HOLMES BEACH – A capacity crowd heard five of the city’s candidates tell about themselves and respond to questions posed by readers at last week’s Candidates’ Forum sponsored by The Sun.
Commission candidates are incumbents John Monetti and Sandy Haas-Martens and challengers Judy Titsworth and Marvin Grossman. Monetti was unable to attend the forum, but sent a statement to be read.
Mayoral candidates are incumbent Rich Bohnenberger and challenger Carmel Monti.
The two commission candidates and the mayoral candidate with the highest number of votes in the Nov. 6 election will be seated.
Responses are in the order they were given at the forum.
Grossman: He said the overdevelopment of the two-family district is the big problem, and the commission has not been responsive to citizens’ pleas for help. He said they should strictly enforce the codes on the books, consider new codes and listen to the suggestions of the city planner.
“All of us can come together as stewards of our beautiful barrier island to put in place a vision statement that will blend together the old and the new while maintaining our authentic old Florida lifestyle.”
Bohnenberger: He said he has been a resident for 23 years and on the board as a commissioner and mayor for 16 years. He said the big problem is the state law limiting regulations on rentals, which makes city officials “function with one hand tied behind our backs.” He said he is working with legislators to repeal it. He said rentals have created problems with intensity of use, but “if we act on short-term rentals, we could lose all of our restrictions.”
Titsworth: She said she grew up in Holmes Beach and is the third generation of the Holmes family, for which the city is named.
“Although change is inevitable, not all change is good. The residential character of Holmes Beach is quickly being replaced by resort housing. It is up to the residents to inform the city fathers what direction we’d like our city to take. I believe for the last five years, the residents’ cries have been falling on deaf ears.”
Haas-Martens: She said she has lived on the Island since 1969 and been a commissioner since 1998 and has worked with local elected officials and the state legislative delegation.
“Few communities have fared as well as the Island during the economic downturn. Holmes Beach has and continues to be economically stable. We have been very good stewards with your money. There’s a lot of things we do that you don’t see or think of besides the big house issue.”
Monti: He said he grew up in a small town with a sense of community and history, much like the Island. He put himself through school, served in the Peace Corps and had career in the photo and eyewear businesses.
“I have a lot of experience in running businesses and understand what it takes to run a business. The city has to be run like a business. You have to have accountability and responsibility to do this job properly.
Q: What are the two major issues facing the city?
Bohnenberger: Short-term rentals and putting new police hires in the state pension plan so once they retire, the city is no longer responsible.
Titsworth: Resort housing and the building department’s interpretation of the codes.
Haas-Martens: It’s not just rentals; it’s the bigger picture –the police pension, the reserves, home rule, keeping taxes low.
Monti: Tighten up laws on new and existing structures, enforce the laws on the books and hold officials accountable.
Grossman: Enforce the codes and pass laws for the R-2 district that will regulate size and other things that create problems.
Q: Some say that the city is changing from one of a residential city to one of non-residential, investor owned properties built for weekend beach parties. If you think this is a problem, how would you work to resolve it and preserve the city’s residential character? If you do not agree that it is a problem, explain why.
All agreed it is a problem.
Titsworth: They wouldn’t have been there if we had followed the rules.
Haas-Martens: We’ve been working on the noise, trash and parking problems, but we can’t take away people’s rights to build duplexes.
Monti: Uphold the laws and make sure people understand what the laws are, whether it’s the rental agent, the building code or city hall, and we have to follow through.
Grossman: Do something and not wait a year until you act.
Bohnenberger: We have expanded code enforcement, education of rental agents and increased parking requirements.
Q: What do you think about the county’s promotion and marketing of the Island as a tourist destination?
Haas-Martens: They are putting some of the focus on sports on the mainland, but people are going to continue to come to the beach.
Monti: It’s a tourist attraction and should remain one, but it’s a matter of balancing the type of housing for rentals and residents so you don’t create more problems.
Grossman: We’re attracting the wrong kind of tourists. We should be attracting eco-tourists and foreign tourists.
Bohnenberger: More of the tourist tax money should come back to the Island, and they should have developed other areas on the bay side that could serve as beach accesses.
Titsworth: I have a hard time with the heavy advertising. Twenty years ago, I dreaded snowbirds; now I embrace them.
Q: Several focus groups were formed and gave their suggestions to the city. What do you think are the best of the suggestions and how should they be implemented?
Monti and Titsworth said they were not involved in the focus groups, but Titsworth said the commission should have involved the city planner.
Bohnenberger said the mayor's role is administrative not legislative, and the commission should have had a work session on the suggestions with the city attorney present.
Grossman: There were great suggestions, but no one followed through.
Haas-Martens: My focus group was code enforcement and we are not afraid to give out tickets, are working with the rental agents, got rear door trash pick up and are working on parking.
Q: Bradenton Beach and Anna Maria contract with an outside company for their building official. Would you like to see this implemented in Holmes Beach?
Grossman, Titsworth and Monti said yes and that the city should have an objective and independent building official and inspector.
Haas-Martens and Bohnenberger said no and that the current building official is professional and knowledgeable.
Q: Holmes Beach has spent $17,000 suing its neighbor over a fence that affects very few citizens. Are you in agreement with that?
Bohnenberger: It’s not about the fence; it’s about the illegal transfer of public property to a private entity. Under our oath of office, we are required to uphold the constitutional laws of the state.
Titsworth: I had hoped that it could have been resolved. They are our neighbors, and it could have been a round table discussion.
Haas-Martens: We had a round table; we tried everything we could. You can’t give away public property. We had to do something. It affects all our residents.
Monti: My inclination is if you sit down over a cup of coffee, it could be worked out. I heard the attempts that we made were very caustic, aggressive and adversarial. I totally disagree with spending that money.
Grossman: I heard there was no compromise, but I hear stories from different people. I think it could be settled now. I will try if elected.
Q: Some rental agents list ground floor game and rec rooms. Doesn’t this expose residents to FEMA violations and the risk of losing their insurance discount?
Monti and Grossman said agents advertise game rooms, but use them to accommodate more people, and they should stop advertising them, and Haas-Martens said she is not sure if it’s a FEMA violation.
Bohnenberger said advertising game rooms could trigger a FEMA investigation, and the city should take that section out of the code and replace it with the FEMA manual by reference.
Titsworth said it’s the intensity of the use and that if the city continues to ignore FEMA, it could begin inspecting properties.
Monti: I represent the many not the few. There are too many special interest groups and the tails are wagging the dog. It goes back to leadership and following what’s on the books and executing it.
Grossman: We’re at a crossroads – party city or authentic old Florida. I pledge to enforce the city codes and work for major solutions to the overdevelopment. Let’s make our vision become a true reality and save the Island for future generations.
Bohnenberger: It’s a matter of getting our hands around the problem, dealing with the state legislature and getting our citizens’ rights restored. I think we’ve been accountable to the taxpayers and done a reasonably good job, and in another two years, we can continue to do better.
Titsworth: The real problem is that we the people have not done our civic duty. The solution is to fulfill our civic responsibility to respect the law, get involved in the community, watch over our government and seek good leaders to represent us.
Haas-Martens: When I decided to run for commission, I said I have the time and the ability, I’m honest, I’m fiscally responsible and I have common sense. I have taken classes to increase my knowledge of how we run the city. We need to be active and reach out to the other cities.