Holmes Beach commission candidates speak out

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HOLMES BEACH – The five commission candidates in Holmes Beach are prepared to tackle the issues facing the Island city.

Candidates came together Oct. 17 at Holmes Beach City Hall for The Anna Maria Island Sun’s candidate forum. Sun readers didn’t hold back any punches and candidates gave their responses, including plans if elected, to some of the challenges making their way to city hall. The five candidates vying for four commission seats are Marvin Grossman, Rick Hurst, Jim Kihm, Pat Morton and Carol Soustek. Here are some of their comments.

Holmes Beach Commission candidates
Rick Hurst, Pat Morton, Marvin Grossman, Jim Kihm and Carol Soustek are running for Holmes Beach Commission.- Mike Field | Sun

Does Holmes Beach need more green space?

Carol: “I’m for buying anything that comes available to us. And it’s not because I have a reason to use it today, it’s because I think we’ll have a use for it in the future. I was thinking today, if we’d had the foresight to buy Pete Reynard’s lot, what a difference that intersection would be looking like about now. So just because we don’t have a reason right before us doesn’t mean we won’t have a need and a reason later on. And we have the money to do it. So let’s think more into the future than in just the present.”

Marvin: “We always need more green space. We have the biggest green space of any city I’ve ever been in; it runs right along the Gulf. It’s a little bit in from the beach and we’ve left it, we’ve kept it that way. In fact, I’ve planted native flowers out there… I think as events come up we will then see if we need any more. I think it’s referring to buying vacant land, vacant lots and I feel like there has to be a use for it, at least in the distant future.”

Pat: “We’ve got to look into now and the future. I agree, we have to be very smart about what we buy and if it’s going to be feasible. Like Carol said, there’s that big ‘if’, if we’d done this, if we’d done that. That can hurt us. You have to keep it within a price range we can work with… We have to be very smart about how we spend our money because it’s your guys’ money also.”

Jim: “My opinion is it doesn’t fit within the long-term vision for the city. I’m concerned about speculating in land purchases and I’m also concerned about how this whole process has evolved… What I would hope is that we have a reason for it.”

Rick: “It’s something I haven’t really thought about but I agree with Marvin in that to get more green space we need to buy more and to buy more greenspace there needs to be a justification. I would be somewhat against buying more green space.”

As a commissioner, how do you think you could help the city bring back more full-time residents?

Carol: “We could go kidnap them, I guess. I think that slowly we can bring them back. It’s going to be a different type of resident. It’s going to be a resident that can work from home on his Internet because traffic precludes a lot of traffic back and forth from the island for a normal job. I also think that we appeal to a lot of retirees and that has always been good for us here. I think now that we’re beginning to put some management into the party houses and such the stigma that it’s too loud or it’s a party town has gone away and I think that will draw more. It’s hard because it’s expensive out here so it’s going to be a limited choice.”

Carol Soustek
– Mike Field | Sun

Marvin: “I’ve given this a lot of thought… If you want a community you have to work toward it and I think it’s time we worked toward this community. I have quite a few ideas how to do it… We’re going to have to make some changes to make our community so desirable that people will move here from all over the world.”

Pat: “Look at the price or the cost of living out here. It’s way out of hand… We no longer have affordable housing out here and I don’t think we’re ever going to get it back.”

Jim: “I think the commission has done some things recently with trying to limit the number of bedrooms you can have to try to stop the growth we’ve had with the big party houses. We have a noise ordinance on the book that I’d like to see more strongly enforced. I think we need to do something. We have a high percentage here on the Island of the properties that are rentals. It’s very difficult and the impact is in our school where 50 percent of the students come from off-island and the community center, you read about the problem’s they’re having in the paper. If we don’t have residents, it’s not practical for young families to be here.”

Rick: “I think first we need to understand that our pool of potential residents is basically the renters and visitors that come here. I think we need to embrace them more and not villainize them as much as we are. We need more community activities. We’ve watched it go away… I think people come to visit and they see this just as a place to vacation. We’ve lost our sense of community… If you can work from home, I don’t buy the cost of living because I know a lot of people who make a lot of money and can afford the price of houses here.”

What is your vision for Holmes Beach in the future?

