Florida Keys News - Islamorada/KL Free Press
Wednesday, October 3, 2012
Novice challenges mainstay of local politics

ISLAMORADA -- The race for Seat 2 on the Village Council pits a political novice against an incumbent and mainstay of Islamorada politics.

Travis Yednak, 31 and an eight-year village resident, is the managing editor of The Real Estate Book. He's taking on Dave Purdo, 71, a retired backcountry fisherman who has lived in the Florida Keys since the 1970s. The winner will serve a two-year council term.

On the issues, the two men don't differ substantially. Both Purdo and Yednak say that bringing in more funding to help with the village's $113 million central wastewater project is a main priority. Both also say they're wary that the state will issue a new decree to accompany the sewer mandate, this one requiring villagewide stormwater control. Both say they would fight such a mandate unless it is funded.

This term, Purdo has pushed for the village to hire an in-house attorney to take over some of the work currently performed under contract by the Coral Gables-based Weiss Serota law firm. The move, says Purdo, would cut back on the village's historically high legal fees.

"I have no problem with Weiss Serota. I don't like the money we spend on Weiss Serota," he said.

He gets little disagreement from his opponent.

"I'd need to hear a compelling case to remove the pending litigation from the current firm, but I'd be open to having an in-house position for the administrative services portion," Yednak said.

On other matters, Purdo said he wants to spend the next term bringing a divided community back together, most notably through greater government transparency and by personally being as available to citizens as possible. He also said he'd begin fighting against the existing village practice of frequently not putting contracts out for public bid. In the recent past, Purdo has publicly questioned such moves before going on to vote for them.

Yednak, meanwhile, said he'd push to make the village's central business corridor, between mile markers 81 and 83, "more shoppable and walkable" if he gets elected, in large part by pressuring the Florida Department of Transportation for enhancements such as cross walks.

He also said he wants to put an end to what he calls "selective enforcement of code," especially as it applies to A-frame signs.

Because Yednak and Purdo don't have major policy disagreements, voters' assessment of Purdo's first-term performance may take on extra significance in the race.

"I kept all my campaign promises and accomplished a few more," Purdo wrote in a recent campaign email.

His biggest achievement, he told the Free Press, was the key role he played in eventually pushing the council to vote for the contractor Reynolds Water Islamorada to build the villagewide central sewer system. For many months, Purdo was the lone council member supporting Reynolds over the company's competitor, the bidding team of Veolia Water North America and AECOM. But the other four council members flipped their votes in August after a contract dispute with the Veolia/AECOM team. The Reynolds price ended up being $3.6 million lower than the Veolia/AECOM price.

"Now we've got Reynolds and the village is happy with Reynolds over Veolia," Purdo said.

Other achievements Purdo touts include the passage of a local contractor's ordinance that he championed, and budgeting restraint, which has left the town with emergency fund reserves in excess of $3 million, much higher than when his term began in 2010.

The councilman, however, has also been embroiled in controversy during his first term. Most notably, he, along with three other council members, were the target of a State Attorney's Office investigation into alleged violations of Florida's open meeting laws in relation to a September 2010 contract buyout of former Village Manager Ken Fields. In an email uncovered during the investigation, Purdo acknowledged discussions with council members ahead of the meeting about removing Fields. The office of State Attorney Dennis Ward eventually dropped the case without bringing charges.

"They found nothing," Purdo said last week.

While Purdo is talking up his record on the campaign trail, Yednak is promising to bring a style that differs from the often brusque Purdo.

"There's a consensus," he said. "This election is about character. People don't feel comfortable. I'm committed to doing the required homework, showing up at the meetings prepared. I'll treat everybody with respect, especially the ladies."

Yednak questioned Purdo's approach to issues, saying that the council often fails to see the big picture. For example, he said, Purdo fought hard for deep sewer wells in order to protect near shore waters, but he didn't concern himself with reuse of wastewater, which keeps water out of the wells in the first place.

For his part, Purdo says Yednak won't be independent if elected.

Purdo cited Yednak's remark to the Free Press in August that his backers had stipulated that he run for Seat 2. Yednak's main support has come from former Mayor Ron Levy and wife Beth Kaminstein, as well as Lower Matecumbe Key resident Bill Fountain, a longtime village political player.

More than that, Purdo says that Yednak, who had never attended a Village Council meeting prior to deciding in August to run for office, is just too green.

"Do we want a person on council who knows nothing?" Purdo said.

rsilk@keysnews.com

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