The 2020 election year is bound to be a busy one with races for federal, state and local offices. In Islamorada, five seats on the dais are up for grabs, and four of those spots will see new faces, with Deb Gillis terming out and Chris Sante, who’s filling out the rest of Cheryl Meads’ term, declaring that he won’t seek office. Current Mayor Mike Forster is running for county commission while Jim Mooney seeks the state House seat.

Candidates filed for office as early as last July and as recently as early February. The Weekly recently spoke to candidates and posed the following questions to each. Here’s what they had to say.

QUESTIONS:
1. Years in the Keys?
2. What do you do for a living?
3. What propelled you to run for village office?
4. What can you bring to the dais?
5. What’s the biggest issue facing the village and how would you fix it?
6. What makes Islamorada unique, and what are some things you’d do to preserve the community and its character?

SEAT 1

Frank Lavin

1. 4-plus years.

2. I am an interior designer and real estate agent.

3. Attending village council meetings for almost two years and listening to what issues are important to the different members of our community who live on four very different islands, I thought on how I could bridge the gaps and lend my expertise. I will address voter concerns on fiscal responsibility and keep voters informed. The beautification of our islands, especially what you see from the highway, will be a major concern. You can visit my website VOTELAVIN.COM and see why I am running.

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4. I will listen to the issues which are presented to the council. I will study the issues and proposals prepared by our village administration, as well as communications brought by council members, and concerns presented by our community. Never dismiss a topic of concern, an idea, a suggestion, anything that may impact one citizen of Islamorada.

5. One of the main issues we are facing is the constant traffic, the speed of cars, and not being able to egress in and out of neighborhoods during the day, and especially on weekends. Key locations where a traffic light, a stop sign, or pedestrian crosswalk is needed, must be addressed with FDOT.

6. The unique character of Islamorada lies in the five islands which make our village. Every island is an entity which is very different from the others. I would like to unite all of the islands, by bridging the gap which occurs by each islands’ insulation and isolation. The protection of private property, and the quality of life will be addressed. Helping all, no matter which portion of the village we live on.

Pete Bacheler

1. 35 years.

2. I’m a private land-use planner and commercial photographer.

3. After 6-and-a-half years as chairman of the Village Land Use agency (LPA), the next step is council.

4. I can bring 35 years experience in permitting in the Keys and Islamorada provides an extensive background in Keys development and history.

5. The biggest issue is 2023 and the termination of residential permits and the changes it may bring.

6. Our environment and weather make our community very unique and fluid. We should continue the current direction of our council as they are preserving our community and character.

SEAT 2

Mark Gregg

1. 35 years.

2. I am a mostly retired real estate lawyer and part-time commercial fisherman.

3. Four of the five sitting council members are not seeking re-election, so the new council taking office in November would benefit from someone like me who has previously served on the council.

4. Experience. I have practiced real estate and business law in Islamorada since 1987. I previously served on the village council from 2000-04, including a year as mayor and a year as vice mayor. I also served on the first Village Land Planning Agency (LPA) from 2000-02, which along with village council, wrote the first Comprehensive Land Use Plan, Village Land Development Regulations and village code, most of which are in effect today. In 1998, I built the first three affordable houses permitted by the village. I am currently serving as member of the LPA and Achievable Housing. I’m also a founding member of Florida Bay Forever.

5. I believe that a severe lack of affordable housing is the root of several problems and MUST be fixed. An ordinance that would allow homeowners to rent out “granny flats.” known as accessory dwelling units would go a long way towards keeping existing homeowners in place while providing low income, low impact housing for our workforce without the need to clear and develop vacant land.

6. We place great value on our natural scenic beauty with an emphasis on limited development that protects residents’ quality of life over maximum build out. We have tried to support locally-owned businesses and maintain a small town feeling. I will work to preserve and enhance our water s and sensitive habitats through strict, but fair environmental regulations and land acquisition, and promote and assist existing small businesses by relaxing or eliminating stale and burdensome regulations that drive up the costs of doing business. I will also fight against unwanted outside influences such as those who disregard our right to quiet enjoyment of life by taking away our local control of vacation rentals.

SEAT 3

Jenny Bell-Thomson

1. 47 years

2. For the past eight years, I have been the admitting manager at Mariners and Fishermen’s Community Hospital (two years). I am retiring from that position on April 1. Previously, I was with the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office for 26 years, retiring with the rank of captain in charge of the Upper Keys district.

3. I have a passion for public service. To be one small part of a decision-making body working toward the continuation of our quality of life while keeping the best interests of our residents and visitors at heart would be very fulfilling. I realize this is not without its challenges, though, and I’m prepared to do the hard work and make decisions that might not be popular.

4. Government experience. Small business owner experience. Lots of local, historical knowledge; old and new friends from all walks of life who can provide perspective on issues. An open mind with a willingness to hear all sides. Ability to drill down on issues for better decision-making. Parent of college-aged children who grew up here and attended public schools. A sense of humor.

