ISLAMORADA -- With elections less than six months away, candidates for the Village Council have begun to line up.
In recent weeks and months, three Village Council incumbents have filed paperwork stating their intent to run for another two-year term, joining hotelier Paul Bates, who made his entry into the race official back in February 2011.
In addition, former council member Chris Sante, who is one of two Islamorada residents to carry the honorary title mayor emeritus, has begun efforts to organize a slate of candidates, though Sante says he doesn't intend to run himself.
Vice Mayor Ken Philipson and Councilman Dave Purdo both put in papers stating their intent to run on April 9, and Philipson has since submitted enough signatures to officially qualify for the race. He'll be seeking to retain his Seat 3 on the council for a second two-year term.
"I'm pleased with the progress we've made so far, and there's still other things that need to be accomplished as far as deploying the assets of the village to the best use of the taxpayer," Philipson said of his decision to seek another term. "What I mean is there are certain departments that may be overstaffed and need to be looked at by our council."
Though he opposed a recent effort by Purdo to replace the village legal team, led by the Weiss Serota law firm of Coral Gables, Philipson singled out the legal department as the area that most needs a closer look.
Purdo said that dealing with the estimated $110 million Islamorada sewer project, which the current council has brought close to being a reality after a decade of debate, will be a lead goal should he retain his Seat 2 on the board.
"I haven't accomplished everything I wanted to yet, and we're in the middle of wastewater and I'd like to see an experienced council in there while we're still playing around with wastewater," he said.
Councilman Ted Blackburn, who holds the council's Seat 4, filed his statement of candidacy on Feb. 24, though he said last week that he's still not certain he'll push forward with a run. Progress on wastewater over the next few months could be the deciding factor.
"As it stands now, I will run," said Blackburn who was appointed to the council in late 2010 following the resignation of Bob Johnson. "If some things we are attempting to do don't happen and the frustration level is too high, then maybe I won't."
If he does run, Blackburn expects austerity to be an emphasis of his campaign.
"I don't see the next four years being a glorious time for municipal growth," he said. "I see it as a time of consolidation."
While Philipson, Purdo and Blackburn are likely to be on the ticket for the Nov. 6 Village Council elections, Mayor Michael Reckwerdt, who is termed out, and Councilman Don Achenberg, who has announced that he is stepping aside, will not.
Bates, the owner of Coconut Cove Resort on Windley Key and a relentless village critic, announced 15 months ago that he'll run for Seat 5, being left vacant by Reckwerdt. It will be Bates' fourth run for the council, but he says he likes his chances this year, since for the first time the vote will be held in concert with the general election, meaning turnout should increase significantly. Previously, the village held elections in March.
"It's going to be a populist vote," Bates said. "It's going to be a higher turnout, which reduces the influence of village insiders."
Preparing a slate?
So far, nobody has announced plans to run for Seat 1, currently held by Achenberg. Nor have any of the candidates drawn competitors. Some of that void could potentially be filled by individuals who met a few weeks ago in Tavernier at the impetus of Sante.
Approximately a dozen people were in attendance at the brainstorming session intended to shed light on whether they could find common ground for a village election platform. Potential candidates were also discussed.
Among those at the meeting who expressed a possible interest in running for a council seat were former village Utilities Director Myles Milander and Jim Rhyne, as confirmed in interviews with the Free Press last week. Rhyne is a Marathon hotelier and Lower Matecumbe Key resident who lost a narrow election for the council in 2008.
Among the others who were there were Sante, former Councilman Dave Boerner, Venetian Shores Homeowners Association President Stan Margulies and Dave Makepeace, a former Coral Shores High School biology teacher who has long been the chairman of the village's water quality advisory committee.
Also attending was a potential newcomer to village politics, Cheryl Meads, who in 2010 was paid $96 million as a result of a federal whistle blower lawsuit. The payout was her share of the $750 million she helped the U.S. government recover from her former employer, the drug maker GlaxoSmithKline, which made the settlement to resolve allegations that it knowingly manufactured contaminated pharmaceuticals.
Issues put forth at the meeting last month, several attendees said, included replacing Village Manager Ed Koconis, running the village more like a business, pursuing alternatives to central sewering, beautifying Islamorada, empaneling either an independent or dependent wastewater board and taking a more consistent stance on enforcing development and code regulations.
Ultimately, said attorney Patty Silver, who also was among the attendees, the meeting yielded little in the way of tangible results.
"It's still very preliminary and it needs a lot of refinement," she said.
Rhyne said that to this point the effort to build a slate of candidates "is absolutely not coalescing," but he added that he strongly believes the idea has virtue. If elected, a unified group of candidates could get things done much more efficiently than the village has become accustomed to, he said.
Sante was hoping to organize another meeting this week, he wrote to potential attendees.