MADEIRA BEACH — Candidates running to represent Districts 3 and 4 gave their views and had a lively discussion on a number of issues at a forum held at City Hall on Feb. 26.
In District 3, where former Commissioner Nancy Oakley did not seek re-election, the choices are former city Recreation Director Doug Andrews and retired businessman Roger Pryor, who serves on the city’s budget committee. Incumbent Commissioner John Douthirt faces opposition from former Commissioner Steve Kochick in the District 4 race.
Most important infrastructure project
The candidates were asked which capital/infrastructure project was most needed. Road repair and improvement was at the top of everyone’s list.
Kochick said road improvement projects and the undergrounding of utilities on Gulf Boulevard were most important. These were moving forward until a couple of years ago, Kochick said, until “everything stopped” while the commission devoted its attention to firing the city manager and other officials.
Douthirt disputed Kochick’s remarks, saying the road and undergrounding jobs were stopped when Duke Energy pulled out after Hurricane Irma, to devote resources to storm related needs.
Douthirt said his project priorities were roads, adequate sewers and water infrastructure.
Pryor’s top infrastructure project was road repair, especially Crystal Drive, which he said was in the worst shape by far.
Road improvements, utility undergrounding and stormwater drains were Andrews’ priorities. The sewers are deteriorating, Andrews said. If they get clogged and break down, there will be flooding that “will cost us zillions of dollars to fix.”
Solutions for beach erosion, storm surge
Asked for long term solutions to beach erosion and storm surge, Kochick and Andrews stressed the importance of the city’s beach groins, which Madeira uses to control beach erosion instead of beach renourishment.
“We are fortunate to have installed the groins years ago. As a result, we have never needed sand nourishment,” Kochick said.
“The groins work great. We should make sure they are kept repaired,” said Andrews.
Douthirt said sand dunes are important, and Pryor mentioned education programs.
Recycling, plastic straw ban
The candidates were asked about banning plastic straws and other ecology and recycling efforts.
“I’m all for it,” said Andrews. “You learn as you go (in ecology), and this is the next step.”
Pryor said fewer plastic bottles should be used. China no longer buys scrap plastic, so “it has nowhere to go” but the incinerator, he said.
Douthirt also pointed out that the recyclers say less than 10 percent of what they collect gets recycled.
“We need to do something, or we’ll kill all our sea life (who ingest the materials),” he said.
Kochick said he was on the commission when the city started the recycling program. He insisted that the condos should be included. He agreed with the others that the recycling solutions are bigger than what local officials can control.
Moderator Barry Rubin, representing the Madeira Beach/Treasure Island Chamber of Commerce, asked what the candidates would do to alleviate traffic problems in the city.
He followed with a related question about public transportation.
Kochick said he was from New York City, where the rush hour is four hours long, while Madeira Beach’s is “about 45 minutes.” He said the city’s traffic could be reduced if people, especially retirees, made appointments outside of rush hour.
“After 9:30 a.m., the roads are empty,” he said.
“Don’t travel during rush hour if not needed,” Kochick said. “It will help traffic, and make it more convenient for yourself.”
Pryor recommended timing the red lights on the causeway “so the green lights come on when the bridge opens.” A major concern, he said, is overbuilding “so we don’t get like Clearwater Beach.”
Douthirt said little can be done about the traffic problems.
“As growth continues, traffic is going to get worse and worse.” One hopeful sign Douthirt sees is “more people riding bikes.”
Asked about public transportation, Andrews said the PSTA trolley system “works very well.” He also reminded residents that the community had a water ferry “but the commission pulled the funding for it.”
Pryor said the ferry was costing the taxpayers money.
“It’s a business enterprise. If you can make money doing it, nobody is going to stop you from doing it,” said Pryor.
Pryor said little can be done to control traffic in the city.
“We are not going to have rapid transit and the roads are not getting any wider,” he said.
One solution, he said, is “watch our development.”
Kochick said the city needs to work closer with the county and state on traffic issues. “That’s how you do it. Get on a committee, go to Tallahassee where the problems are solved.” Kochick said when he was a commissioner, “we would go by bus to Tallahassee, where the decision-makers are.” He asked if any current commissioners are on any higher level government committees.
City marina audit findings
Asked about the recent audit of the city marina that found numerous problems with the operation, the candidates’ opinions were split.
Kochick called the audit “a total waste of money.” He later explained that he said that because “we get audited every year. It’s a state requirement.”
Andrews said audits are invaluable management tools. But he said the marina audit “was not a forensic audit. It was an inquiry or investigation.”
If elected, Andrews said he will bring in former Marina Director Dave Marsicano, who resigned under pressure, “and we will be able to ask him questions, and get answers based on facts and not innuendo.”
Douthirt said audits, including the marina audit, are “very productive.” Every city department needs to be audited, and “city employees held accountable for taxpayer money,” he said.
“We need to make sure city money is spent properly and controlled properly,” Douthirt said.
Pryor said audits are “a helpful tool,” but should be used in a positive way, “as an opportunity to learn and do our job better.”
“We are looking for help in doing a better job,” Pryor said. “If we find weaknesses, we correct them.”
Resident involvement in city affairs
The candidates were asked how they would involve residents in the decision-making process.
Andrews urged the residents to “talk to us.”
He then spoke of the need to “bridge the political divide in the city.”
“That’s the first thing on everybody’s mind,” Andrews said.
Pryor said the passage of Amendment 11, which reduces the requirements for residents to petition the city from 25 percent to 10 percent, would make it easier for a group of residents to get their issues and concerns on the ballot, and eventually become law.
“Get involved in a committee,” said Douthirt. He said the current commission has increased the number of citizen committees from one, the Civil Service Commission, which seldom met, to four committees.
“I fought for and we added the Budget Committee, Charter Committee, and the Bid Review Committee,” Douthirt said.
“Citizen involvement is very important,” said Kochick. “Let us know what you want to do, we will relay your vision to the city Manager and staff, and the city professionals can make it happen.”
The event was sponsored by the Madeira Beach/Treasure Island Chamber of Commerce, and the questions asked came from the chamber and residents in the audience.
Though the candidates represent their districts, they are elected by voters from the entire city.