5. Water quality. I wouldn’t presume to suggest I can fix it but we have to start somewhere — we have to take a stand. This will take years of continued partnerships with local, state and federal governments and private concerns using solid science and continued research.

6. The people who work here. The flora and fauna. And in particular, the growing number of unique, locally-owned businesses which set our community apart from the rest of the Keys. They not only add an element of attraction to outside tourism, but also provide an added dimension to the local community, giving us all a richer, more diverse choice of activities and interests to participate in.

SEAT 4

Ken Davis

1. Other than three years in the Middle East, I have always called the Florida Keys my home.

2. I was an agent in charge of the Florida Keys DEA, then I spent three years as intelligence director for the U.S. Army in Baghdad where I led a 30-person unit.

3. I think we’ve done a lot of good over the past year. As the last man standing on this council, I believe this council has done outstanding work by working as a team together. The village is doing well, we’re getting back on our feet from the storm. We took care of the biggest issue, which was the Fills, which has been a 20-year problem.

4. I believe I bring experience having lived in various areas of the U.S. and parts of the world. I believe I bring the leadership qualities as this office requires. Most of all, I have the time to commit my full time to the dais.

5. Facing the village right now going into 2023, what are we going to do about people who own property and are not going to be able to develop when the state cuts off all permitting? Those people are going to file Bert Harris lawsuits. What do we need to do to make sure we are not held liable? The village was incorporated after the ROGO was set by the state. We inherited this but we’re going to do everything we can.

6. We live in paradise. It’s not paradise because we have the most beautiful water and sunsets. It’s paradise because of this community that always comes together.

SEAT 5

Larry Zettwoch

1. I bought a home in 1988 and have been here the whole time. I worked in Charlotte, North Carolina, and was out of town quite a bit. I’ve been voting down here since 1989.

2. I was in the military for 32 years as an active duty guard reserve. I flew commercial for airlines for 34 years.

3. I’m interested in Islamorada council seat 5 because I wish to conserve and preserve the uniqueness of the village and its water. I tell people I want to keep Islamorada Islamorada.

4. I’ve been serving in Islamorada for years. I’ve been on the board at the library, so I talk to a different group of people over there. I’ve been a board member of the Moose for six-plus years. I talk to a different group over there. I’m a volunteer fireman and I teach every month for them. I come across a lot of people, and I hear their concerns.

5. We got two issues in my opinion. The one in your face is traffic, the other is surrounding waters and the reefs. The reefs need protecting. The bay needs more water. I’ve been a boater since ’88, so I’m on both sides and I taught scuba at Plantation Yacht Harbor. The bay is what concerns me right now and salinity of water, we got to help it. It’s our livelihood and we’ve got to bring it to the forefront. Council has to be vocal about this.

6. It’s a water community, whether backcountry, scuba or deep water fishing. It’s all about water. That’s why I moved here. I used to be in the water every day. It’s a wonderful boating committee, it’s a great scuba community. That’s what I love about it. At the same time, we have rules, and I love that. I also love that the village is trying to take over FIlls, that’s a unique place.

David Webb

1. Seven as a full time resident. I’m a native Floridian from Miami.

2. I’m retired from FedEx where I was a domestic and international pilot for over 30 years. Prior to that I was a fighter pilot in the USAF and SCANG.

3. First and foremost, it is my strong belief that it is an obligation of citizenship to contribute to the community in which one lives. Having had the opportunity to interface with the Village Council and staff over the last several years as a member and president of the Port Antigua Property Owners Association Inc., (PAPOA) I feel I could, if elected, help smooth the transition as at least 80% of the 2021 Council will be new faces.

4. As the leader of the association representing the over 4,000 FedEx pilots for nearly 10 years and president of the PAPOA representing over 300 property owners on Lower Mat for two years, I have refined my ability to bring diverse groups of people with sometimes conflicting objectives together through honest, open and respectful interaction.

5. Identifying the biggest issue facing the village depends on who you’re asking. If you are a charter captain, it might be the deteriorating water quality in Florida Bay and the near shores of Islamorada. If you are a young working family trying to get established in our beautiful community, it’s probably the shortage of affordable housing. If you ask a current council member,  they might say strengthening our community’s ability to address these and every challenge we face by resisting the state of Florida’s attempts to weaken or eliminate home rule. My approach to resolving problems is a threefold process. First, reach agreement with all stakeholders to define the problem. Second, utilize all resources available to assess all options for addressing the problem. Finally, work to achieve consensus on the most viable solution and implement.

6. Being the “Village of Islands.” Four gems with the Everglades National Park and Florida Bay to the north and the cobalt blue Gulfstream and Atlantic Ocean to the south. One of the biggest challenges to keeping our unique home one of the most desirable communities in the Keys is finding a way to have visitors and residents alike be responsible stewards of our fragile environment while enjoying its abundance.

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