By: Sharon Aron Baron
The candidates running for Mayor and City Commission in Tamarac answered questions at a forum held in the Woodlands Country Club.
The event held Thursday evening was moderated by Joel Davidson, President of the Tamarac/Sawgrass Democratic Club. Candidates on the panel included Michelle Gomez and Stewart Webster who are both running for the District 2 Seat, along with Harry Dressler and Mike Gelin running for the Mayor’s seat.
Some of the many questions from the audience included concerns about the proliferation of charter schools, economic development in the city, traffic, lobbyists, concerns over the red light cameras, and public art.
There were a few interesting moments during the forum. One of them was when Dressler made it a point to always speak last. During final thoughts, when given the microphone, he insisted to candidate Mike Gelin that he got to go last because he was the mayor.
Another moment, perhaps embarrassing for not only the opponent but for the residents watching, was when a resident of the community where candidate Stewart Webster resides called Versailles, brought up the fact that he owed his association $11,500 in past dues, which she said contributed to residents having to pay a special assessment. Webster did not deny this, however, seemed agitated with the person asking, and told the audience he was working out a payment plan with his association. In one confusing moment, when Webster was asked if he would vote yes for the new charter high school, he said it was up to Broward County Schools to decide where they would put the charter school, which is not how the process works.
“I know what I know, I know what I don’t know, and I know where to get the information necessary,” said Webster, who added that he had Superintendent Robert Runcie’s cell phone number. Unfortunately, during this part of the forum, he didn’t realize what he didn’t know.
Webster also told the audience that he was a certified teacher, however, the Florida Department of Education does not have him listed as one.
Gomez believed the city needed a charter high school. She said they put out an RFP first (proposal) to get interest, however, it wasn’t clear if any preliminary research was done to find out if a charter high school was wanted or even necessary due to the under-enrollment of neighboring high schools.
Candidate Mike Gelin didn’t believe we needed a new charter high school in Tamarac. “I spoke with Superintendent Runcie and we have capacity at Piper High School and Taravella High School.” Gelin said we cannot offer the same amenities as the public high schools, then we’re shortchanging our students.
During one question, Dressler was asked about accepting campaign money before the donor was set to appear before the commission on a variance issue, which he denied.
“I’ll challenge your facts ma’am. That’s my answer.”
However, according to Dressler’s September campaign report, he received a $1,000 contribution from the firm of Dunay, Miskel, Backman and Blattner on August 1. Then on September 10, Dressler voted yes to the variance, however, he did not recuse himself nor did he state that he had a conflict at the time.
On the question of the red light cameras, both Dressler and Gomez who initially voted on the cameras were still in support of them believing they saved lives. They called them “cost neutral” despite reports that the city has lost almost $40,000 on them due to the administration costs. But besides that, many people in the audience didn’t understand what cost neutral meant. Gomez also mentioned that she visited the headquarters of American Traffic Solutions in Arizona to check them out as our representative with the League of Cities one year before she voted on them. She also mentioned that the red light contracts are being reviewed, and if it is not good for our city they have the ability to get out of the contract.
Gelin said he is against the red light cameras citing independent studies saying that the only beneficiaries of the cameras are American Traffic Solutions.
Webster said he was concerned about the fairness and objectivity of the cameras and was also concerned about the red light camera in front of the hospital.