The Log reached out to each of the mayoral and council candidates to get their thoughts on some of the biggest issues facing the city.
Destin residents will head to the poles on Tuesday to vote in what has become a very turbulent municipal election.
But before they do, The Log reached out to each of the mayoral and council candidates to get their thoughts on some of the biggest issues facing the city. Read more about the candidates and their positions below.
Candidates for Mayor:
Scott Fischer: SF
Gary Jarvis: GJ
City Council Candidates:
Rodney Braden: RB
Teresa Hebert: TH
Skip Overdier: SO
Prebble Ramswell: PR
Mark Robertson: MR
Profession or Previous Profession:
SF: Newspaper publisher, cold case homicide detective, deputy coroner
GJ: Professional commercial and charter for hire fishing business owner
RB: Did not respond.
TH: Retired U.S. Navy, pharmaceutical sales rep
SO: Retired U.S. Air Force, partner and managing broker for real estate franchise in New Mexico, maintenance manager for combat aircraft
PR: Intelligence officer and analyst, academic program director, political science professor
MR: Certified trauma treatment specialist
1. How should the city proceed with the ongoing Gulf Power issue?
SF: The citizens of Destin have made it clear that they are against the city of Destin owning or managing the electric provider for their city. The City Council has been focused on issuing a Request for Proposals to existing power companies, which would allow the council to compare offers in a competitive process in a free market. Gulf Power is scared to death of having to bid against another power company and is determined to create an absolute monopoly, preventing any future Destin City Councils from ever being able to break the monopoly.
GJ: I’d push for a 15 year agreement to allow for changes in infrastructure and services to be addressed in a timelier manner. I don’t support the purchase and running of a municipal power company. You don't go $150 million in debt, spend years in court with an unwilling seller, and tell us it’s to lower rates. It looks and smells like taxation via your power bill to increase the city’s budget. If this council can prove that it’s an economic gain to the city of Destin, then citizens should decide by a special referendum vote on a new utility provider.
RB: Did not respond.
TH: Gulf Power replied to the city explaining the fair rates and misinformation previously provided by the Destin mayor and city council. Based on the facts presented there, I believe Gulf Power provides an excellent service with comparable rates. I would not support purchasing/running our own power company.
SO: I applaud the current council for trying to lower utility rates for Destin citizens. However, I feel Gulf Power has a good track record for the last 30 years in providing electrical service to Destin. Their rates have fluctuated just as utility rates for other providers have fluctuated. Gulf Power has not always been the highest and has actually saved us money at times. Their response during storms and other power outages has been excellent. Past performance is a good indicator of future performance. I want Destin to continue to negotiate with Gulf Power to get the best contract possible.
PR: As with the end of any contract, it is important to review terms before automatically renewing it. I want to make sure that we have the very best service at a reasonable rate that is fair. To do this, we have to consider all options and weigh the pros and cons. Do I think that running our own utility is the best solution? No. The other options are seeing what else is out there in terms of other power companies and negotiating our contract with Gulf Power, which is exactly what we are doing.
MR: The city of Destin and Gulf Power had an agreement, called a "franchise agreement." The duration of this agreement was 30 years, and the franchise fee was 6 percent. Recently, this franchise agreement expired. The issue is, "Should this agreement with Gulf Power be renewed? If so, for how long, and at what cost?" In my opinion, the franchise agreement with Gulf Power should be renewed at 6 percent for 15 years.
2. Public parking in the harbor district is limited and the city’s transition to paid parking lots has upset locals, many who now avoid those paid parking lots. How would you work to solve the parking problem in Destin?
SF: As I assume you are aware the city of Destin has a weak mayor system of government. The charter requires the mayor be the face of the city council and once the council takes a position, the mayor is required to represent that position. The mayor cannot make motions or vote, except in the case of a tie vote. I support the council's decisions and they are moving forward to address these issues.
GJ: Parking at Harbor Boardwalk is the No. 1 problem that this city can fix. In season, a big part of traffic gridlock in the west harbor district is from people going on and off 98 looking for parking. Harbor businesses are at their limits for onsite parking and as a result, now have paid parking on private property. The answer is twofold. Build multi-level parking structures using city and private venture partnerships and pay for them over a period of time using a fee structure for high season, then reduce or suspend paid parking for the shoulder seasons.