Carol: “I envision a clean city, a clean air city. I envision where the city runs on electric or solar power. I envision a city that has a community that shows respect for one another and enjoys the whole living experience of this island. A lot of that is here now. I’m involved in a lot of environmental things and I’m amazed at the dedication that exists in small groups. I think that I’m looking for a community of balance where you can manage your growth and you can work to solve the new issues and they come in and not always be under pressure from outside greed. That’s kind of my utopia.”

Marvin: “We live in paradise. We need to make it better and better. That’s the direction we need to go in, just make it better for us to enjoy and live here.”

Pat: “My vision is that we try to make a unit out here called ‘residents.’ The cost of living is a deterrent. With the cost of living, the average family isn’t going to make it out here. There’s going to be somebody who’s making some good money or someone who’s retired with a lot in retirement. We have nothing to bring residents here. We need to have some more community stuff.”

Jim: “One of the things I’d like to see when I’m elected to the commission is the planning commission; we need a group here of concerned citizens to work together on a collective vision for our city five years, 10 years from now to face the problems facing our city in the future.”

Rick: “I envision a city where visitors and residents live in harmony. Residents can have a quiet life… I would hope again that we can bring the community together. There really are great people here. I really hope we can do those things.”

Do you think the city’s vacation rental program initiative is effective?

Carol: “I am the liaison to the code enforcement officers and I am extremely pleased with our officers… This program is ensuring the safety of the visitors who come here. This program is working. The code enforcement officers are so good that all the rental companies are working with them, they’re not fighting them.”

Marvin: “The program so far is working good… They’re finding health and safety problems and that’s what the program was designed to do.”

Pat: “Our code enforcement officers under the guidance of our chief are doing a super job. They’re out there finding things no one even knew about… I wish we would’ve had this four or five years ago.

Jim: “I think the program is working… This is a big program for the city but I think it’s going to pay some dividends for us. I think it’s going to get some properties into the fold, raise the level of awareness that we have, and bring people into compliance. I think that the larger rental companies want to be in compliance, they want all their properties to be in compliance. I think the problem we have is some properties still flying under the radar… We need to be vigilant.”

Rick: “I think the beauty of this program is we’re identifying properties we didn’t know about. Once we identify them, we can check them for safety issues. I think it’s a great program.”

Are there any items on this year’s budget that you disagree with or any that you feel are missing?

Carol: “Behind the scenes, each commissioner spends a lot of time with the mayor and questioning Lori Hill who makes a lot of the figures come together and this is a process of over two months or more… When we bring the budget forward, we have two public hearing where you can come and question anything… It’s a lot of work and it’s not perfect because you don’t have the final figures… I’m proud of what we did.”

Marvin: “I would like to see dedicated money for our dog park. It’s used by more citizens than any other park combined in our city, yet it’s like the stepchild of our city. We’re going to put it in the budget… We’ll get it done this year.”

Pat Morton, Marvin Grossman
Pat Morton, Marvin Grossman – Mike Field | Sun

Pat: “The budget could be tweaked but Lori Hill did an excellent job getting the figures together along with the mayor and back to the chief. They put their heads together and came back to us with a very good budget.”

Jim: “There are a couple things with the budget. The first one is the purchase of green space, the Gloria Dei property and the way it’s been done. Rather than putting it up for a vote of the commission, yea or nay if they want to move forward with a $1.3 million acquisition of the property, the city has decided they are going to approve contracts for two appraisals for $5,000 and a $50,000 contract to have some attorney draw up language for a bond to purchase it. So what you’re doing being asked to do as a community is not approve $1.3 million but very surreptitiously there’s $105,000 in this year’s budget, it will be in every budget for the next 13 years, to purchase this property. Nobody on the commission has said that they haven’t put that up for your vote either. I think that’s a miss.”

Rick: “To me, it’s a challenging question because I’ve been in business and I’ve dealt with budgets… One of the things near and dear to me is the community and with that comes the Center. They are having financial difficulty. I just think the back and forth is not amenable. I think we need to act more reasonably and resolve this.”

What do you feel is the city’s responsibility to the Center of Anna Maria Island? What role do you see the city taking if the Center fails?

Carol: “I have not thought about the Center failing totally. That would be a very bad blow. There are some very talented people down there and I hope they can get it together. The city’s responsibility is to watch carefully what happens down there. We can’t tell them what to do, that’s their prerogative. I think we’ve been very disappointed up here that we’ve had to wrestle with it as a problem rather than an asset and it has become a problem. Honestly, in the last few months, I’ve been very discouraged that they will be able to pull it out.”

