Council candidates sound off before Thursday candidate forum

Matt Algarin
The three men running for Destin City Council are Jim Foreman, Andrew Stempki, and Rodney Braden.

With the Nov. 6 election right around the corner, The Log asked the three men running for a partial term on the Destin City Council for their thoughts on a few Destin related topics.

A special election will be held Nov. 6 to fill the seat that was vacated by former Councilman Larry Hines, who stepped down from his seat to run for Okaloosa County Commissioner. The candidate elected will be sworn in Nov. 19 and will serve the remainder of Hines’ term, which expires March 2014.

Here is a brief bio of each candidate and what they had to say — in their own words — about growth in Destin, the struggling Town Center CRA, helicopters and traffic/parking.

Braden has worked as a commercial fisherman for four years, and has owned and operated a home repair business since 1990, as well as served the community for 11 years as a member of the Okaloosa County Sherriff’s Posse.

Foreman is retired U.S. Army and has been a resident of Destin for almost 30 years and has served on various city committees and the city council for almost 20 years.

Stempki has lived in Destin for almost 7 years, was college educated in political science and history, and for the last six years, has been a part of Destin’s tourism industry as a boat captain.

Is Destin overdeveloped? And what would be your plan to manage the growth?

Braden: I think Destin is at the limits of what it can handle in regards to high-rise development, and our infrastructure is not equipped to handle more growth in this regard. Instead, I think we need to focus on increased parking and accessibility to the attractions we already have, so we may grow businesses that already exist. I think any further development should be focused on attractions that are family oriented and have the potential to keep our economy strong year round.

Foreman: Destin is estimated to be at 90 percent built-out and is restricted on three sides by water, making expansion in any direction impossible. Almost all growth occurred years ago when economic conditions were booming and real estate values reaching unreal levels. Redevelopment planning needs to be a priority to insure that the desired type of growth takes place when the economy improves. And it will.

Stempki: If you have lived in Destin for several years, the answer to that question is an emphatic “yes.” We are beginning to see the symptoms of overdevelopment with congested traffic and regrettable buildings. Given these menacing conditions, and in order to secure an enriching community for the future, each new block of cement or stick of wood added must be carefully analyzed by empowering us on the city council to regulate future development to avoid exacerbating these growing problems.

The city is slated to spend about $900,000 out of its general fund in FY2013 to support the struggling Town Center CRA. What can be done to revitalize the Main Street area?

Braden: As opposed to spending $900,000 on the town center, which has several businesses that are closed currently, I think that money would be better served on the construction of a parking garage on property the city already owns. If patrons do not have easy accessibility to an area, they are not going to stop to spend their money there. By drawing more customers, new businesses would more likely be drawn to the city center, which in turn leads to more city revenue for beautification projects.

Foreman: After the initial projects were completed in the town center, such a renovation of Main Street, Airport Road and Legion Drive tax revenue from declining property values put on hold any further improvements by the city. The main goal of the Town Center Advisory Committee is to encourage private investment in the town center by working with the business owners especially in the Downtown Shopping Center. The city needs to take an aggressive role in promoting improvements to the center of Destin since it is accessible by sidewalk, bicycle, car or even shuttle.

Stempki: The town center problem is one of the cornerstones of my candidacy, and I’ve already started looking for solutions. Several cities like Destin inherited the same problem and we on the city council, along with the Economic Development Council and the Chamber of Commerce will lock shoulders to attract quality and fitting businesses, such as corporate headquarters, mixed-use buildings, shops, diners – and of course, not ruling out a radical change in some areas of the street designs. The good news is that when businesses seek out new opportunities, the number one concern is quality of life, which the city of Destin absolutely fulfills.

Given the continual debate this year over the safety of tourism helicopters, do you approve or disapprove of these types of businesses operating in Destin, and why?

Braden: Given the history of previous helicopter tourism businesses in the area, I think the issue of safety is my biggest concern. The flight and landing paths of the current businesses put many people on the ground at risk should there be a mechanical failure.

Foreman: While Destin has no jurisdiction over the current site that helicopters are proposed to operate, my concern is whether there is a public safety issue since they will be operating over portions of the city at low level when taking off and landing. As a former helicopter pilot in the Army, I know that taking off and landing are the most dangerous portions of the aircrafts flight since engine failure at low-level results in an uncontrolled landing, so I do not favor their operation at the selected site.

Stempki: Well first of all, I think that the biggest issue with the helicopter is the obnoxious noise followed by the overall safety of the machines, because whenever you have an overlap between these businesses and residential areas, it has inevitably become a problem with the latter. Whenever we hear from a group of residents, who have worked hard, raised a family or are raising one, have paid their taxes, and want nothing but to live in peace and quiet, my principles will always side with them. As an entrepreneur, I believe in a person’s right to develop good businesses and the solution we will find on this issue involves a complex compromise in order to respect the laws and each party’s rights.

Traffic and parking in Destin are two constant issues. In your opinion, which is more important to address first, traffic or parking? Why?

Braden: I think parking is of utmost concern. For example, we have a beautiful boardwalk area and not enough parking to accommodate tourists and locals so they may get out and enjoy it. I think we could possibly ease the amount of traffic on the road during special events, etc., if we provide ample parking availability.

Foreman: Traffic and parking are two distinct problems with a common cause, automobiles, and have to be addressed at the same time. Traffic is usually associated with U.S. Hwy. 98 and the ability to travel from one end of Destin to the other. As a federal, state and county road, the city works with the state to design cuts in the median, traffic light timing and speed limits. Parking is considered as part of all building applications and must provide adequate parking for all rental, commercial and business locations, plus, the city has identified a site for public parking primarily in the harbor area.

Stempki: We are going to solve parking first because when we hear stories from businesses that are losing money because there isn’t enough parking in the harbor district, we must address those issues immediately. While congested traffic certainly leaves a stain on our overall efficiency and brand, parking is a problem we can solve quicker, easier, and cheaper than traffic congestion. In addition, I think the same solutions for parking also can ease traffic, for example, by implementing and helping foster harbor and water shuttles.

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The three men running for a seat on the Destin City Council will be answering questions from the public during a candidate forum in the Destin Library’s Calhoun Room Oct. 25 from 6 – 7:30 p.m. The Destin Library is located at 150 Sibert Avenue. Questions can be submitted for candidates ahead of time by emailing Destin Log Editor William Hatfield at Questions can also be posted to The Log’s Facebook page.


Early voting for the Nov. 6, General Election will be held from Oct. 27- Nov. 3, 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.


• Niceville City Hall located at 208 N. Partin Drive Niceville, FL

• Shalimar Annex located at 1250 N. Eglin Pkwy. Shalimar, FL

• Bob Sikes Library located at 1445 Commerce Drive Crestview, FL

• Supervisor of Elections Office located at 302 Wilson Street N, Ste 102 Crestview, FL

Destin residents will be able to place their vote at the following polling locations.

Precinct 20: West Destin, Destin Community Center, 101 Stahlman Ave.; Precinct 35: North Destin, Destin United Methodist Church, 200 Beach Dr.; Precinct 44: Central Destin, Destin United Methodist Church, 200 Beach Dr.; Precinct 49: East Destin, Destin City Hall Annex, 4100 Indian Bayou Trl.; Precinct 50: South Destin Destin City Hall Annex, 4100 Indian Bayou Trail.