With a proposed bond for building permits on the table and a desire by contractors across the county for the City of Marathon to adopt a broader local preference ordinance, the Florida Keys Contractors Association (FKCA) hosted the first city council candidate forum Tuesday afternoon at Sombrero Country Club.
An interlocal agreement between the city and the county is currently being bounced back and forth and is waiting approval. The agreement details a plan to enforce penalties against unlicensed contractors performing work in Monroe County.
Former Mayor John Bartus was the first to step to the podium to answer contractors’ questions and promote his platform.
“The only special interest I have is the people of Marathon,” Bartus said, adding, “I love my town.”
Bartus said he fully supported the local preference ordinance that would give first choice to local contractors bidding on city and county jobs, but he felt the percentage should be a solid 10 percent and not set on a sliding scale as the county is proposing.
“I want to make sure everybody’s holding hands and singing Kum Bay Ya on this before the final version is adopted,” Bartus said.
Newcomer Kevin Kenney was not present at the forum.
Persistent in her efforts, “Bicycle Joannie” Nelson, coming back for another go at a seat on the council, regaled the audience with a story of “rip raffs from Brooklyn” that she hired to repair her roof after Hurricane George. She suggested outfitting “some women with lime green t-shirts and handing out samples of Key Lime pie” to help educate outside, unlicensed workers who come into town after hurricanes looking for work.
Richard Keating told contractors that if elected, he would favor the city’s local preference ordinance being expanded to include all of Monroe County’s licensed contractors, not just those from Grassy Key to the 7-Mile Bridge.
On the proposed bond issue, Keating said he was strongly opposed to the idea.
“It would just be a lot of paper pushing and really increase the work load for staff at City Hall,” Keating said. “That’s a lot of extra effort for contractors to have to come back and get their money once the job is completed.”
A 22-year resident, local flats guide and father of two, Keating told the contractors that like them, he is “just a business man trying to operate in a difficult economy.”
“I’ve talked to people who really feel disenfranchised from City Hall,” Keating said. “It’s time for the citizens to feel their interests are being fairly represented.”
Incumbent and Vice Mayor Don Vasil said he originally ran for office because he was not pleased with the direction the city was taking.
“I promised cuts in spending, and that’s happened every year I’ve been in office,” Vasil proclaimed.
Vasil rebutted accusations against the council, adding, “Marathon has not distanced itself from its citizens.”
He continued that though he is not opposed to extending the local preference ordinance countywide, he wanted to hear from Marathon-based contractors first. Vasil said if he had to vote on the issue right now, he would be against the proposed bond issue, but “the subject is not closed. I want to hear this issue fully vetted in public first.”
“Like me or not, I’ve done what I said I was going to do,” he concluded.
Mayor Mike Cinque, another incumbent in the race of six candidates and part of the original initiative to incorporate the city, recounted his efforts while on council to reclaim lost property rights for residents of the city.
“We’ve worked to guarantee the intensity and density of property; building rights transfers; BPAS transfers; and building permits,” Cinque said. “We wanted to give those to people who are ready to build and not somebody who just wants to sit on a permit for two years.”
On accusations of a lack of transparency, Cinque said, “People know where I stand and what I think, but I’m always open to a better solution.”
“People got caught up in the greed of the real estate spiral,” said Cinque. “I’m not going to allow our city to get caught up in fear on the way down.”
Editor’s Note: The Florida Keys Contractor’s Association does not endorse candidates for public office.
Coming next week: The Marathon Weekly’s Candidate Profiles
Marathon Vice Mayor Don Vasil addresses the FKCA at Sombrero Country Club. In the foreground, there is FKCA President Chris Gratton.