by SC Publisher Shannen Hayes
There was a great deal of agreement among the six candidates – Mary Bondurant, Dr. Scott Crater, Tim Drobnyk, John Henshaw, Jason Maughan and Mike Miller – running for Sanibel City Council on many of the matters brought before them in a virtual forum Tuesday, Feb. 2 organized by the League of Women Voters of Sanibel.
The candidates thought the council responded judiciously to the COVID-19 pandemic. That includes the mask mandate, encouragement of social distancing, closing beach parking lots in the beginning and relaxing certain restrictions on businesses.
Although Henshaw added the council “could have done better at communicating the effects” of the virus, not wearing a mask or social distancing. “Communication is always better. The more communication and education is better.”
Maughan, who was a council member before resigning to run for higher office, said he voted against the mask mandate because Florida Governor Ron DeSantis had made it difficult to enforce such a ban and he didn’t think certain things were being taken into account at the time.
Candidates named climate change and water quality as the most significant long-term problems facing Sanibel. They also said it was important to collaborate with Captiva Island when it comes to moving from septic systems to the city’s sewer system.
“It is in our environmental interest to bring Captiva to Sanibel’s sewer system,” said Miller. Captiva has to pay its fair share and there should be some constraints on development that would not only have a negative impact on the sewer system but traffic.”
Crater pointed out the make up of Captiva’s community is quite different from Sanibel. He said many of the homes have absentee owners and the city will need to appeal to them when it comes to moving to sewer. “It’s a tricky balance,” he said.
The candidates further agreed it was important to fight for home rule. The biggest threat is the city’s ability to regulate short-term vacation rentals. Miller mentioned an other Senate bill that will restrict certain architectural designs, such as roof lines, that would impact Sanibel.
“We have to convince (legislators) we know our communities better than they do,” said Miller. A Henshaw added that homerule was a constitutional right worth fighting for.
When asked about the city playing a larger role in affordable housing, the candidates agreed it was important and should be addressed. Drobnyk said he would support adapting the Sanibel Plan to meet the needs in the absence of available land. And Henshaw discussed offering more opportunities for home ownership.
Candidates further agreed on broadcasts of council meetings and holding nighttime meetings. However, Bondurant added it may be difficult for some citizens to attend meetings held later in the day since meetings can be lengthy.
The candidates gave a few ideas on mitigating the seasonal traffic, but mostly agreed there was not an easy answer. Although Crater suggested working with the Sanibel & Captiva Islands Chamber of Commerce and businesses to incentivize visitors to stay later which would spread out the traffic in the evenings.
The candidates were asked about any original or unique initiatives they would propose. Crater said he would want to revisit gas-powered leaf blowers and address empty retail spaces. Drobnyk would like to bring attention to the Children’s Education Center of the Island, which has buildings in much need of repair.
“I’m not saying the city should be responsible, but to bring attention to it,” said Drobnyk.
Henshaw said getting the community and individuals engaged on how to move forward and attract younger families was also important to him. Maughan would want to see cameras in council meetings and Miller said there should be an amendment to the definition of formula restaurants to include a significant advantage through ties to a chain restaurant.
Bondurant said she didn’t want to “dilute from water and COVID,” but added energy efficiency, such as solar panels, should be looked at more.
In their closing statements:
Bondurant: “I’ve taken many leadership roles and will work hard to keep Sanibel Sanibel. I’ve built a network that enables me to work on important issues.” She asked citizens to have “trust and confidence” in her and she’ll “work hard” for them.
Crater: “I’m passionate about Sanibel and having a good environment.” He said he doesn’t “propose any major changes,” but would enjoy the opportunity to work with any of the other five candidates and Vice Mayor Holly Smith and Councilman Richard Johnson. “I have passion and am determined to do right by Sanibel.”
Drobnyk: He said every topic discussed in the forum effected Sanibel and the candidates agreed on about 80 percent of them which will make it a hard choice for voters. “I’m transparent and have a younger view. I want to work for the people of the island.”
Henshaw: “The voters do have a difficult choice, but I believe I have experience and education to tackle some of these issues. I am committed to the Sanibel Plan, Sanibel and citizens of Sanibel.”
Maughan: “I’ve enjoyed the last four years on council and growing up on the island and making it my home.” He has had years of dealing with the Sanibel Plan and was proud of accomplishing his goals before stepping out of office. “I’m going to give you honesty.”
Miller: He acknowledged the void left by former Mayor Kevin Ruane who provided leadership on a variety of issues. “I can help fill the financial void. I’ve spent years following issues as a Committee of the Islands board member and attended most of the council meetings the past six years. I’m retired and prepared to serve.”