The Safety Harbor election candidates receive instructions prior to Thursday’s forum.
The four candidates vying for two open Safety Harbor City Commission seats faced each other for the first time on Thursday night, as City Hall played host to a public forum in advance of the municipal election on March 10.
Fielding a dozen questions that were submitted by residents and selected by representatives of the League of Women Voters, the candidates – Joe Ayoub and Andy Zodrow for Seat 3 and Janet Hooper and Chris Logan for Seat 1 – were able to express their thoughts on many of the issues affecting Safety Harbor today, as well as explain their visions for the future should they be elected.
Of all the questions the candidates were asked, those concerning the waterfront park and the city’s draft tree ordinance dominated the discussion.
“The current commission has been spinning their wheels and has been stuck in the mud for the last year, solely focused on one issue while virtually ignoring a lot of other quality of life issues that are important to many residents of the city,” former mayor and commissioner Ayoub said in regards to the ongoing tree ordinance work during his opening remarks.
“The one issue that has the most potential to positively impact the quality of life here in Safety Harbor is the waterfront park,” he added, stating the current commission has “virtually ignored” the park for the past year.
The other three candidates weighed in on the park project, which is still in Phase 1 of its construction, when the question was brought up later in the evening.
“The waterfront park is moving forward,” Zodrow, the Seat 3 incumbent, said. “We haven’t discussed it recently because the first phase of the park is now in the hands of City staff. It is now going to permitting, and the permitting process is not quick.”
“It’s going to be a passive park that residents can use,” he added. “I just want to ensure that the waterfront park be developed in an environmentally sensitive and timely and cost effective manner.”
Hooper said she believes there should be no development, such as the proposed restaurant, at the park, and she also cautioned that projects like this take time to develop.
“I believe they are moving forward in an economic way,” Hooper said. “I can appreciate the impatience, but I also am watching to make sure it is moving forward.”
Logan, who was on the WFP steering committee, said the park is one of his top priorities.
“This is one of the big issues why I wanted to run for city commission,” Logan, the current chair of the planning and zoning board said. “I believe this is a key issue to the quality of life in Safety Harbor.”
“I sat on the steering committee…and we came to a compromise on the plan, and we have a good plan,” he continued. “Now that plan, in my opinion, has been scaled back too much. The plan right now is to plant grass, and I’d like to see something more happen.”
While the waterfront park was definitely a big topic of interest, a number of other important issues were addressed at the forum.
When it came time to answer questions about the tree ordinance, the candidates were once again divided on the right course of action for the city.
“The key thing with this ordinance, to me, is replanting,” Zodrow, an advocate of a strong tree ordinance, said. “Trees can still be cut under this ordinance…but if they do that, they need to replant, and if they can’t replant, they need to pay a fee.”
“The current focus of the commission right now in drafting the tree ordinance is to be very punitive in nature,” Ayoub stated, noting the recent $5,000 fine that was levied on a homeowner who violated the city’s tree removal moratorium.
“The goal should not be to punish our residents. The goal should be to save trees and that’s what we should be focused on.”
Logan said he thinks the tree permitting needs to be brought in house, the fines need to be looked at, and the city needs to seek opinions from a certified arborist regarding many of the tree issues, while Hooper said the main objective of the ordinance should be to protect the city’s tree canopy.
“The goal should be, I believe, to preserve our tree canopy however we need to do that,” the Mattie Williams Neighborhood Family Center director said.
“The issue is, how can we do that? We need to find a way to incentivize people to plant more trees.”
The candidates answered other questions during the two-hour session, including how to deal to with development in the downtown district, what to do about the growing drug and gang problem in the community and how they feel about the library, before offering their closing remarks.
After the forum was over, some residents gave their thoughts on the event.
City Hall was packed on Thursday night for the candidate forum.
“Many people have strong opinions on these issues, and the candidates had to reveal where they stand,” Gisela Bennie said. “We got to see the clear delineation between each candidate and where they differ from each other.”
“I was pleased. I thought everyone had the opportunity to get their points across,” Glenn McKinney said. “It was a good overall discussion.”
“And I loved that it was packed in here tonight, even on a rainy night,” he added. “It was a good starting point to get to know these candidates.”
Note: In order to give each issue and candidate their due, Safety Harbor Connect will continue to break down the answers from this forum and present them in a series of articles to be published on the site between now and election day.
Also, we will have individual profiles detailing each candidate’s background, campaign agenda and thoughts on these and other topics on the site next week, so stay with Safety Harbor Connect.com for complete coverage of the 2015 municipal election!