The second of four “Meet the Candidates” events for the two seats on the Gateway District’s Board of Supervisors took place yesterday in Pelican Preserve. All four of the candidates – Vice Chairman Bill Guy, Supervisor Doug Banks, as well as candidates Jim Brann and Delores Linscott – were in attendance.
Banks arrived about 10 minutes late as a result of an accident creating traffic delays for him.
As you might expect, there was some good things and bad things about the event. I’m pleased to report that the good things came from the performance of the four candidates. Unfortunately, the bad things had to do with the event itself.
Let’s start with the “bad”.
But before I can do that, I need to tell you that the “bad” was so bad, that one man interrupted the forum to berate the event, yelling how useless the format of the event was, and then he got up and stormed out of the room.
He wasn’t wrong.
The format chosen by the Pelican Preserve organizers was to give all four candidates the questions in advance and to disallow any form of rebuttal to their competitor’s answers.
The result was several candidates wrote out their answers to the questions and then simply read them aloud at the forum. Reading the answers was a perfectly fine strategy under the circumstances, but the reality is that nobody showed up to listen to the candidates read scripted answers to scripted questions.
But I’m in total agreement with the guy who blasted the event on his way out the door. If I wanted to hear those kinds of prepared responses from the candidates, I would have emailed them.
The other issue was that they had a strict 2-minute time limit per response, but no warning to the candidates that they were approaching their limit. This led to Vice-Chairman Guy being cut off literally every time he spoke.
Someone should have stated “30 seconds” or something to give the candidates notice that they were running out of time. Guy, Banks and Brann all fell victim to the lack of notification, each on multiple occasions.
Guy tried to make light of the situation whenever he was interrupted by the moderators, while Brann seemed annoyed but respectful that he couldn’t finish his point. Banks only ran over a couple times, but the first time he chose to finish out his answer and simply ignored the time rule, while Guy and Brann always stopped immediately whenever they were asked.
To be fair, it was the first question Banks had been asked upon his arrival and he had been told he would be given an addition three minutes after he answered that specific question to introduce himself. So it’s possible Banks thought he could use some of his allotted time to finish his point.
If the organizers of the Daniel’s Preserve and Gateway Greens candidate events happen to be reading this: Please do not provide the questions in advance. And please also allow a format where candidates are permitted to refute or disagree with the points made by their opponents. The totally scripted Pelican event was a bore, and it annoyed many of those in attendance. Let the candidates think on their feet and answer questions and compete in a debate in real time.
Now let’s talk about the good from yesterday: the performance of the candidates themselves.
And I’ll go from left to right as they were seated at the event.
So we start with candidate Linscott.
After the first candidate event in Stoneybrook, the feedback I got from multiple sources was that Linscott was so badly unprepared that she had to pretend she couldn’t hear questions just so she wouldn’t have to answer them.
Yesterday, that’s not what I saw from Linscott. She was just as on-point with her answers as everyone else was. Yes, she had cue cards and read from them when it was her turn, but that was within the established format for the event.
Linscott ended some of her responses abruptly and awkwardly, but she made her points when it was her turn to speak.
Linscott did an effective job highlighting her service to Gateway over the years on various committees, and (in a good way) being a pain in the ass in order to get things done.
She did urge Pelican Preserve to do whatever they could to exit the Gateway District at the earliest possible moment, which was a silly thing to say since she should know that it’s practically impossible to do under Florida law – which would require exactly 100% approval from the residents to accomplish.
Candidate Jim Brann also urged Pelican Preserve to leave the Gateway CDD – but at least he understood that the current law (100% approval from residents) basically would not allow that. So his solution was to offer to work with the Florida legislature to change the laws governing CDDs in the entire State of Florida, which in my opinion was an equally silly idea – however it was at least technically accurate.
That said, Brann came in fully prepared and you can tell he is taking this election seriously.
Brann’s main point during the forum was that he felt Gateway’s Board of Supervisors had the district’s financing of projects all wrong.