Marvin: “Part of the problem is the model they’re trying to be. The city’s changed. They’re trying to be a charity. We don’t need a charity on this Island, we need a community center that’ll serve all the population. They don’t need that overhead they have and they’re not going to give that up as long as the people giving the money are in charge. They’re looking at it as the way it’s been the last five, six years, not the way it was when it started. They’ve got to go back to where they started and start over again.”

Pat: “When I was first on the commission I was the liaison for the community center. I’ve seen what it was back then, it was a real community center. The city needs to be able to help them out. When the city helps them out, we’re helping our residents who have small children… If the community center were to go down, that would be devastation for this whole Island.”

Jim: “My thoughts are I’m a small government kind of guy. I look to the government to do things we can’t do as individuals. As far as picking charities, I’m perfectly able to do that on my own. I don’t need the city’s help to do that. Taking taxpayer funds and deciding who it goes to and in the Center’s case, to date they so far haven’t demonstrated being able to handle their own money, little less someone else’s. They don’t seem to have a plan, they don’t have a vision. They want to be everything to everyone. They have a big staff, they have a lot of expenses and with their funding model being over half donations, they’re having trouble getting people to donate.”

Rick: “As you can tell, I’m a supporter there… I’m not associated with the Center in any way, shape or form. I think it’s important to the community… I think any city who gives money should have a seat on the board… They are one of the most polarizing topics in this community. It’s crazy. We need to work it out.”

Do you believe it’s important to have some involvement with city government before running for city commission?

Carol: “I’m happy when anybody volunteers for the city, it doesn’t matter in what capacity. The fact that they take the time and step up to help the city is fine with me. This position, when we make decisions up here it affects people’s lives, not just now but later down the road. So the more you learn about how this Island ticks and how the residents think and what they need, you have to be involved in the community as a whole. And that comes from attending meetings, joining committees and helping the city in smaller ways. To just jump on and think that past education can help you, it probably could, but if you have a feeling for this city it probably will help you a lot more.”

Marvin: “If somebody does a lot of things before and we see they’re participating, they’re more likely to do it again… If I had a choice, I would rather see someone who comes into meetings, who participates in the city and who knows a little more about it.”

Pat: “I’m not a politician, I’m an elected official elected by the citizens of the city and I respond to who they are, not who I am. You may be the highest educated person in the world, but do you have the skill set to put it down and be the common person, to understand the common people we have out here on this Island? We have a lot of super nice residents out here. Education doesn’t mean a thing as long as you can get your job done up here on the dais. I’ve always stuck with our citizens.”

Jim: “I think if you want a position on the commission you have to take part in what goes on here… I’ve been attending meetings ever since we moved here. I attend meetings, I speak out.”

Rick: “Naturally I’m going to say no. Naturally, it would help. Overall I consider myself someone who learns quickly… I’m a pretty quick study. Yeah, I might be behind by a month but I believe I can catch up pretty quickly. I have the skill set and I think the innate skill and experiences are more important.

What proposed city project tops your priority list if elected, and why?

Carol: “I guess I’m going to cycle back that my concern for the city is to continue pursuing the TDC tax distribution which is not being distributed… The other is the traffic. I’ve been to several meetings and the study seems to be concentrating on this park and ride… I would like to see a concentrated effort with all the cities who are working together now to put pressure on getting the employees who work out here transportation back and forth.”

Marvin: “First one is the dog park. The next one is not quite as well formed out and I can’t quite see what it is but we created rules, we created restrictions for our vacation rentals. Now we have to finish the job. We have to talk to our visitors and figure out how to bring them into the fold.”

Pat: “Number one, our stormwater. We’ve hired Lynn Burnett to come into our city as an engineer which we probably should’ve had 10 years ago. Our system is totally in a shambles. It’s starting to come back to what we need for our citizens out here. When it rains at the wrong time, at high tide, we’re going to go snorkeling out here. But it’s been improving tremendously. The second thought is we need some form of bicycle trail, some way to make it safer for bicycles out here.”

Jim: “I don’t have any pet project per se, but what I’d like to see is an improvement in our process. Right now we have a lot of capital projects on our books and there’s not a lot of reporting to citizenry about the status of those projects.”

Rick: “I do agree with the stormwater drainage. I’m starting to see water on my street, Key Royale where I didn’t a month ago. It’s getting better, it’s getting worse… I know there’s a schedule but I don’t know what we can do to accelerate that.”