RB: Did not respond.
TH: Unfortunately, there aren’t a lot of places to park on the harbor anymore and with summer traffic/visitors arriving soon, the open parking has become a premium. I would open the question to the citizens of Destin, if elected, and allow them to suggest solutions.
SO: Paid parking is normal in many cities. We have had free parking forever and our growth is exceeding our available parking. Paid parking is a source of income to pay for more parking lots. The Sibert Avenue and Zerbe Street parking lot, along with roadside pay-to-park along Sibert Avenue and an additional lot adjacent to the cemetery, will provide 121 parking spots. Businesses need to have their own paid parking that is free if you utilize their business. Additionally, a public/private venture to provide more parking should be explored.
PR: It’s important to make sure that when a structure is built, that it is built with sufficient parking. This falls upon the city to make sure our code is written to ensure adequate parking. It also falls upon the property owner to abide by zoning and original stated purchase of the property. It is also incumbent upon the city to make sure we provide enough parking for our residents and tourists to visit the harbor. One issue is that there is free parking, it is simply further away than many people would like, although we do need to create more.
MR: The harbor and the fishing fleet is "city-center" for Destin. It is the main tourist attraction. The harbor has an "east-west" boardwalk, parallel to Highway 98. This mile-long tourist area has about 225 businesses. Unfortunately, the harbor district has inadequate parking. Better parking can be achieved by building two multi-level parking decks. One parking deck should be built on the west side of the harbor, near McGuire’s Irish Pub, with a second, eastern parking deck built near the Harbor Docks Restaurant. Parking for locals should be free — with "proof of purchase" from the Harbor District.
3. The city’s recent attempt at a tree ordinance angered many residents and has since been repealed. How would you fix the ordinance moving forward?
SF: This was a recommendation brought to council by citizens of the city. This will go back for public discussion and a workshop. Many council members obviously supported a tree ordinance, but the first version went much farther than council was willing to go. I am sure a compromise will be reached with public input and will eventually be adopted by council.
GJ: Good leadership and accountability prevents poor governing. Even though this ordinance was repealed, it was voted into law. Those that voted for it can’t hide from the fact that this was an exercise in poor governing. It’s a classic case of good intentions with unintended consequences that created government overreach. Good leadership asks questions. What is the intent? Who will it affect? Have we covered all potential problems? Will it lessen legal burdens on the city? Who will enforce it and at what cost? These are all serious but simple ways to approach any issue that faces our city.
RB: Did not respond.
TH: As the chairwoman of the Environment/Parks and Recreation and Tree Committee, what was presented to the city a year ago went through 10 rewrites and became an ordinance that required everyone to get permits for any tree cutting/trimming. That was not the original intent. The intent was to protect our canopy of trees and prevent developers/landscaping from cutting down trees without any thought. It was not meant for homeowners to obtain a permit to trim trees on their property. This ordinance needs to be rewritten to focus on the overall canopy protection of our city.
SO: The tree ordinance was started to preserve the tree canopy of Destin. The Tree Committee worked very hard to craft a document that prevented contractors and developers from clear-cutting trees on large areas. It was not intended to prevent private property owners from maintaining the trees on their property. I understand the importance of trees, both to the environment and the beauty of our city, but I’d protect our citizens from fees and licenses to maintain the trees on their property.
PR: By keeping it simple. Really, it’s that easy. We also must recognize that a permit and fee for each tree on a person's lot is not fair for the property owner. One permit and one fee for all trees on one lot is much more reasonable.
MR: The initial sentence, introducing this question, is incorrect. Yes, the tree ordinance has angered residents— but the ordinance has NOT been "repealed." Rather, the ordinance was "abated." Repealing is NOT synonymous with abating. To repeal means to revoke, reverse, or rescind. Conversely, "abate" means to identify a valid, binding law as a public nuisance. The tree ordinance is a public nuisance. And the incompetent lawmakers who passed it over the indignant outcry of an angry community are also a public nuisance. To fix the tree ordinance, we must remove the public nuisance by voting the incumbents out of office.