Two county commission races on Aug. 30 ballot
The 2016 Lee County Commission races are limited to the Republican candidates for the Aug. 30 primary.
In District 3, incumbent Larry Kiker is challenged by Bonita Springs resident and former Lee County principal planner, Dick Anderson.
Kiker, who received criticism for allegedly improperly logging interactions with individuals meeting the county’s definition of a lobbyist last year, has received $187,710 in monetary contributions for his campaign as of the last finance report. Anderson has raised $22,032.
The primary winner from District 3 will face write-in candidate Eli Zonana in November.
District 5’s seat, held for 10 consecutive years by Frank Mann, is being challenged by Ken Dobson, a former fire chief for the Fort Myers Fire Department and now Lee County School District’s director of safety.
Mann has received $86,860; Dobson sits at $46,550.
District 5’s primary winner will face Democratic candidate Diane Zigrossi and NPA candidate Sonny Haas in November.
While the county commission primaries are closed primaries open to registered Republican voters only, the races are countywide meaning Republicans can vote in both district races.
There is no race in District 1 as incumbent John Manning, of Cape Coral, is unopposed.
Education: Masters Education and Urban and Regional Planning Northern Illinois University
Lives: Bonita Springs
Family: Married, four children, two grandchildren
Dick Anderson moved to Lee County 40 years ago, right after college, but visited the beach with friends and family while he grew up in Chicago. He is a resident of Bonita Springs, taught classes at Edison College, now Florida Southwestern College, before entering the Lee County planning department in 1980, where he served as the county’s principal planner. His two grandchildren have motivated him to think about what he can do before they become adults to maintain the area he loves.
Countywide, Anderson said the biggest issue is a lack of trust in the local government. He believes the residents of Lee County have lost their commissioners and that it doesn’t vote in the public interest.
The catalyst for the lack of trust occurred when the commission voted to take money from the Conservation 2020 fund, which was dedicated to purchasing land for conservation, to balance the budget, he said.
“Those decisions violated the public’s trust,” he said. “We know what people want, that’s pretty clear, and taking money from 2020 was the opposite of that.”
Another violation has been the amendments to the comprehensive plan over the years, which have allowed for increased density and development.
To rebuild the trust, Anderson doesn’t plan to always be the 4-1 vote on the commission, saying the board has to work as a team. But his understanding of the community and its interests will help him regain their trust.
“They’re demanding accountability,” he said. “We need to get on the right side of managing growth. That’s our job.”
The county’s current land entitlements mean more than a million people could reside in the county in the next 20 years, and Anderson wants to be sure there is a mobility and green space plan in place before that.
“We have to have a vision of what we want to look like,” he said, adding that the areas of Lehigh Acres and Cape Coral especially needed this examination. “Will we have enough green space, transportation, mobility?”
As a way to help with growth, and also with improving the Lee County School District, Anderson wants emphasis returned to impact fees.
“Impact fees are designed for growth to pay for growth,” he said.
Water quality problems, one of the top issues of the election, has the makings of an “economic disaster,” Anderson said.
The most important way address it is to keep it simple so residents stay involved and interested.
“People that live here have to understand this. If they think it’s too complicated and can’t be fixed, we lose them,” he said.
Anderson supports sending water from Lake Okeechobee south instead of east and west, but said with his experience in permitting and planning, it could take 5 to 10 years to buy, design and permit that land.
“We don’t have 10 years,” he said.
In two years, he believes the state, including advocates in Lee County, can acquire better storage in and around the lake and in underused canals to alleviate part of the problem.
If elected, Anderson has two goals for his time in office. The first would be to create a coalition of public and private leaders in Lee County to advocate for the estuary system and the business, tourism and real estate industries which depend upon the water for survival. He would want this group to work with stakeholders around the state, such as agricultural interests, the South Florida Water Management District, and state legislature, to work as a team to fix the water quality problems.
He also wants to reach out to community leadership to help keep local kids safe by getting more funding for programs that are delivered to the underserved parts of the community.
