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  • | 5:00 a.m. March 10, 2010
  • Longboat Key
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You wouldn’t think election campaigns in this idyllic, little island town for non-paid Town Commission seats would devolve into standard, American, behind-the-scenes, political cat fights.

Where’s Rodney “can’t we all get along?” King when you need him?

But this is normal. Look up Isaac, Ishmael, Jacob and Esau in the Book of Genesis.

To their credit, in public campaign forums, where five of the six candidates have appeared — incumbents Lee Rothenberg and Peter O’Connor and challengers David Brenner, Lynn Larson and Phillip Younger — the candidates have maintained civility among themselves. They refrained for the most part from direct name-calling at each other.

Sure, there have been a few occasions when audience members triggered the “children” in Brenner and Younger. At the same time, seldom did a forum go by where O’Connor didn’t leave a paper cut on someone with his vocal knife. Brenner wins for the most retorts (usually with a smile), but he also easily surpassed all of the candidates in showing the most intellectual energy and ideas. As we said last week, if you’re looking for a get-it-done man of action on the commission, he’s it.

All of the six candidates are good people. Longboat Key is always blessed having decent, bedrock candidates. And as their predecessors have, all of the candidates understand that, if elected, they are to represent and reflect the wishes of the people and make decisions on what is best to protect individuals’ constitutional rights and uphold the law.

As an aside, let’s be sure to make that distinction. Candidates often talk about “what is best for the town.”
Indeed, we’ve seen too many incumbent commissioners, past and present, evolve into voting as though “the town” is a collective being whose authority supersedes the individual. This is why, over the years, we have tended to favor newcomers challenging longtime incumbents, especially those commissioners whose judgments have shifted away from protecting individuals’ rights to viewing taxpayers as peasants begging for mercy in front of the seven-member tribunal.

Yes, experience and wisdom gained from sitting as a commissioner are often attractive qualities, certainly so in the incumbents Rothenberg, O’Connor and Lenobel. They know the process, politics and issues and are good people.

But whenever this justification — experience and wisdom — is pitched, as flippant as this may sound, we often invoke the words of one of Longboat Key’s illustrious activists of a decade ago, Rainer Josenhanss:
“There are no stupid people on Longboat Key.”

That may be an exaggeration. But we would agree with Josenhanss if you applied his saying to Town Commission candidates. Every one of them has demonstrated ample wisdom and has rich experiences, maybe not as a Town Hall insider, but certainly in fields that make them as qualified as anyone else to serve on a policy-making board. If they had not demonstrated competence and wisdom throughout their lives, they certainly wouldn’t be living here!

But this election is indeed different than others. Not because we have six candidates for the first time in two decades. It’s different because of what is at stake. We’ll agree this is the most important election in a generation. It’s a generational election, or a bridge election — a choice between what Longboat Key has been (incumbents) and what it’s future will be (challengers).

In general, the incumbents have the support of those opposed to the Key Club’s expansion, retirees behind the Islandside gates who like the way it is. The challengers have the support of those who favor the Key Club’s expansion, perhaps best symbolized by 45-year-old Rick Crawford, a Key Club member and resident of Sands Point Condominium, and Bob and Shannon Gault, career executives in the tourism/entertainment industry who have witnessed the positive effects on a community of new resort investment. No slight intended, but this election is old versus new.

Rothenberg/O’Connor versus Larson/Brenner.

The Lenobel/Younger race is more complicated. It fits on the fault line of old versus new, except for the Key Club. Lenobel and Younger both know new investment is crucial to Longboat Key’s future. They both appear to support it. Yet Younger has tainted his support by suggesting to extract $4 million in cash from the Key Club to build a new recreation center. This has colored our view. As Younger has noted, there are other issues.

Put all of this together. It requires a thoughtful evaluation. Which candidates are best for you, the individual; for your investment in this community; for your quality of life; and for the legacy for future generations?

Old versus new; past versus future.

+ Redgrave rebuke
The news story above illuminated a year ago facts of then-newly appointed planning board member John Redgrave’s unusual residency situation.

Even then, sitting members of the Longboat Key planning board expressed reservations to town commissioners of Redgrave’s appointment. Nevertheless, five commissioners, including the three incumbents in this year’s elections, overlooked Redgrave’s residency and disregarded urgings to appoint new candidates to the planning board.

The vote, which last week culminated in Redgrave’s forced resignation, essentially confirmed one of the persistent raps on the Town Hall community: that it’s a closed club. Not a positive reflection on the sitting Town Commission.

+ School tax: no-win game
Many supporters of public education find it heretical for anyone not to support extending the one-mill school property tax in Sarasota County.

We get all the arguments. But what no one wants to admit is Florida’s public-school structure is a no-win game. The State decides each local district’s property-tax rate to fund schools equally per student. The State dictates curricula and how money must be spent locally.

Special-interests in turn influence the State to require special programs, mandates and protections. This leads to a gazillion competing demands — programs for autism, pregnant teens, remediation, gifted students, the arts, science, sports, teacher tenure and on and on. Everyone expects his child to receive the same maximum resources.

But this can and will never happen.

Meanwhile, parents and taxpayers, who are funding the schools, have no control over how their school property-tax dollars are spent. If they complain to the school district, the district says, “Sorry, the State dictates what we can do. Go get the laws changed.”

For 30 years in Florida, there has been endless discussion of the sad state of public education and how we must reform. The place to start is to admit the truth: As long as the State allocates the money, we’ll always be disappointed.

Imagine the innovation and improvements if you gave taxpayers the freedom to control where their education dollars go.

The Club

The following appeared in the March 5, 2009, edition of The Longboat Observer.

+ Redgrave reappears
Former Key resident John Redgrave, who owns a residence in Sarasota and recently began renting a room from his son at his former apartment at The Players Club, was appointed to the Longboat Key Planning and
Zoning Board by the Town Commission Monday, March 2 by a 5-2 vote.

Only Commissioners Randall Clair and George Spoll voted for someone else: Key resident Gaele Barthold. Clair said he was surprised at how the vote played out.

“Other commissioners this past year have said we needed new blood on town boards,” Clair said. “We had a lot of good candidates, and I was trying to follow their suggestion.”

Clair was referring to Commissioners Lee Rothenberg and Joan Webster, who urged their fellow commissioners to consider board term limits after the commission rejected 11 newcomers seeking a board spot in May 2008. All 11 newcomers were rejected, and the commission voted unanimously to reappoint all eight incumbents to their current seats for another three-year term.

Webster defended her vote for Redgrave, who takes over the seat held by Patrizia Arends, a former Town Clerk and Key resident who submitted her resignation last month after making a move to Bradenton in February.

“John (Redgrave) has been gone long enough and he has gained additional experience after serving a four-year term on the Sarasota Manatee Airport Authority board,” Webster said. “The (planning) board needs someone that has the institutional knowledge of Longboat Key to make the proper decisions for this island in the future.”

Redgrave, a former planning board member, town commissioner and mayor for the town, transferred ownership of his Key condominium to his son, Martyn, in October 2004 for $170,000.

Town Clerk Trish Granger, however, confirmed that Redgrave is a registered voter on Longboat Key this year and part-time resident of the Key, which makes him eligible for the position.

Redgrave, who is still a member of All Angels by the Sea Episcopal Church and the Longboat Key Public Tennis Center, said he is anxious to immerse himself in the affairs of the planning board again.

“I am still involved here and committed to the future of this island,” Redgrave said.



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