He blasted the “double-digit” increases in GSCDD assessments multiple times and instead called for using Gateway’s cash reserves and long term loans to pay for major projects.
Brann lamented that Gateway had over $2 million in cash reserves while the minimum requirement was only $750,000. Brann feels the reserves could be spent to reduce assessments in some cases.
Brann was complimentary of the current Board of Supervisors and the job they’d done over the past 2 or 3 years, however Brann wasn’t pleased with Guy in particular for not having done more during Guy’s entire eight years on the board. (I agree, the perception is that Guy’s second term has been more successful than the first, and one day I’d like to know what Guy’s perspective and/or explanation about what went right or wrong during his first term.)
As I’ve written in this space before, any candidate who decried the assessment increases in recent years is doing so either out of ignorance or to score political points. You can’t go getting 20 year loans left, right and center. They’re not easy to get and going through the process of getting those loans isn’t cheap when you add up the engineering an legal costs necessary to justify and obtain the loans. And Brann knows that Gateway is a large community that’s still growing. It hardly sounds crazy to me for Gateway to have $2 million in reserve. It sounds much crazier to reduce the reserves down to the legal minimum of $750,000. Besides, the board members do use the reserves when necessary – most recently to fund a $100,000+ hydraulics study. In my opinion, Brann was totally wrong to be complaining about the assessment increases. Hopefully he educates himself on this topic for the remainder of the campaign.
Now on to Vice-Chairman Guy …
The one thing that I wanted to hear the most from Guy was cut off by the moderators.
Guy said he was going to explain why he was running for a third term ….. and then got cut off because he spent his allotted time talking about his previous accomplishments.
Guy did not rely on reading written responses like Linscott and Brann did, but the downside of that strategy was that he always ran out of time before he could finish making his points. Again, I put the blame for that on the moderators rather than the candidates, but I felt it was annoying after the first few times it happened.
Unlike Linscott and Brann, Guy said it pointless for Pelican Preserve to leave the GSCDD. Guy explained the history of how Pelican became part of the CDD, and how in 2004 an agreement was made that Pelican residents would not pay for Gateway’s amenities.
Guy said that everything is working just fine between Gateway and Pelican and that people should just leave well enough alone.
Pelican Preserve has a special committee as part of the GSCDD and their ideas are generally rubber-stamped. So from that perspective, Guy is right that while the relationship was forced upon Gateway and Pelican by the developers, it’s working out pretty well and has for years.
Lastly, Supervisor Banks.
Banks did not go in to as many specific details as the other candidates did at times. Banks focused his answers on the bigger picture for the Gateway District, talking about organizational management, staffing, and the processes in place to prioritize issues.
When the candidates were asked what was the one biggest challenge facing the GSCDD, Banks said it didn’t matter whether the ponds or the sewers was the biggest problem – what mattered to him was that the district should prepare itself to be in a position to answer all of the challenges it faces, large and small.
Like Guy, Banks did not read prepared statements to the questions he was asked, only glancing down at notes from the time to time.
Banks displayed his expertise in organizational management at the forum, and he did so in such a way that he was able to convey his ideas without sounding like he was lecturing people. He also did the best job of explaining the progress the GSCDD has made under the current board’s leadership.
The only knock on Banks’ performance at the forum was that because Banks chose “high level” responses to the questions, sometimes the question itself did not get answered.
But again, that’s because Banks – who is a Gartner executive as his day job – is used to planning things looking at the over-all picture.
To recap, Linscott did much better in the second forum than she did in the first, Brann made bold statements and was well-prepared, Guy was on “home turf” in Pelican and offered a lot of great insight, and Banks successfully conveyed the message that a lot of progress has been made since he joined the board and things will continue to improve.
The next “Meet the Candidates” event will be in Daniel’s Preserve on September 24.
Hopefully the event organizers in Daniel’s Preserve don’t give the questions to the candidates in advance, and that they do allow for candidates to rebut their opponents’ statements.