Council candidates voice opinions at forum
The three Sanibel City Council candidates vying for two seats, had the opportunity to give their opinions on the issues directly to the public during the Candidate Forum, hosted by the League of Women Voters, Wednesday, Feb. 11, inside the Community House.
The three seeking two of the City Council’s seats include incumbent Jim Jennings, Frances Slane and Chauncey Goss.
The election will be Tuesday, March 3.
The moderator was Dr. Roger Green of Florida Gulf Coast University, as he asked some questions which stand on top of the City’s list of most concerning issues.
Each candidate was given the same amount of time to give their answers in front of a full Community House auditorium.
After introductions and backgrounds were given by each, Dr. Green started by asking the candidates their position of the Civic Core, the large project which has been being discussed by the City Council of constructing new facilities of BIG ARTS, the Community House and the Center for Life together in one area north of Periwinkle Way near City Hall and the Library.
Jennings, who has been a part of the discussion on the City Council when Civic Core was brought up, said he encourages the progression of the project, after facilities such as BIG ARTS, the Community House and the Center for Life all needed upgrades and more parking.
But he also added it will ultimately be up to the voters to pass it.
“The citizens will have the last say on that,” Jennings said.
Slane is weary of the large city project, though, and brought up the City’s involvement in the construction of the Recreation Center on Sanibel.
“I have thought of the Civic Core a long time and the logic of it escapes me,” Slane said. “It will benefit only a few people and with a $20 million price tag, it should benefit everyone.
“When the City built the Rec Center, they promised to spend $900,000 a year in operating costs, but today, the Rec Center costs $2 million a year. I get concerned, when you have a miss like that, and a miss on the Civic Core could be a bad thing for the citizens of Sanibel.”
Goss is in favor of “exploring” options for the project, adding that change – although difficult for people, including himself – it can be a positive in the end.
“It’s a good idea to bring people to one location,” Goss said. “I don’t like change, but people didn’t want the Rec Center and it’s been a huge success and people didn’t want the bike paths and that’s been a huge success.
“We need to do our due diligence in exploring the Civic Core, but it will be up to the people and we will be having a referendum on it.”
Next up was the highly discussed Dark Skies ordinance and the three-year extension the City Council currently has in the language, as well as grandfathering.
“I personally would not have extended the ordinance, but I support it,” Slane said. “When I drive around the island at night, it’s dark. I don’t think it needs to be fixed. I support the amended ordinance of June, 2014.”
Goss is in full support of the action the City Council has done, including the extension and grandfathering.
“The right thing to do is extend it,” Goss added. “I don’t think we want to harass our citizens, I think it was too restrictive as it was.”
Jennings, who has voted in favor of the Dark Skies ordinance in its current form added the ordinance’s language in June of 2014 was confusing and that grandfathering will not be a long term issue, because of the salty conditions which affect Sanibel.
“We are dark right now and I am for keeping it a dark community, but I am also for the safety of the citizens,” Jennings said. “If good fixtures are still workable, people can use for a time. But in this salty environment, you can’t keep these fixtures long. In five or six years, people will have to replace them and everyone will be in compliance.”
The issue of the rising seas due to climate change and how Sanibel will prepare for the future was asked.
Jennings doesn’t completely agree with the reports of climate change and isn’t worried about the long-term issue of the seas rising. But he included the City is prepared for the seas rising during storms and hurricanes.
“I don’t see a problem in the future in 100 years of the seas rising,” Jennings said. “I’m one of those people that think the data (of climate change) has been tampered with. It gets warmer every summer and gets cooler in the winter. Temps stay at a certain range. This is just my opinion on the matter.”
Goss referred to the City working with Federal Flood Agency and working for hurricane preparedness for such an issue, as was Slane, who said Sanibel needs to work with the experts in such matters.
“I can’t get into how you should plan for it, but we need to talk to people who know what they are talking about,” Slane said. “In 100 years, I’ll be dead anyways, so.”
An audience question referred to what is on everyones’ minds nowadays – traffic.
All three candidates agreed traffic is a byproduct of Sanibel’s success of attracting people to the island.
“When I worked for the (Federal) House Budget Committee, the question was asked ‘Why can’t you balance the federal budget?'” Goss said. “And the question of traffic is the same, that there is no easy answer. If there were, it would have been done. We need to look at the experts and traffic engineers. I don’t believe we’ll ever get rid of traffic, but we can make it better.”
Slane answered: “I don’t know the answer, we have to talk to the people who are experts in the area. If there was an easy answer, something would have been done. It’s a complex question.”
Jennings believes there will be improvements made each year and the City Council is exploring viable answers to helping quell the traffic woes.
“The City is looking into some studies, such as a study with the MPO about roundabouts, in which we may or may not approach,” Jennings said. “There are a lot of different ideas to make this a little better situation. Some things, we have no control of. Every decision will be looked at and we’ll try and address it. We will make better every year.”
All three candidates also were in agreement that the issue of water quality is one of the most important issues affecting Sanibel and will be in the future.
The trio said the City Council has been doing well in working towards a solution for better water quality and is on the top of all their agendas, as well.