Editor’s note: This is one of two articles profiling At-large Town Commission candidates Hal Lenobel and Phillip Younger in this week’s edition. Profiles on the other two contested races will be featured in subsequent issues.
Bay Isles resident Phillip Younger is not your average Town Commission candidate.
Behind the scenes, some of the movers and shakers at Town Hall questioned whether Younger should have proposed a Longboat Key Club and Resort modified Islandside renovation-and-expansion project last month at Temple Beth Israel.
That’s because if the current commission doesn’t decide what to do with the project before the election, the candidate, who has shown his cards for what he would like to see the club do, could be sitting as a judge weighing in on the project.
But Younger has no regrets about making public comments and presenting a plan, complete with a rendering, into the public record.
“Commissioner (Gene) Jaleski made comments about the project and he wasn’t recused,” Younger said. “I don’t see what the big deal is.”
The engineer with a degree from Georgia Tech loves to offer suggestions and solve problems. As he sat at a table in the Longboat Library, he constantly grabbed sheets of white paper to draw diagrams, talking about everything from the town’s beach erosion to the roundabouts planned for the city of Sarasota.
Younger, who ensured the town’s first campaign race this election season by qualifying in September 2009, is running against a popular town commissioner who has never been challenged for his seat in five previous terms in office.
But Younger doesn’t seem to mind.
In fact, he said he’s dismayed that Commissioner Hal Lenobel won’t debate the issues with him in a public forum.
“It makes me question whether he’s up for another term in office,” Younger said.
Younger, an Atlanta native, who retired as manager of the technical-support area and line maintenance for Delta Airlines in 2001, has a knack for problem solving.
Younger recently used those technical and consultant skills last summer at Town Hall, when, along with Key resident Lenny Landau, he presented a 2009-10 budget study, which they believed had the potential for $920,000 in budget reductions.
Although town staff rejected most of the study’s budget cuts, only coming up with somewhere between $26,000 and $62,000 that might be considered as acceptable savings, the report was an eye-opener to residents and commissioners who applauded Younger and Landau’s efforts.
Younger and his wife, Fanny, became permanent residents of the Key in 2005, and Younger soon became involved in town affairs, including the Longboat Key Turtle Watch, the Longboat Key Public Interest Committee and the town’s Code Enforcement Board.
“This is what retirement does to you,” Younger said. “Being a commissioner is the culmination of my sitting on the sidelines and either continuing to complain or deciding to do something about it.”
Family: Wife, Fanny; two daughters, Rosemary and Marston
Former occupation: Manager of technical support area and line maintenance for Delta Airlines
• Younger, who grew up attending segregated schools in Atlanta, helped quell a race riot during his one-year military tour when he was promoted from infantry platoon leader to acting commander for three months “by treating everyone the same.”
• The former airline employee has seen the world and ranks Longboat Key as a top-10 place to visit and live.
Q&A with Phillip Younger, at-large commission candidate
Editor’s note: This is the first of an ongoing series of question-and-answer interviews allowing Town Commission candidates the opportunity to explain their position on key issues before the Tuesday, March 16 election. Subsequent issues of The Longboat Observer will include question-and-answer interviews for the other contested races.
If elected, what issues will be your three to five top priorities to address and resolve?
Resolution of the club’s plan is still a major issue. Long-term solution for protection of beaches, with special emphasis on the North Shore crisis. Pension liability resolution. Comprehensive Plan requirements as they pertain to provisioning and maintaining of local amenities. Establishing a realistic budget for the next year. Transparency of the budgeting process, with the elimination of the green-bar reports. Maintaining community services. Revisit term limits.
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?
Lenny Landau and I found more than $900,000 in enterprise and regular funds last year that we felt could be trimmed. I’m sure I could find more in this year’s budget. We should build future budgets based on actuarial numbers.
Where do you stand on town employee pay raises in light of more expected budget cuts?
I empathize with the employees and recognize the tight situation we are in. I recognize their pay has been held down for several years. It’s an uncomfortable situation for everyone. (I’m) not sure how the budget will look, but if we could give them a small raise without heavily impacting taxpayers, I would support that.
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 would look to move the three retirement systems to the state retirement system. The state has a bigger pool and bigger protection. This would protect the employees, because there’s a bigger pool to draw from and the plans are protected on the state level. We also have to look toward a bond to pay off the debt in the plans.
Would you sign a pledge agreeing not to raise taxes?
No. But I have never in my life voted for a tax increase. I would do everything possible to avoid a tax increase, though, because there are ways to improve management without reducing 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?
We don’t have the population to support some of these businesses. We can’t force property owners like the vacant Chevron gas station on the north end to bulldoze. But we can encourage redevelopment through rezoning.
Would you have voted yes or no to the zoning change of Moore’s Stone Crab Restaurant from commercial to residential?
I would have voted not to rezone the property at this time. We should not be rezoning because of someone’s personal finances. But if the restaurant closed up and sat vacant for a couple of years, I would probably vote to rezone at that point because it’s sitting in the middle of a residential neighborhood.
What’s your position on beach renourishment or beach maintenance?
There’s going to come a time where the town can no longer afford beach renourishment. We will erode back to a shoreline. Sand is harder to find. We need to look toward some methods of preserving beaches and maintaining them. We also need to be working closely with the state on a more realistic basis to help slow the tidal flows that carry our sand away into the pass.
Does the town need a cell-phone tower on the north end of the island?
We need to enhance our cell-phone communication. If we don’t do something, we will end up with someone calling 911 and not being able to get through to our emergency services. I don’t advocate towers on Longboat Key, but a stealth tower that is camouflaged may be something that has to be looked into.
What are your thoughts on the Longboat Key Club and Resort’s Islandside renovation-and-expansion project?
I provided, in my opinion, a workable plan at the hearing that benefited everyone. I am very disappointed the club hasn’t looked toward moving the road north and restoring the driving range. But we need more hotel rooms, that’s for sure.
What’s your opinion on the commission’s decision to eliminate reviews for the town manager?
It’s not a good business practice. I would urge a review to be reinstituted.
What do you think about the commission’s decision to not hold early voting on the island this year for the upcoming election?
The lack of early voting tends to favor the incumbent. I am not opposed to a few days of early voting. But to carry it on for two weeks is too much and too expensive.
What’s your vision for the town?
We have lost a lot of tourism units and they support the businesses and amenities we all love. But the economy is going to impact how soon we can get more rooms. I would also like to see a more vibrant Avenue of the Flowers and Whitney Beach Plaza. We can work more with those plazas to see if we can help them, but we shouldn’t offer them tax incentives.
What makes you a better candidate for the taxpayers than your opponent?
I have a lot of respect for my opponent and I respect the time he has given to the community. But I don’t agree with him on some things. He tends to vote to raise taxes by saying services would be diminished if we don’t. I don’t believe that’s the case. And my opponent refuses to campaign and debate the issues in a public forum. So, I question whether he has a sincere commitment to continue to serve. Mr. Lenobel has served well for many years, but the island needs more vitality.
Contact Kurt Schultheis at [email protected].