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FWB candidates speak out at forum

Northwest Florida Daily News - 3/3/2017

March 03--FORT WALTON BEACH -- About 50 people showed up at the city Recreation Center on Jet Drive on Wednesday night to meet and learn about the eight City Council and mayor candidates.

The Fort Walton Beach candidates consist of two who want to serve as mayor and six who seek to fill three open council seats. Early voting takes place throughout next week and election day is March 14.

WEAR Channel 3 News reporter and anchor Laura Hussey moderated Wednesday's candidate the forum. It featured a question-and-answer session with mayoral candidates Tom Rice and Dick Rynearson, followed by a similar format for the six council contenders.

Mayoral candidates

In response to being asked about the role of the mayor, both Rice and Rynearson said a big part of the job is reaching out to support the military community. Rice is an Army veteran, a lifelong Fort Walton Beach resident and the owner of the Magnolia Grill. Rynearson is an Air Force veteran, a 40-year city resident and a two-term councilman.

Each contender then addressed why he thinks he's the best candidate.

As a business owner, Rice said he has supported the community and employed hundreds of people at his restaurant. As mayor, he said he would promote conservative ideas such as protecting personal property rights.

Rice also said he once served on a state committee to encourage people who were retiring from the military to stay in Florida, and that the most controversial board he served on was the Emerald Coast Bridge Authority.

"While we never built a thing, we never had one ethics complaint," Rice said.

Rynearson said his educational background, including his master's degree in business, and his lifetime of experience make him a good leader.

"The city employees need a mayor who knows them personally and has their back," Rynearson said.

He noted how city officials now are studying all city-owned facilities to determine whether some should be repaired or replaced.

"I would love to head up that kind of work for the city," Rynearson said.

If he was elected, Rice said he would encourage more residents to live downtown, help business owners with rising costs and support annexing and redeveloping certain properties.

"If we expand the footprint of the city, we can use that (new property tax) money to help build the city," he said.

If he was elected, Rynearson said he would assist with the planned replacement of the Brooks Bridge and work with other authorities to make sure traffic flows smoothly in the growing downtown area.

"I want to continue making downtown pedestrian friendly," he said.

Rice and Rynearson both said stormwater improvements are among the city's biggest priorities.

Council candidates

These candidates are: Nic Allegretto, owner of Scooter Brothers; former councilman David deVaux, who owns a construction business; incumbent Councilwoman and Realtor Amy Jamieson; Valparaiso Public Works Director Nathan Kelley; incumbent councilman and construction official MG Moran; and David Schmidt, principal of Walton Academy in DeFuniak Springs.

Allegretto said serving on the council "starts and ends with service to you, the community." He also said that he understands the challenges faced by small business owners like himself.

Setting the city's policies and tax rates are some of the council's main duties, said deVaux, who added that it must also meet the needs of both existing and future residents.

Jamieson said she enjoys listening to residents and sharing their concerns with city staff, and enjoys working with Fort Walton Beach officials because they do not have egos.

Making educated decisions while leading the city is a big part of a councilman's job, said Kelley, who added that council members need a team effort to vote on issues.

Moran said, "It's your city, not ours. You put us in charge of your money." He also said if doesn't know the answer to a question, he'll do the work to find it.

Being a public servant requires tackling tough questions and issues and making decisions based on the best information available, as well as on residents' input, Schmidt said.

The candidates also were asked about what they consider to be the city's biggest challenges.

Losing talented employees to better-paying jobs is a major problem, Allegretto said. He also said the city needs to fill up hundreds of thousands of square feet in its Commerce & Technology Park.

Reducing city fees and taxes, including the city's water rates and business fees, is very important, deVaux said.

"I'm concerned we're getting accustomed to 'raise, raise, raise,'" he said.

Kelley said old city buildings in need of repair and/or replacement is a huge challenge. Getting the new Brooks Bridge built and decreasing homelessness are others, he said.

The city's infrastructure is "like us: it doesn't get younger as the years go on," said Moran, who added that finding the money to make improvements will be a major challenge.

Schmidt also cited the city's aging infrastructure as a big problem. And he said officials need to let longtime downtown property owners and other stakeholders lead the way to create a unified vision for the city.

Jamieson said she shares the same view on several of the challenges cited by the other candidates. She said another challenge is a state House bill that calls for removing the home rule power of local governments and not allowing them to maintain their own regulations.

A second candidate forum is scheduled for noon Tuesday at the Bob Hope Village ballroom in Shalimar.

At 5:30 p.m. that day, a tribute to outgoing Mayor Mike Anderson and an introduction of each candidate will take place at the C. H. "Bull" Rigdon Fairgrounds and Recreation Complex.


(c)2017 Northwest Florida Daily News (Fort Walton Beach, Fla.)

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