ANNA MARIA – The four candidates for three city commission seats answered questions and discussed their differences at the Anna Maria Island Sun Candidates Forum at city hall last week. There was civility during the hour-long meeting as the voters present listened to the answers.
Carol Carter began the opening statements with a brief bio and some of her goals. Carter, who lives on Willow Avenue, said she wants to re-establish a balance between the needs of the permanent residents, the businesses and the tourists. Carter, who became a full-time resident in 2006, said she wants the city to enforce the beach laws, traffic laws and regulations that protect the ecosystem and get citizens to help monitor the city during the busy seasons. She believes the county should return more of the tax dollars it collects from the Island to projects here and she would like to see the Tourist Development Council back off the advertising that has drawn massive numbers of tourists to the once-sleepy small Island.
Doug Copeland first came to Anna Maria Island in 1961 with his parents.
“When I hit Anna Maria, I knew I’d found my paradise,” he said. He married his wife, Anna Maria Island Sun reporter Pat Copeland, in 1973 and they bought a house the next year. He said he first got involved in the city government, “When former mayor Ray Simchez suckered me into city politics.” Over the years, he developed a plan for the park by the Anna Maria Historical Society. He and a friend who had a golf course in east Manatee County planted a walking area at Bean Point and last year he was voted Anna Maria Citizen of the Year. He became a commissioner this year when he was appointed to replace John Quam, who moved to the mainland and he is busy working on a newly completed plan for Gulf Front Park to remove exotic plants. He is also seeking a grant to pay half of the expense and said there are a lot of grants he would like to pursue.
Michael Jaworski has been married for 43 years and they honeymooned on the Island in 1971.
“We returned every year and now we live here,” he said. He belongs to Turtle Watch, Roser Church and served the county during elections.
“I believe balance must be achieved while supporting and protecting the past,” he said.
Dale Woodland has been a commissioner for 10 years.
“I’m pretty much running on my past record,” he said. “This is the best job I ever had. I grew up here and I get to serve the city.”
Woodland said former mayor Simchez also got him interested in city government and he loves working with people.
“I am blessed by the people talking to me and who feel they can,” he said. He said not a lot of people come to the meetings and he suggested they allow public comment at the start of meetings since one person at a meeting waited two hours to make a comment.
The questions, the answers
The first question was about the condition of the streets in the city.
Copeland said every year Holmes Beach budgets to repave streets regularly, which keeps them in good shape. He said Anna Maria is starting to budget for the worst roads.
Jaworski said now that the economy is rebounding and property values are soaring, the city should be able to budget more for roads. He said he is not in favor of paving everything since it would prevent stormwater from leaching into the ground properly.
Woodland said he spoke with former Holmes Beach Mayor Rich Bohnenberger about the city’s 10-year plan where they budget to pave one-tenth of the roads every year. He would like Anna Maria to do the same.
Carter said the city might work with the private sector and get some funding from developers who use the roads and maybe the county.
The next question was on paid parking.
Jaworski said he had a plan that included no parking in the rights of way and he said there isn’t room for more parking and they should have thought of that earlier and he offered this scenario.
“If you come early you can find a parking space,” he said. “If you come late you might be out of luck. Then you could use Manatee County Beach or Coquina Beach.”
Woodland is in favor of paid parking.
“We have a lot more impact on our infrastructure now and I think generating some revenue from visitors would be reasonable,” he said.
Carter said she favors no parking in the rights of way, although that might vary by the time of year it is. She would also like to consider parking in an auxiliary location and have people take carts to the beach.
Copeland is not in favor of banning parking from rights of way because it would be a burden on residents who have visitors and they would not be able to park at their homes. He wants to increase the fines for parking tickets.
“With the fines we have now, we bring in around $81,000 per year,” he said. “We talked about doing away with (loading and) unloading zones at the beach. Maybe that would encourage them to go to Coquina Beach, where they have facilities for that.”
The next question asked how the residents could benefit from increased tourism.
Woodland said he is in favor of taxing rentals, but a state statute prohibits that. He said the noise from rentals has abated because real estate and property management offices have adopted new rules to inform tenants about what they can and cannot do.
Carter wants the city commission to meet with the county commissioners and talk about them helping the city deal with the problems.
Copeland said the most the city might expect would be money for tourist attractions.
“We have the biggest tourist attraction in the county in the city pier but if we don’t do something with it, it might end up in the bottom of the bay,” he said.
Jaworski said the city commission needs to figure out where money from the TDC could be best spent and then approach the county commission. He said the TDC does its budgeting two years in advance, so they need get into the plan soon.
The candidates were asked which codes are lax in enforcement and which they would like to see enforced.
Carter said beach ordinances and building code enforcement may not be all it should be.
“I hear of developers being one step ahead of the codes,” she said. “I think that because we have so much building right now, I can’t see how the staff can keep up.”
Copeland defended Building Official Bob Welch and Code Enforcement Officer Gerry Rathvon, but the way they enforce codes might need tightening.
“Our code enforcement is on a reactive, instead of proactive basis - if there’s no complaint, there’s no investigation, no hearing, no consequence,” he said. “If citizens don’t file complaints, there’s nothing we can do.”
Jaworski suggested getting help on code enforcement from college students and he said the most abuse of the codes he sees is when builders park in the right of way at a job site.
The candidates were asked to assess the city’s efforts to get a handle on residential rentals.
Jaworski said residents in all three cities are fed up with abusive renters. He said, however, the rental agencies are doing a good job of informing renters of the law.
Woodland said the city has always had renters and he doesn’t want to restrict them.
Carter said the city needs to be savvy about how some rental agents are abusing the system.
Copeland said they can continue to enforce the laws.
“A lot of people like my parents rented for years before they moved down here,” he said. “It’s up to neighbors to report when things are not as they should be.”
During wrapup, Woodland said they are doing everything they could.
“No amount of money is going to impact the quality of life,” he said. “We’re going to have to play a more active role in taking care of more problems with enforcement.”
Carter said she is ready to serve.
“I believe now is the time for me to work for you in the city,” she said. “I have resigned my full time job as national fund raiser for Feeding America.” Carter said her signs say she CARES, which stands for
Carter – Anna Maria City – Refocus – Enforcement.
“My campaign promise is, I will listen with open heart to every citizen who has a complaint,” Jaworski said. “I want to be proud of our past and proud of our future.”