INDIAN ROCKS BEACH — Dozens of residents showed up Jan. 23 to meet the three candidates running for the two open commission seats in the upcoming March election.
The candidates are Phil Hanna, a 10-year veteran on the commission and a real estate agent; Diane Flagg, a retired executive in the construction and development fields; and John Pfanstiehl, a manufacturing executive.
Both Flagg and Pfanstiehl are running for the first time; all three candidates are active in community affairs.
Saying she has a passion to serve, Flagg told the audience that her background in real estate is important because it developed her business skills that assist in representing the residents of IRB.
“I intend to continue to continue to promote the sense of community,” she said. “We must never lose our small-town feel, it is our legacy.”
Hanna used his two minutes to go over the city’s accomplishments during the time he has been a commissioner.
“The IRB of 2009 was much different than the IRB of today,” he said. “We now have $6.5 million on hand; we sold our sewer system to the county, came through the BP oil spill and have invested funds for the future.”
Back in 2009 he said the town only had $148,000 and was being closely watched by the state.
Pfanstiehl opened with a theme that he would repeat throughout the evening, that he was the only one of the three who did not have ties to real estate or development.
“My background in manufacturing and engineering has given me an awareness of attention to detail,” he said. “If I change a single part or line of code it can cause thousands of products to fail.”
Candidates were asked by attendees how they would maintain the city’s small-town charm and guard against over-development.
Hanna said the small-town charm was good, and the current commission and he have maintained it by keeping height restrictions on new developments.
Pfanstiehl said keeping the small-town feel is something he has been advocating for 10 years.
“We should do something to maintain it. Buy properties, create historic districts, something,” he said. “So far it has been all talk and nobody has done anything.”
On the question of development Pfanstiehl cautioned about being careful with any zoning changes, suggesting small changes add up over time.
Flagg maintained the Planned Unit Developments would go a long way to making sure the city was developed the way the residents wanted it.
“With a PUD we would maintain control of the development and work with the developer to work out something to benefit everybody,” she said.
Hanna agreed, saying the PUD’; “allow us to compromise and work with the developers.”
On the issue of Red Tide all three candidates agreed that the city and county did all they could to clean up dead fish and keep the beach clear. They also pointed to various research projects going on at universities to eventually cut down on Red Tide. Pfanstiehl noted that the Japanese have been able to cut down on red tide with some of their science.
“We should look beyond our shores for the answers,” he said.
The issue of term limits got a significant degree of agreement from the candidates.
Flagg said the issue rarely came up as she talked to residents of the city, while Hanna was against imposing term limits.
“Your vote determines the term,” he said. “Either you are doing the job or you aren’t.”
Pfanstiehl said he didn’t have a strong feeling toward the issue except to remind people that incumbency has a value and term limits might level the playing field for new candidates.
“We need fresh faces,” he said.
Both Flagg and Hanna expressed support for undergrounding utilities. Pfanstiehl wondered what the effect would be on the transformers, which would be moved to ground level with water splashing on them.
There was clear agreement among the three about the issue of short-term rentals. All three lamented the fact that the state Legislature took away the right of the local municipalities to govern short term rentals in residential areas.
When asked what their vision of IRB is five or10 years down the road, the candidates differed somewhat.
Flagg wanted to make sure Gulf Boulevard was on top of the priority list.
“Make sure there is better lighting, landscaping and signage; give it a new look,” she said.
Hanna pointed to the upcoming visioning sessions as a good gauge to figure out what the city will look like down the road.
“The visioning session will help us find out where we fit in the marketplace,” he said.
Pfanstiehl disagreed with that approach.
“I’m not enthused by the visioning; I have no confidence in it,” he said. “It is just an excuse to overdevelop.”
The final comments of the candidates essentially repeated themes they used throughout the hour-long event.
“This is a unique and incredible town,” said Pfanstiehl. “I fought for our right to use our waterway and I remind you I am the only one who does not have any ties to real estate or development.”
“Experience counts and leadership is not a popularity contest,” said Hanna. “I have helped lead this city to better financial times.”
“I want to work for the majority of the citizens and small business,” said Flagg. “I intend to promote harmony and provide safety for all our residents.”
The election will be held March 12, and the polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Meet the Candidates night was moderated by the League of Women Voters and organized by the IRB Homeowners Association.