- January 13, 2010
The Longbeach Village Association hosted five of the six candidates for Longboat Key Town Commission at the group’s Wednesday, March 3, meeting. Candidates fielded questions from group members about issues facing the Key.
One resident asked the two current commissioners what progress had been made on cell-phone service and asked the three challengers what they would do to improve service.
“Technology is improving,” said District 3 Commissioner Peter O’Connor. “Technology here, of course, is not improving.”
Mayor Lee Rothenberg, who represents District 1, described himself as “broadly opposed” to cell-phone towers.
“My feeling is let’s be patient,” he said.
Phil Younger, who is running against Commissioner Hal Lenobel for the at-large seat, said the north end was in need of enhanced service. Lenobel did not attend the debate.
David Brenner, challenger for the District 3 seat, said a public group should examine issue in a forum.
“You don’t want to end up with a life-and-death situation where you have a cell phone that doesn’t work,” he said.
Lynn Larson, running against Rothenberg for the District 1 seat, scoffed at the idea that north-end residents should be patient as they wait for improvements.
“Patients belong in a hospital,” said Larson, suggesting the town could work with Manatee County officials to develop stealth solutions.
One attendee asked Larson if she stood by her past comments suggesting that commissioners should be paid.
“I do not ever want to get paid as a commissioner, but pay is not unreasonable,” Larson said. “Someone who needs a job should not be prohibited from running as a commissioner because of the time requirement.”
Brenner said a public group should look into the issue but noted he did not see anything wrong with paying commissioners.
Younger said he would prefer not to burden taxpayers with commissioner salaries.
O’Connor said when he was first elected to the commission, he attended lengthy training sessions for public officials. The group attending the session was polled and found Longboat Key was the only town for which commissioners were in attendance that didn’t pay its elected officials.
“That only-ness of ours works to our advantage,” O’Connor said. “I think our position is solid the way it is.”
Rothenberg said he opposes pay for commissioners.
“It’s the labor of the heart,” he said. “We’re giving something back to the community now that we’re retired."
One resident asked commissioners about decaying, vacant properties that could result from declines in tourism and noted a recent report that tourism was up on Anna Maria Island but down on Longboat Key.
“Everybody is suffering, and there’s no quick answer,” Rothenberg said. “The answers lie in making Longboat the most attractive place in Florida so that people come here not just to live in condos six months out of the year but also as tourists.”
Younger suggested working with chambers of commerce to promote Longboat Key as a family-friendly place.
Brenner said residents should ask themselves how much tourism they want.
“Anna Maria Island is much more of a tourist town,” he said.
Larson said Longboat Key needs to be friendlier toward some type of development and said tourist units need to be replaced.
O’Connor said Anna Maria Island attracts different types of visitors than Longboat Key.
In response to a question about fixing the town’s pension plan, Younger said changes are needed to the current system.
Brenner expressed frustration that nothing has been done about the situation.
“The longer we delay, that $25 million liability continues to grow day by day,” he said.
Larson said the town could consider a switch to a defined contribution program while honoring commitments it made to current employees.
O’Connor said expecting a quick pension fix was unrealistic.
Both O’Connor and Rothenberg pointed out that a mortgage, like the pension plan, is an unfunded liability.
“Just like a mortgage, what you do is try to get a stable payment obligation,” Rothenberg said.
Contact Robin Hartill at [email protected].