“It’s more efficient than doing it through law enforcement,” he said.
When asked where the funding for the programs would come from, he said if the community got involved, the money would come.
“What happens to the least of us happens to all of us,” he said. “These are kids, human lives. All of us have to get involved.”
Larry Kiker, incumbent
Education: MBA from Northeastern University
Lives: Unincorporated Lee County
District 3 incumbent Larry Kiker stopped in Fort Myers Beach on his way to the Keys 22 years ago and says he never left. He worked as a charter captain for 10 years, then moved into real estate. The co-owner of Lahaina Realty has been involved in local government for some time, having served as the mayor of the Town of Fort Myers Beach for five years and on the council for six. He is in his first term on the Lee County Commission.
Kiker said he didn’t want to narrow in on one issue facing his district, because that would leave out other problems.
“You can’t get it down to one, you have to strike a balance to make it all work,” he said. “With too much emphasis on one thing, something else gets left out.”
Countywide, however, Kiker pointed to water quality. It’s not the first year the quality has been an issue, he said, and he’s been working on getting a solution for years.
“Some people never saw brown water come out of the river before,” he said. “The weather, lots of rain this year, threw everything out of kilter. It’s been devastating.”
Kiker points to work he’s accomplished for water quality to prove what he’ll continue to work for to address the issue. In 2013, while he was mayor, he traveled to D.C. with other area leaders and testified in a hearing about the state of water quality in southern Florida.
He’s continued to travel to D.C to put pressure on the federal government to turn its eye to the plight of water quality in Florida, traveling earlier this summer to meet with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
The key to gaining support is to reach beyond the local senators and congressmen, and to keep up the pressure. He prefers one-on-one meetings with federal officials, rather than going as a large group.
“It’s not a meeting, or a trip, it’s a journey,” he said.
If federal funding can be granted for the Water Resource Development Act of 2016, a federal act which will allocate money to several projects around the nation, including Florida’s waterways, Kiker said he supports looking at land purchases south of Okeechobee, too.
Kiker said the county’s two biggest industries are tourism and construction. He was a proponent of lowering impact fees and successfully got the commission to slash the fees charged to 20 percent of the original amount after he was elected. Lower impact fees encourage building, and building helps keep people employed, he said.
“Impact fees are not sufficient to address infrastructure problems, nor will they ever be,” he said.
While in office, he implemented a capital project funding strategy called growth implement funding.
The county takes the difference in tax rates charged from a property when it’s sold from the rate it was originally charged and dedicates that money, for the first year after the property is sold, toward a fund for infrastructure projects.
If reelected, Kiker said he wants to work on the county’s business model.
“You can’t run a government like a business, but you can make business-like decisions,” he said.
He wants to start working with the community to develop community visions for unincorporated county areas, such as San Carlos Island, to prevent development that the community does not want. Currently, he said, the county looks at developments on a project-by-project basis. A developer can submit an application and qualify, and the county isn’t looking at that project’s effect cumulatively with other projects that may be “in the pipeline” nearby, he said.
A community visioning process, in which the county communicates with the constituents before a development is on the table, could help this issue. He’d like to look at overlay districts.
“What about an overlay that says, I don’t think so (to some projects)?” he said.
Education: Master’s degree in Human Resource Development and Administration from Barry University
Lives: North Fort Myers
Family: Married, six children
Ken Dobson has been a resident of Lee County for 34 years. He started his career with the Fort Myers Fire Department after graduating from North Fort Myers High School. He spent 25 years with the department as the fire chief before moving to the Lee County School District, where he currently serves as the director of Safety and Security.
The government’s role in providing core services is a major line item for Dobson. District 5’s biggest issue is a lack of economic growth in the area, he said. Lack of industry and pockets of crime in North Fort Myers and Lehigh Acres is keeping the area from growing, and Dobson’s solution is to first start with making sure these struggling areas are getting the best level of “core services,” such as law enforcement and infrastructure updates, as they need to start succeeding.
