Longboat elections: Who's in? Who's out? Who's in the running?
Four candidates for three seats set up the first contested election in four years.
| 8:00 a.m. November 22, 2022
The deadline for candidates to qualify for Longboat Key Town Commission elections passed at noon Monday with four people confirmed to run for three seats, setting up the town’s first contested election in four years.
Election Day is March 14.
Newcomer Deborah Murphy and incumbent Ken Schneier are running unopposed as commissioners-elect.
In District 5, the northernmost of the town’s five geographical districts, Murphy is in line to take over in March for Maureen Merrigan, who also serves the town as vice mayor but did not seek re-election.
“Having grown up in a family where community service is part of our DNA, I welcome the opportunity to make a contribution in maintaining the excellent quality of life Longboat Key residents expect,” Murphy wrote in an email.
She was one of the individuals who Merrigan approached after announcing her decision to not seek re-election.
No one filed for District 3, which means Schneier will remain for a second term.
“I have really enjoyed my time on the commission and my time as mayor,” he said. “I’ve enjoyed every bit of it.”
His decision to submit his name for the role again came from the knowledge that Town Manager Tom Harmer would be vacating his role in the new year. Howard Tipton will take over the seat in January.
“It’s almost a duty on my part to stay involved as Howard comes into the role,” Schneier said.
He hopes that as Harmer exits and Tipton enters he will be able to use the knowledge he has gained as mayor to aid in the transition.
Who’s in the running?
Both Jeff Lenobel, son of former mayor Hal Lenobel, and Gary Coffin, a member of the town's Planning and Zoning Board, have qualified in District 1, the southernmost of the town's five geographical districts, to take over the seat being vacated by Sherry Dominick, who chose not to seek a second term.
Coffin had previously decided to pull his name from candidates seeking election, but after an article in the Longboat Observer announced that decision, Coffin said he was “pounced on” with calls from friends and neighbors urging him to reconsider.
“I feel like my time on the (Planning and Zoning Board) is critical to the knowledge I would need to serve on the commission,” he said.
Coffin was appointed to his seat on the board in December 2020. The board has a history on the barrier island for serving as a pipeline to a seat on the commission.
Lenobel said he had no comment on the contested election.
Sherry Dominick and Maureen Merrigan decided against running for reelection, citing family and professional commitments.
Dominick was elected in 2020 when Randy Clair chose not to seek re-election. Family and professional commitments were at the forefront of her decision, she told fellow commissioners in Oct. She works as a Realtor with Michael Saunders and Co. on the south end of the Key.
Merrigan cited “increasing out-of-state family commitments” as a primary reason for vacating the seat at the expiration of her term.
Merrigan was appointed to the seat left vacant by Ed Zunz when he moved out of District 5 to another home on Longboat Key. She then ran unopposed to fill the remainder of Zunz’s term, one year.
How will it work?
Assuming the four who qualified stay the course, Murphy and Schneier will be considered commissioners-elect until they are sworn in on March 20, along with the winner of the contested race between Lenobel and Coffin.
Also, on that day, the newly seated Town Commission will choose a mayor and vice mayor from its ranks.
How has it gone before?
In the March 2022 elections, incumbents Mike Haycock, BJ Bishop and Maureen Merrigan were declared commissioners-elect when no one else opted to file before the Nov. 15, 2021 deadline.
In 2019, candidate Randy Langley dropped out of the commission race in January, which made Haycock a commissioner-elect less than two months before the election. Town code holds that if "less than 60 days remain before the date of the general town election, the remaining candidate shall be declared unopposed and no election for that office shall be required."