Florida Keys News
Wednesday, October 10, 2012
Economy key in Marathon council race

MARATHON -- The race for the three seats up for grabs on the Marathon City Council in November features two incumbents and three other familiar faces.

Vice Mayor Dick Ramsay and Councilwoman Ginger Snead, a two-time former mayor, are seeking to keep their council seats, each for a third two-year term. Also vying for spots on the council are Chris Bull, who served on the council from 2004 to 2008, including two terms as mayor; C.J. Geotis, Marathon's deputy city manager from 2005 to 2009; and Larry Shaffer, a two-time Marathon council candidate who is the editor and publisher of the online Florida Keys Journal.

The seats are contested at-large, so the top three vote-getters during the Nov. 6 election will win spots on the council.

The candidates mostly agree that economic development issues will be front and center in Marathon over the next two years with two major hotel projects looming, a zip line on the plate at Crane Point Hammock and the Florida Keys Marathon Airport in line to become an international port of entry.

A number of other issues are also likely to come to the fore, including the potential construction of a city hall building.

Chris Bull

Bull, 37, is a tennis coach, property manager and online business owner. He says that with wastewater, stormwater and paving projects in Marathon's rearview mirror, the time has come to begin a visioning process for the future.

"Council now is being totally reactive on the things coming in front of them, instead of going to community on what we want our future to be," Bull said. "So what I want in my term is to lead a discussion with the people of Marathon on what we want our city to be."

Along with the visioning, Bull highlighted a handful of policy matters that he'll focus upon if elected.

One is how to go about replacing Marathon's city hall, which is currently located in trailers. Bull said the town should either construct a permanent facility on the trailer site or purchase a building elsewhere.

"We have to have that discussion," he said.

Bull also said the city should consider replacing its contracted attorney John Herin, now of the Fort Lauderdale office of the GrayRobinson law firm, with an in-house attorney.

And in the wake of Marathon being left out of a $50 million state wastewater grant this year that went instead to Islamorada and Monroe County, Bull said he'll fight hard to make sure the city gets its fair share of county, state and federal grant money to help pay off sewer construction loans.

"You turn your back and suddenly they're giving that pot of money to somebody else that is more vigilant," he said.

"My main theme is putting Marathon first," he added. "I'll lead a discussion about our future, fight for our fair share and I'll base decisions on the city rather than on personal interests."

C.J. Geotis

Geotis, 62, is a freelance grant writer and fishing columnist for the Key West Citizen and Florida Keys Free Press who says that if elected he'll focus on increasing government efficiency.

"In general, what the people in this town are telling me is that they want things in this city to be simpler and less expensive," Geotis said.

Taking such steps, Geotis explained, would make permitting quicker and less burdensome for potential new small businesses. A proactive approach could also help get the planned 125-unit Faro Blanco redevelopment and the planned 95-unit Marriott finished and open faster.

"I think we can do that by working with them," Geotis said. "Explaining to them where there might be a stumbling block, even if it's not with the city. If they could finish those projects, then we'd have jobs available."

Geotis also said Marathon should change its approach to dealing with unkempt foreclosure properties. Placing liens on properties and fining them, then hoping that the delinquent home owner will respond, isn't working, he said. Instead, Geotis said he'll push for Marathon's code enforcement to clean up properties first, then place a lien that would be collected from the bank once the foreclosure is complete and the property sells.

Overall, Geotis said, his goal on the council would be to maintain the lifestyle of locals while enhancing the experience for visitors. Like other council candidates, he supports the zip line and would like to see the port of entry come to fruition.

"I just think it is time for some new thinking," he said. "It's time to get another working guy up there on council."

Dick Ramsay

Ramsay, 71, is a retired service station owner who was an electronics executive in an earlier career.

A two-term incumbent, he says voters should judge him on what he has accomplished for Marathon thus far.

"I think when voters get to the booth they should say to themselves, 'Did Dick Ramsay fulfill his promises during campaigning? Did Dick Ramsay return my phone calls? Did Dick Ramsay come up with ideas stabilizing the economy?' I think I've done all that and therefore my record stands on its own."

Among the achievements Ramsay touts is organizing a lateral sewer line hookup summit between property owners, contractors and suppliers. The discounts that came out of that summit saved taxpayers $3 million to $4 million in private sewer connection charges, he says.

Ramsay also said he is proud of working successfully for passage of a local preference ordinance for contractors, and of pushing the town to begin online permitting.

He also has been a key player in advocating port-of-entry status at the Marathon airport -- an effort that helped encourage the Monroe County Commission's recent decision to go out for bid on a design for the U.S. Customs and Border Protection facility that must be built before the status can become a reality.

Making sure that process moves forward, and that the Florida Department of Transportation and the Federal Aviation Administration complete the estimated $1.15 million airport upgrade, said Ramsay, would be a priority in his next term.

"It's going to eventually lead to commercial air service," he said, referencing flights to the Bahamas and the Caribbean.

Ramsay also said that if elected he's going to fight to keep the Turtle Hospital from leaving Marathon for Key West.

"The Turtle Hospital averages 300 people per day. I hate to lose those people," he said.

Larry Shaffer

Shaffer, 61, served on the Marathon Planning Commission for 3 ¬½ years and has been running Florida Keys Journal news blog since 1995. He was on the losing end of council runs in 2003 and 2010, but says that this time around he's better prepared, having spent the past two years organizing the Rock Coalition in Marathon's historically less affluent neighborhood, from 36th Street to 46th Street.

"I've got the experience from the Journal. I've got the experience of running twice. I've learned my lesson," Shaffer said.

Economic development is at the center of the Shaffer's platform. He said he'll do whatever he can to help Crane Point Hammock and also wants to make things as easy as possible for new development. Shaffer also said that if elected he'd still hold developers to the code, but would be willing to change the code if it proved too burdensome.

"Development is no longer a bad word because now we have 8,000 people in Marathon," Shaffer said. "We used to have 12,000 people. We need to do everything we can to grow the economy."

On the public works front, Shaffer said he supports the construction of a new city hall and he also believes Marathon should build an oft-talked about splash park for children on a vacant parcel the city owns adjoining Community Park.

Uniquely in his platform, Shaffer said he advocates city staff unionizing, just as Marathon firefighters did a few years ago.

"You're not going to have people staying there if they're not going to be treated right and they're not going to be paid right," Shaffer said.

Ginger Snead

Snead, 50, is a physical therapist at Advantage Rehab & Fitness. A two-term former council member, she's modest about her achievements on the board.

"No one does anything by themselves," Snead said. "It's a joint effort to get anything done. As a council, I am proud of the fact that we have finally completed the sewer system. We've started on beautification. We have plants in and we have more coming."

Looking ahead, Snead says it's key that Marathon control development projects so that the town has a diversity of attractions, as well as variety in its lodging facilities.

"We do all the development agreements," she said of the council. "It needs to be a discussion with residents and the council, what's the direction that people want to go."

She says projects like Faro Blanco and the Marriott are important. And if elected she'll continue to support the Crane Point zip line, as well as the port-of-entry project at the airport.

Like Bull, Snead said she supports the construction of a permanent village hall. She also wants to see the park parcel developed, though she hasn't decided what should go there.

"I want to hear what the residents want," she said.

Back on the beautification front, Snead said she'd like to enhance landscaping requirements for redevelopment projects along U.S. 1.

"I'm just looking forward to serving our residents for two more years and helping our city move forward," she said. "I have experience. I am an independent voice. And I'm always available to answer any issue, whether big or small, tough or easy."

rsilk@keysnews.com

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