OKEECHOBEE — Monday night, Okeechobee City Council held a candidate forum for those running for city council in the upcoming special election on May 4. The city council election is a non-partisan election. This means the candidates do not represent a particular party.
Brandon Tucker, chairman of the Economic Council of Okeechobee served as the moderator, and WOKC Radio broadcast the forum live.
During the forum, the four candidates, Noel Chandler, Lisa Feltenberger, Beth Lehman and David McAuley were each given an opportunity to make an opening statement.
Chandler said he and his wife, Louise, have been married for 51 years. He is a deacon at Oakview Baptist Church, is a lifelong resident of Okeechobee and would be honored to serve as a city council member working in the best interest of the city. He is currently serving on the Citizens Charter Review Committee. Previously, he served on the Okeechobee City Council for 16 years and the board of county commissioners for four years. In addition, he served on the board of the Okeechobee Utility Authority, Okeechobee Code Enforcement, Okeechobee Tourist Development Council, The Lake Okeechobee Resource Advisory Committee and the Central Florida Regional Planning Council. “I will be available and responsive to your concerns, and I will serve with integrity, experience and dignity,” he said.
Feltenberger began by saying she is not a politician but is a citizen concerned with the city’s policies and wellbeing. She is the wife of a retired Army veteran who served for 20 years and has three children. She and her husband own several businesses, a an orange grove, a cattle farm, a flea market and commercial rentals, and she manages them herself. She said she has acquired many practical experiences and skills, including bookkeeping, directing employees, budgeting and problem solving, while doing so. She feels these skills will be an asset in the running of the city. In addition, she feels strongly that local business owners need a way to be heard. They may not live in the city, but their businesses are located in the city. “I plan to make fair, honest and informed decisions for all of us,” she said.
Lehman said she was born in Okeechobee and graduated from Okeechobee High School, IRCC (now IRSC) and the University of Florida. She and her husband have been married for almost 25 years and have a 19-year-old son. The Lehmans own and operate Lehman Auto Body and Ag98 Trailer Sales. Lehman feels she has more time to volunteer since her son’s graduation from high school. Her son was active in the Junior Florida Cattlemen’s Association and they traveled all over the state attending cattle shows. Now that she has more time, she wants to give back to the community she grew up in. At this time, she still serves on the Okeechobee Youth Livestock Board as secretary and is on a committee with the Junior Florida Cattlemen’s Association. “In my opinion, I believe the city is moving in the right direction. I would just like to be a member of the council and continue that movement forward,” she said.
McAuley said he first started coming to Okeechobee 24 years ago for his job. Spending four days a month here, he fell in love with the city and the people. “If I were a good politician, I’d tell you that’s why I decided to move here. Meeting Sandra Pearce and marrying her is the real reason I moved to Okeechobee though,” he said. After 41 years with the same company, McAuley has recently retired and feels he now has time to devote to other things. He has spent the months since his retirement getting to know the council members, the administrator and the staff. He has been trying to figure out exactly what goes on in the city so he can determine what works and what needs improvement. He described himself as very dedicated and very frugal. His motto in life is, “If you want to be successful, you need to develop three skills — trust in God; respect your family and work hard.”
The candidates were asked six questions:
1. What are your top two priorities for the city and how would you accomplish these?
Chandler said his top priority is code enforcement. He said he felt they should be fining property owners who do not follow code. When the fine exceeds the cost of the property, seize it and sell it. His second priority would be the streets. Some are platted but not paved, and he thinks this should be rectified.
Feltenberger said her top priority was also code enforcement. She said her problem is not with the code enforcement officers but with the process itself. She believes it should be streamlined and made more clear. She would also like to focus on business owners who do not live in the city. She wants to find a way to give them a voice.
Lehman said code enforcement is also her priority and her second priority would be street maintenance and/or drainage. She believes the city is moving in the right direction and would like to continue on that path.
McAuley said he also placed a high priority on code enforcement. He said the city is well on the way to fixing the issues with code enforcement, and his goal is to be sure everyone is treated equally. “No get of jail free cards,” he said. His second priority would be drainage.
2. Do you believe the city has invested enough in effective code enforcement, and are you satisfied with the way the community looks?
All four candidates said they felt code enforcement was doing a good job but would not mind investing a little more into it. They also agreed they were mostly satisfied with the way the city looks but would like to see some improvements made in some areas.
3. With the charter review process, the form of government may change. How do you feel about one specific person versus council making decisions?
All four candidates said they were happy with the way the city handles things now which is a cross between those two extremes, although Feltenberger said she would like to know what the one person would be able to do if things changed that he cannot do now.
4. Do you believe the city’s infrastructure is adequate as it refers to roads, Internet and sidewalks?
All candidates said they felt the infrastructure could use some improvement.
McAuley said he believes the city should work on providing Internet so those who are low-income would have the opportunity to use it. He said he visited Cuba, and even there, they provide hotspots where people can go to get online.
Feltenberger said she was not fond of having a bunch of towers around her, and would prefer the city not add those downtown but save it for the outskirts.
Chandler said he felt they needed towers all over the city so there would be better communication.
Lehman mentioned the hotspots that will soon be installed in the parks and said she liked that the city was moving forward in that direction.
5. Why are you the most qualified candidate for the city council?
Chandler said he believes he would be an asset due to his experience, not only on the city council, but also on many other boards, serving the city, county and state. He is also well versed in the things going on in the city.
Feltenberger said she is passionate for it and already involved in it. She believes the city is looking for a fresh, new perspective rather than keeping things the same. She said she strives to be the voice of the people, including the business owners who do not live in the city.
Lehman believes she is most qualified because she is a researcher. “If I don’t know the answer, I will research it,” she said. “I want to know everything about everything before making a decision.” She also said she is a business owner and knows how things work. She is good at accounting and has lived in Okeechobee all her life.
McAuley said he is very frugal. “You want me in charge of your money, because it will be spent wisely.” He also considers himself to be a very fair person and capable of judging issues fairly. He said he competed with people in business for many years and did it by being truthful.
6. Would you support, encourage or entertain similar ideas regarding any other city department relative to what has recently happened to the city fire department?
All candidates said they would not be willing to support this, although McAuley said if several years down the road, a department failed to run efficiently, they would be obligated to look at that for the goodness of the city.
Candidates were given a chance to make closing remarks, and Chandler said he appreciates all that has been done in the city and looks forward to what is coming in. He believes the city does a good job with the money that comes in, and he looks forward to serving with the council one more time. He said he did not think the city would lose no matter who was elected, because they all had similar ideas.
Feltenberger said she believes a lot of the goals the candidates have are similar. She thinks she is a doer and likes to get things done. She would like to bring some fresh ideas and fresh perspectives to the council and is excited to participate in the city’s growth. She would love to take a look at the budget to see if it can be tweaked and believes she would thoroughly enjoy the responsibility.
Lehman said she is excited about the race and about potentially becoming a council member and serving the city. She agreed with Chandler and said she felt all the candidates had similar ideas and goals.
McAuley said he thinks he can do a fantastic job for the city, because he is very fair. He has researched and looked at the budget and commended the city on its low number of workers’ comp claims. He said he will be fair and plans to continue trusting in God, respecting others and will work hard for the city and its citizens.
The special election will be held on May 4 at the First Baptist Church Recreational Outreach Center (ROC) 401 S.W. Fourth Street.