week period was thought to be excessive by most commissioners, so we were forced to go with no early voting.
What’s your vision for the town?
I think Longboat Key should continue to be a premier residential community on Florida’s Gulf Coast. We should provide top-notch infrastructure and municipal services to permit our citizens and guests to enjoy the lifestyle they came here for.
What makes you a better candidate for the taxpayers than your opponent?
In a word: experience. I offer dedication, professionalism and independence. I am experienced not only in the unique workings of this town government, but in the underlying discipline necessary to manage a municipality. I am a registered engineer with both public works and construction experience. I am a career officer experienced in civil service work forces. I offer all of this service to our island home.
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