Two Fort Myers Beach area candidates vying for a district seat and an incumbent seeking re-election on the Lee County Board of County Commissioners answered issue-related questions at a BOCC candidate forum hosted by the Southwest Florida Young Republicans at Ballyorney Irish Pub on Tuesday, April 3.
Five total BOCC hopefuls -District 1's John Manning (incumbent); District 3's Ray Judah (incumbent), Charlie Whitehead and Larry Kiker; District 5's Sonny Haas and Frank Mann (incumbent)- filled the panel. Primary elections are set for Aug. 14, 2012, while general elections are on Nov. 6, 2012.
All candidates began with short introductions and then faced seven questions (four included below), before offering closing arguments.
Lee County Commissioner Ray Judah (incumbent) and Charlie Whitehead listen to Larry Kiker (all District 3 candidates for BOCC) answer a question at a recent BOCC candidate forum.
Here is a capsule look at the remarks made by the three District 3 candidates:
n Judah: "I have always had a sense of purpose and a strong work ethic in meeting the needs of our community. I have also helped to bring infrastructure to this community and any manageable number of assets and amenities, while championing the protection of our land and water resources and helping to recruit corporations and allowing existing businesses to expand. I've been helping to keep our families employed so that everybody has the ability to meet that dream and the quality of life they deserve."
Judah has been representing District 3 on the county commission since 1988.
n Whitehead: "As a long-time newspaper reporter covering the Lee County Commission, I think I understand the issues as well as those that have been there. I've lived for all that time right at the foot to Fort Myers Beach. I believe we need someone who will build consensus on the county commission, which is something we are currently sorely lacking. I believe I would be really good at this job, or I wouldn't be running for it."
Whitehead spent 25 years as a newspaper reporter covering Lee County Commission and is a member of the Fort Myers Beach Little League board of directors as well as coach and umpire.
n Kiker: "I have been a republican business man for 35 years. I have had enough conversations with folks who want to know the difference between myself and the folks I am running against. I think my incumbent has been in the system as a bureaucrat for a while. He first ran as a democrat 23 years ago, and I believe he thinks about big government. The difference is priceless. I am about fiscal responsibility and fiscal leadership. That is why I am running."
Kiker is a two-term Beach Councilman and has served as mayor for five years.
1.Question: What is you plan for covering future budget shortfalls?
n Judah: Clearly what the county has proceeded to do over the last several years is recognize that we need to reduce and cut. We have reduced our employee work force some 16 percent by 444 employees and our operating budget by some $94 million in expenses. The reserves are important in balancing the budget, but we also have to continue with the reduction of operating expenses by continuing to ratchet down departmentally with regards to increased efficiencies. We have added a tremendous infusion of money into our economy."
n Whitehead: "To me, I would rather have those multi-million dollar reserves in the pockets of the taxpayers from whom they were collected, then in the bank accounts of the county government. That just seems to make sense to me. How do you cut expenses? You stand up all of your priorities side by side, and you decide what you really want to spend money on. You don't segregate a fund over here. You look at everything you do and decide what matters to you the most. Frankly, I don't see that being done."
n Kiker: "If you look back four years ago, wasn't there a recession going on? There has been a reduction in revenue to the tune of 45 percent in those four years, and we've decrease expenses by 10 to 15 percent. I don't think you can run a business like that. When you start taking a look at all these big government programs going on, these (commissioners) are not slowing down whatsoever. We need fiscal leadership."
2.Question: How do you invite blue collar manufacturing jobs in Lee County?
n Judah: "Instead of relying on agriculture, tourism and construction, we have really diversified by bringing in companies and allowing other existing businesses to expand. They provide 1 times the average value of salary. We have been able to diversify our economic base and must in order to stabilize and have sustainability for long-term prosperity into our future
n Whitehead: "We did not create long term jobs at JetBlue, because we already had those jobs at the City of Palms, which stands empty today. I want our money back from Algenol. I think we took $10 million that was suppose to go to create jobs on the short term and invested it in alternative energy. If you are going to invest in alternative energy, say we are going to invest in alternative energy. That is not what we did."
n Kiker: "I'm a small business owner, and I know one thing -88 percent of all job creation happens at local existing businesses. Why are we sending money somewhere else? There are three things we can do. We need to cut impact fees, so we can get construction and development industry folks back to work again. We need to cut down on our regulations, so that it is easy for people in this county to do business again. And, we need to cut taxes on special programs and get money back into the economy. If you want money in the coffer, you have to stimulate business."
3.Question: What is your position on the Conservation 20/20 program?
n Whitehead: "I think the program was badly needed, successful for a while, but frankly the rules that hamstring the program are ridiculous. I believe it should be put back in front of the voters and asked if it has run its course or if it should be continued."
n Kiker: "There have been some good deals on property, but certainly not all of them. One involves a gentleman who bought a piece of property for $4 million, got it appraised at $2 million, and we paid $16 million for it. Go back to the voters and ask them if they want to keep spending their money."
n Judah: "I sorely promoted it and will continue to promote its existence. It's absolutely critical to protect our critical water supplies and provide the quality of life that keeps us from being the type of community on the east coast with the incredible density and intensity that has ruined the quality of life in that area. It's a fair system, and we have never paid an excess of the appraised value."
4.Question: If elected, what are your two top priorities?
n Judah: "Jobs, jobs, jobs. We need to re-double our efforts. The private sector creates the jobs, but the public sector primes the pump. The other issue has to do with balancing the budget. We need to reduce operating costs, look at ways to provide greater efficiencies. We need to make certain that, with the health care insurance program, we reduce those costs."
n Whitehead: Jobs and money. Taxes need to be low, the budget needs to be lower, and we have to do something to put people back to work. I believe truck drivers needs to work the same as drywallers and as the same as millionaire ballplayers."
n Kiker: Balance the budget. It's past time. We need to do something with it now, and we have to reduce expenses. The second thing, which I believe is the most important, is to set priorities. We need to match up priorities on how we are using our resources on the county with your tax dollars."
Closing comments -
n Judah: "No matter what your viewpoint, it is important for everybody to be engaged in the political process. I'm very proud of the fact that I always feel like I have been a public servant, not only in my years in office but also throughout the community. I'm really thankful I have had the opportunity to champion the real important needs to protect our land and water resources to maintain our quality of life and also, over the last several years, to really step up with regards to get past the struggle of getting beyond agriculture, tourism and construction."
n Whitehead: "It is important that people get out and vote. I hope our dismal turnouts are going to be a thing of the past. I believe for those of us that are running against incumbents, the bigger the turnout the better. I am a builder of consensus. I believe in working with people to get along. I don't believe in throwing hand grenades and sniping with the people I am supposed to work with. I believe that 24 years is enough."
n Kiker: "This is a big decision, and it is important. I learned a long time ago that everything is about respect for the individual. That is where it has to start and end. That means that we have to respect what it is that you do, how you do it, who your money comes from and how you spend it, not how we spend it. We need to worry about each other. If you want big government thinking, deficit spending and special emphasis on special programs, I am not your guy. If you are looking for somebody that you think can run the county as a business and someone that can truly look at the difference between regular expenses, I'm your man. This is not an election; this is a hiring process. I hope you hire me."
The Southwest Florida Young Republicans group is comprised of young Americans age 18-40 who "love their country and wish to network and propagate conservative ideas throughout Southwest Florida."