Ruane cites experience in Commission bid
Kevin Ruane’s Sanibel experience started off with one of the biggest events of the island’s history – Hurricane Charley.
But even through those difficult times of helping the Sanibel community recover from the devastating storm, it would not be the only adversarial situation Ruane would have to deal with in what has become an accomplished tenure on Sanibel.
Everything from a crippling red tide event to reforming a broken city pension plan, Ruane has been instrumental in helping overcome each obstacle as Sanibel’s mayor the last five years and an elected City Councilman since 2007.
It’s the tough experiences Ruane wants to draw off of and relate how he helped the City of Sanibel survive to the voters in the 2016 election when he runs for the Lee County Commission for District One.
“I’ve been through some tough situations and I’ve helped benefit Lee County, not just City of Sanibel,” Ruane said.
But Ruane can also draw from his professional life, which has helped Sanibel navigate through some economic hardships and into some much more smoother and profitable times for the city.
Ruane is a New York native, grew up in Manhattan and studied accounting and taxation in college. His knowledge and ambition was greatly influenced by his father, who was a lifelong CPA.
He attended night school and worked full-time, where he started his climb up the corporate ladder in the re-insurance industry. His first job he worked for a New York City broker, where he attended the College of Insurance.
From there, he worked at the New York Insurance Exchange for five years, which was New York’s version of Lloyds of London.
His progression was fast tracked when he joined Crum & Forster and worked as an assistant vice president of the Re-Insurance division, then was promoted to V.P. and chief financial officer for a subsidiary of the company.
He served on boards such as Chemical Bank’s small business loans, Crum & Forster, Reinsurance Recoverables, Eastern Association of Equipment Leasing Brokers, National Association of Equipment Leasing Brokers and Garden State Arts Center.
His entrance into the small business industry happened when he took over the day-to-day responsibilities of running his family’s CPA firm after his father suffered health complications.
Even in small business, Ruane found success and in 1997, he sold the family’s CPA firm and sold the finance company in 2003.
The Ruanes made the move south to Sanibel from their New Jersey home in 2004, and that’s where his life of community service would blossom.
“Two weeks after we moved to Sanibel, Hurricane Charley hit,” Ruane said. “The first day of the meeting of the City Council, which was at the Holiday Inn on Highway 41, I raised my hand and asked how can I help?
“That was the paramount time that I started helping Sanibel.”
The mayor at the time was Marty Harrity, who is now on the City Council, remembered well his introduction to Ruane.
“People were ticked off that they couldn’t get back on the island,” Harrity recalled. “People were upset. Then at the back of the room, on the right hand side, some big guy in the corner had his hand raised. I said ‘Yes sir!’ He said, ‘How can I help?’
“He’s been helping Sanibel and Lee County ever since that day. He’s a born leader and he’s the guy we need on county commission.”
He joined the Hurricane Damage Assessment Team in Sanibel, which inspected houses to make sure they were safe to live in after residents started coming back onto the island.
His service after the hurricane continued when he negotiated a $13 million settlement, reviewed all contracts, hired all contractors and sub-contractors and directed the condo association board.
That’s when he started getting the taste of community service, and in February of 2007, he accepted an interim position on the Sanibel City Council. By May of 2007, he successfully won a City Council seat by taking over 67 percent of the vote, then was re-elected in March 2009 and was named vice mayor.
In March 2010, Ruane started his five-year track as mayor.
Even after serving on numerous boards, councils and committees, Ruane still doesn’t look at his time in Sanibel as political, but as serving the community.
“This is small town USA,” Ruane said. “This is a community and feeling for my neighbors. This isn’t politics, it’s just helping a community.”
Ruane feels he is ready to take the next step up as a Lee County commissioner, with his professional fiscal responsibilities, his dealings with adversity during his time on Sanibel and what he says is the transparency he has practiced as a Sanibel City councilman and mayor.
But most of all, he said he’s ready because he has the support of his family. After thinking about running for county commission three years ago, but deciding against it to help his son, Kevin Jr., visit colleges, the second go-round was more convincing.
“After I asked Kevin about his thoughts of me running (for county commissioner), he said, ‘I love Florida and I’m going to live in Lee County,'” Ruane said. ‘”You’re my mentor and my family is going to grow up here. How neat it would be, if you could help shape, create this area for my family?’ Those were some very powerful words.”
Ruane overlooked the island’s venture through one of the worst red tide outbreaks in quite a long time, while helping reform the city employee’s pension program, which he said was the hardest thing he ever had to do.
With the city pension program funding ratio sitting at a miserable 48.2 percent (80-percent is considered healthy), some tough decisions had to be made.
“At the time, the pension board had five people serving and I figured we had to expand that board and bring some of the highly skilled people we had here in Sanibel,” Ruane said. “I wanted to make sure people got their pension checks. We had to balance the budget, live within in our means.”
There was a raise freeze for city employees, but there were no terminations or layoffs enacted during that time. Benefits were kept intact. A new system was set up, where there were penalties on a pension if they retired at 55 – which was the typical age of retirement then – a smaller penalty at age 60 and full benefits at 65.
“With people living longer, we want to really promote retirement at 65,” Ruane said. “There was a grandfathering stage, with the affected people in the plan being those in the infancy stage.”
Today, the pension system is rated at a very healthy 82.7 percent.
He also has spearheaded the push for water quality in Southwest Florida, in which many municipalities in the state joined the effort. His leadership in water quality was forged by the valuable relationships he formed over his time at Sanibel.
“People tell me I seem to run into the building when it’s on fire,” Ruane said of his demeanor of facing adversity.
He added he promotes transparency and has an open door policy, which has been important during his tenure serving Sanibel.
“We live in a democracy and you make decisions which benefit the most,” Ruane said “My door has always been open. Call me, my number is in the phonebook, we can have dialogue and then we can make a decision which is the best for everyone.”
Another aspect of Ruane’s experience in the political arena includes the bevy of seats he has held since 2009.
The list includes past chair to the Lee County Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO); the Treasurer of MPO, and Chair of the MPO Executive Committee; past member of the Lee County Tourism Development Council (TDC) since 2008.
He has been a board member of the Florida Municipal Insurance Trust (FMIT) since his appointment in January 2010, and Chairman since his appointment in 2011.
He was appointed to serve on the Florida Municipal Trust Investment Trust Committee (FMIvT) in 2011 and currently serves as Vice Chair.
Ruane is also a member if the Florida Municipal Pension Trust.
In August, 2014 he was re-appointed to the Events Marketing Committee, and was recently appointed to serve on the Florida League of Cities (FLC) Legislative Policy Committee. He is a current board member of the Florida League of Mayors, a voting delegate for the Florida League of Cities, and the liaison for Lee County Mayors.
His experience working in the small business sector also is something Ruane said he will bring to the people.
“Having had opportunity to work with small businesses, I understand the local dry cleaner, the local deli and all the way up to larger businesses,” Ruane said. “The backbone of America are small businesses, though.”
Ruane will be running in District One against incumbent John Manning. Including previous terms, Manning has held office for a total of 16 years.
He will be running in the Republican primary against Manning, which is Aug. 30, 2016. His last day on the Sanibel City Council, win or lose, will be Nov. 21, 2016.
“I just want to explain to the people my vision, my experience and that I think there are better and brighter days ahead for Lee County,” Ruane said.