How would you propose settling the lawsuits that are currently facing the city?

Carol: “The League of Cities and our lawyers are very sure of themselves. We wouldn’t have made this agreement if we weren’t assured that we were protecting the city and the residents in the city.”

Marvin: “You don’t make people necessarily happy because they tend to want more. We’re in a good position. We’ve worked the last five years for the residents. The residents need the quiet enjoyment of their homes and that’s where we stand. If it comes out with the Bert Harris that we need to do something then we’ll do something then. I’m not ready to give up right now. We’ve had two people per bedroom in our comprehensive plan for years… If you have to compromise I guess, but I think we’re going to win.”

Pat: “We need to find out what is going to be applicable to us. Every city’s going to be different.”

Jim: “I support the city’s position in pursuing these cases through the courts to see how the court finds. We’ll get our first couple of verdicts and then see where we go from there. I think we should follow all of that through.”

Rick: “From what I understand the idea is to throw them all out there and see how they survive in court, which is not a bad plan. On the occupancy, I don’t think two plus two is a bad plan either.”

Do you believe the city’s planning commission is being utilized effectively?

Carol: “The planning commission is working on the vision statement right now and that’s an important prelude into the LDC and the comprehensive code. They’re adjusting to the demands of the position that they hold. I think they are working very well together.”

Marvin: “There’s a number of functions they can fulfill. The vision plan right now is a great one, because this will give us some kind of direction with input from the residents of our city.”

Pat: “I think it’s been one of the most underutilized committees we have out here. Now we’re slowly getting them back to work… They’ve given us some good directions the last couple of times.”

Jim: “I think that’s something that’s very necessary is to have a vision for where we see our city… I think the planning commission needs to continue on with their work and maybe expand.”

Rick: “I really don’t have a lot of experience with this group but I have some experience with the members… To be honest with you, I need to learn more about what they do.”

Do you think the Holmes Beach contract with Waste Pro to pick up storm debris is sufficient to meet the needs of the city and how much longer do you think it will be before the (Hurricane Irma) debris is completely cleared?

Carol: “We were so lucky we worked on that contract before the storm. I think we’ve all learned the problems that we’re going to face when we have a storm. We weren’t prepared for a lot of that. I think that they could do better, but I don’t think they have the equipment to do any better… They didn’t prepare correctly for this. So we’ve learned.”

Marvin: “We should’ve gotten this done the first week. Then I thought, am I willing to pay for this myself. There’s just so many trucks you can have or demand a company have for special occasions so we sort of have to understand… I don’t think our community would be willing to double our bills just to get it done a little bit faster. We have to understand there’s a lot of trash out there and it takes a lot of time to run back and forth.”

Pat: “How long it’s going to take is how long it’s going to take. We have the possibility of about another two more weeks. With our city commission, we set up our city ordinance so we could have Waste Pro pick this up. Granted, it was underestimated how much we have out there. It’s over 200 tons of debris picked up on this Island already. We’re at about 70 percent completed already with 30 percent left to pick up… That’s a lot of debris to pick up.”

Jim: “I kind of applaud Mayor Dan Murphy for thinking outside the box and hiring his own contractors… The devil’s in the details with the contract we have with Waste Pro. It seems to be that they don’t have the equipment. I’m not sure what the plan was to start with but if the plan was to pick up debris after a hurricane we were woefully short. Maybe there are some lessons learned.”

Rick: “I’d like to add that adding to this challenge is there are some people that are just doing cleanup and it’s nothing to do with storm cleanup… It’s a challenge.”

If elected or re-elected, what would be your first item of business?

Carol: “The franchise businesses, that’s still a lot of work to be done on that… We need all the help we can get on that.”

Marvin: “I’m going to get the money for the dog park. We’re going to finish the franchise agreement, probably within the next month.

Pat: “Unity amongst us here will go a long way. You’re never going to get anything done by ‘I’. ”

Jim: “I’d like to extend a spirit of cooperation to my fellow commissioners.”

Rick: “First thing I would do is what I’ve been talking a lot about which is focus on the community. So, number one, I would ask Carol if she would give up her liaison-ship to the Center and I would like to be the liaison. If we can get them, which I think we can, to give us a seat on the board I would like to ask to be that board member and then I would report back to the commission.”

Election Day is Tuesday, Nov. 7.