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MADEIRA BEACH -- Addressing macro-issues like the city's new master plan and micro-issues like what became of the City Commission's annual $1,500 donation to the Seniors Club, incumbents formally faced their challengers for the first time at a candidate forum Monday afternoon.
The $1,500 donation was an issue primarily because the recipient of that money was sponsoring the forum. But candidates addressed other questions, from how the city communicates with its residents to whether they support a referendum planned for the ballot.
On the master plan, Mayor Tom DeCesare said he was proud of the city's work and the professionals they hired to put the plan together. He encourages the city to keep looking ahead to redevelopment.
Len Piotti, DeCesare's challenger, said he thinks the master plan includes "concepts worthy of our review." He also hopes the city will continue to involve the public in its decision making process.
Resident Sharon Derry asked the mayoral candidates how they feel about charter changes proposed by the city staff, changes not presented to voters at this election, but might in the future.
Derry was concerned about diminished roles for the Civil Service Commission, a City Commission-appointed board, and whether land could be sold in the future without the approval of voters.
"That's still up for discussion," DeCesare said. "There are about 19 different changes to the charter, and we haven't said, 'Yes, we're going to go with that' or 'No, we're not.' "
Piotti said he was concerned that the presented ideas moved more decisions into the city manager's hands.
"Most of the things that were proposed . . . took the citizens out of the decision making process."
In the District 3 race, candidate Cindy Saxon criticized the city's handling of the marina. She noted that the city had leased it to a private individual, an arrangement that netted Madeira Beach $100,000 a year. But then it opted to take back management of the marina and expected to lose about $50,000 in its first year of operation. "I'm no math wizard," Saxon said, "but that appears to me to be a loss of $150,000."
Incumbent Roger Koske said he supported taking back marina management because the facilities were in disrepair. He said the city must now invest in the marina and hopes it will be lucrative for Madeira Beach in the long run.
Koske and Saxon face a third opponent, Brian Bornemann, who did not attend the candidate forum.
In the District 4 race, candidate Ken Schwartz presented himself as a fresh candidate who became involved in the city after serving on the city's visioning committee. "It was very encouraging to see that many residents and business owners got excited about what's going on in the city," Schwartz said.
District 4 Commissioner Charles Parker, who was not always supportive of the visioning plan, reminded members of the Seniors Club that he provides a needed balance on the existing City Commission.
"I'm not afraid to say no," Parker said. "Those of you who watch the meetings know that, and I'm often the only one who says no."
And then there was the question of what became of the $1,500 the city formerly donated each year to support the Madeira Beach Seniors Club. That question was asked only of Koske and Saxon.
Koske said he voted to omit that donation because questions were raised about why the city was funding one club and not others.
Saxon said she would have questioned who was criticizing a complaint about giving money to the seniors, whom she called "the backbone" of the community. She also said she would support resurrecting the annual donation.
Election date: March 11
Seats up for election: Mayor; two City Commission seats (Districts 3 and 4)
Len Piotti, 63, 513 129th Ave.
Candidates for District 3 commissioner:
Brian Bornemann, 42, 14201 N Bayshore Drive
Roger Koske, 62, 706 Sunset Cove
Cindy Saxon, 43, 14109 N Bayshore Drive
Candidates for District 4 commissioner:
Charles Parker, 80, 260-F Medallion Blvd.
Ken Schwartz, 42, 15394 Second St.
The system: The mayor serves a three-year term. Commissioners serve two-year terms. Commissioners are elected to represent individual districts, but voters citywide select all commissioners.
Referendum: Voters will decide whether to switch to a system in which each district commissioner is elected only by residents of the district he or she represents.