He’s not against maintaining rural areas, but not all east county areas are meant to stay rural – Lehigh is full of empty lots.
“Lehigh is not set to be rural,” he said.
Dobson also wants to see the right kind of job-creating industries introduced, especially after one woman he met on the campaign trail asked him, “how many more dollar stores are we going to get out here?”
“I’m not for urban sprawl, but we need to focus on infill,” he said.
Core services require funding. Dobson doesn’t want to see impact fees reinstated to their full capacity, because he doesn’t want to see builders deterred from his district or other areas of the county that need growth.
Impact fees aren’t enough, either, he said.
“It’s a small portion of the funding we need,” Dobson said. “I don’t see them as the solution to our capital project challenges.”
Dobson is supportive of a method brought to the county by District 3 Commissioner Larry Kiker, called growth increment funding. Impact fees can only be collected by new development. Growth increment funding collects ad valorem taxes from new buildings during the first year and puts the money into a fund to be spent on capital projects.
“It’s a good approach to addressing capital budget funding,” he said. “It’s looking outside the box, not just doing it the old way.”
Dobson also thinks impact fees, while charged to the developer, trickle down to the homebuyer and end up hurting the middle class because it increases the cost of building a home.
One of Dobson’s goals, if elected, would be to examine the budget and eliminate what he termed “wasteful spending,” identifying programs or services the county might currently be offering that could be eliminated.
Dobson wasn’t sure of any current programs to be cut out, but said the current commission didn’t know, either.
“It’s hard when you have a budget of that size,” he said. “It’s about taking the time to look at programs and evaluate their need.”
Frank Mann, incumbent
Education: Bachelor’s of Political Science, Vanderbilt University
Family: Married, two sons, five grandchildren
Frank Mann was born in Lee County. He is the incumbent candidate for District 5, having been in office for a total of 12 years. Mann served in the Florida House of Representatives and the Florida Senate for a cumulative 12 years representing Lee, Charlotte and Collier counties. He’s currently the chairman of the county commission.
The biggest issue facing his district and the county as a whole, Mann said, is a lack of growth management.
In his district, his constituents are facing the potential impacts from Babcock Ranch, a master planned community being built mostly in Charlotte County.
“It’s going to have an enormous impact with traffic and development,” he said. “When people start moving in, Lee County’s stores, hospitals, infrastructures – everyone will be coming here. Charlotte County will get the impact fees, but Lee County will be receiving the impact.”
County-wide growth is an issue for Mann, because the county cannot keep up with the growth and pay for infrastructure needs, he said.
“We’re not managing growth well,” he said. “Crowded streets and crowded schools means a deterioration of a quality of life.”
Mann’s solution is to stick with Lee County’s comprehensive plan, rather than making amendments which allow large developments to build in the county.
“We’re destroying comprehensive plan we had,” Mann said. “The comp plan is vulnerable, and for this commission, practically written in disappearing ink.”
Mann also wants impact fees, fees charged to developers of new growth to mitigate impact on existing infrastructure, to be charged at 100 percent of what they were before they were reduced, at which time they were reduced to encourage development. Currently, the fees are charged at 45 percent and the fee schedule is revisited every several years.
“Citizens should not be asked to pay for that growth. People causing it should be paying for it,” he said.
On water quality, one of this election year’s most poignant issues in Lee County, Mann attributes some blame to growth management, as well, saying the more density in the county, the more the county risks polluted swimming, drinking and fishing water.
While Lee County needs to continue to put pressure on state and federal agencies for assistance in dealing with Lake Okeechobee’s effects, Mann said the county has to keep a critical eye on its own policies and its own water.
When asked what his solutions were, he said there was no “silver bullet” to fixing the problem or to getting state and federal help for water quality issues or to convincing his fellow commissioners to his side of growth management, but said he would “beg, plead, cajole, threaten” to fight for his platform.